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Darren Henley: Arts Council is ‘working on a 25-year plan for culture’

Darren Henley. Photo: Philippa Gedge
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Arts Council England chief executive Darren Henley has spoken out about the need for the arts and culture sector to attract talent from all backgrounds if it is to thrive in the long-term.

Giving the keynote speech at the Creative and Cultural Skills National Conference 2016, at the Backstage Centre in Thurrock on March 3, Henley said he embraced apprenticeships as a way of opening up routes into the arts.

“We need an emphasis on diversity in its widest sense, across barriers of race, diversity and socio-economic disadvantage. We need greater diversity because it will create a just, fair and strong society and because a society that’s equipped for the future makes use of all of its talent, wherever it emerges.”

He credited the Creative Employment Programme, a £15 million fund delivered by the National Skills Academy to support the creation of traineeships, formal apprenticeship and paid internship opportunities in England for young unemployed people aged 16 to 24, for changing attitudes to apprenticeships in the sector. The CEP, which is now closed for applications, worked with 1,000 arts and cultural employers.

Though there are no plans to extend the CEP, Henley said that the Arts Council is currently at work on what he called a “25-year talent plan for arts and culture”.

“As a public funder we tend to think in one, three, four and five-year cycles because that’s how we get given money to give out. If a child was born today, what would they need to have experienced in 25 years’ time? What skills would we want them to have learned? What would we want them to have seen? What experiences would we want them to have had? Who should they have met?

“How would we get them to a stage where they have a choice – they’re either going to be incredibly culturally literate and go off and do other jobs, or they’re going to be prepared to be able to work at a very high level in the arts and culture sector and be the next generation of people who are making things happen in the sector.”

No details of the “think piece” have yet been released, but Henley said he “hope[s] that they’ll be some reality that comes out of it” that might impact the way that the Arts Council funds in the future.

Also speaking at the conference was Labour peer Anthony Young, parliamentary under-secretary for skills and apprenticeships 2008-09, who described a need to change the perceptions of teachers and career advisors about the value of vocational routes into work. Current and former apprentices going back to their schools and colleges to speak about their experiences could have a positive impact, he said.

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