Quietly and getting practically no political notice at all, something is happening that could change the cultural industry for ever and influence the national economy in a major way. It’s called modestly, almost shyly, the Creative Employment Programme and its aim is to get is to 6,500 arts apprentices aged 16 to 24 in two years – in an industry that doesn’t have apprentices in its antecedents. It’s been an industry that prefers its young people to commit themselves with passion and enthusiasm for nothing.
It took some persuading, I gather, to get the arts council to subscribe to the idea because it’s so alien to normal praxis, but once it had been convinced it went a bundle for it, a £15m bundle.
The National Skills Academy, only created by Creative and Cultural Skills five years ago, has been picked to create the programme that will show arts businesses how to access the money available to create their apprenticeships – Vince Cable’s obsession as yet not exploited by the arts – and artists how to make businesses out of their talent.
It’s not a direct response to the scandal over unpaid internships, but it could have been. When employers tell the NSA’s managing director Pauline Tambling that they couldn’t make their businesses work without free labour, she bluntly tells them that their businesses can’t be viable, then, if they can’t pay their staff.
Few thought there was a serious chance of an alternative to degree-level qualifications being recognised, but this is: young people who thought that X Factor was all that they needed to know to create their dreams have been delighted to find that they can make a real living out of working the lights, running the box office, managing front of house, manning the rigging, for real money.
Meanwhile, the National Theatre, the V&A, Sage, The Junction in Cambridge, the Arcola and Covent Garden have all set early examples by buying into the programme.
While skills minister, Matt Hancock, is enthusiastic he is so far down the government table he’s out of sight and sound, his seniors are almost wilfully ignoring this potential phenomenon in the cultural economy.
The NSA is going to set itself up in the extraordinary development that’s growing out at Purfleet in the Essex estuary, the High House Production Park initiated by the Royal Opera House, where it will have enough space to earn rent from creative companies using it, and bring youngsters to work and rub shoulders with all the mechanics of creating theatre, television, opera – perhaps this development Tony Hall’s true legacy to us.
The figure of 6,500 new jobs for young people by March 2015 is just for starters, it could easily double in a year. The alarming thing has been that, while the skills minister, Matt Hancock, is enthusiastic he is so far down the government table he’s out of sight and sound, his seniors are almost wilfully ignoring this potential phenomenon in the cultural economy. As far as the arts is concerned, the DCMS is obsessed now with cutting, and don’t be fooled by Michael Gove’s climbdown on the EBacc: he still believes the saving of our future is in knowledge, not, as we in the creative sector know, in skill, talent and proper training.
But then, perhaps it’s as well senior ministers are not aware of it. “Go and find out what those young folk are up to with the arts,” I can hear the Chancellor saying to Mrs Miller, “and tell them to stop it”.