Cultural Citizens North West: the full story

The Cultural Citizens pilot was set out by former Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, Ed Vaizey.

Cultural Citizens North West: the full story

It was written to enable and broaden the creative and cultural horizons of young people by getting them to engage with a lot of culture over a short period of time.

About Cultural Citizens

The pilot took place in four cities across England; London, Birmingham, Blackpool and Liverpool. The project aimed, fundamentally to reach the young people with the lowest participation in culture.

From September 2016, Arts Council England will work with cultural institutions to engage actively with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in a wide range of arts and cultural experiences.

To curate the project in the North West, Curious Minds gave a grant to Local Cultural Education Partnerships (LCEP) to find the schools to get involved. In Liverpool, the Liverpool Learning Partnership (LLP) chose five schools: The De la Salle Academy, the King's Leadership Academy, Harmonize Academy, North Liverpool Academy, and The Academy of St Francis of Assisi.

"We worked with schools with high deprivation index figures, high free schools meals and we asked the Heads of these schools to identify children who would never naturally engage with cultural experiences or activities," explained Elaine Rees, CEO of LLP.

On Thursday 13 July, some of these schools attended a celebration event at FACT, where the students mixed in workshop led by leading Liverpool cultural organisations.

The selection of a cultural programme by the young people had to fit into a remit:

1. Be free
2. Be local
3. Be a museum, heritage venue or library
4. Be outside their local area
5. Involve actively taking part
6. Have a 'wow' factor

Some of these activities were seeing Billy Elliot, Matilda, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time on the West End and The Lowry, going to Buckingham Palace, Sea Life, and visiting Harry Potter World.

It's one thing having these initiatives and celebrating them, but another to show that they've had some success. I went along to the celebration event and spoke to some of the adults and the students.

How did it go?

Rees was happy to reveal, "I think the schools' feedback has been really positive. I was speaking to the Principal of King's Leadership the other day, and he said that their young people just really loved having the opportunity to do things that they've never done before."

"The hope would be to see this grow and develop, we'd love to do it again in Liverpool because we're not short of schools. The schools and the cultural advisors have been able to see what works, refine it, and change it a little bit."

Early in the day, a question came up about the chance for the students to experience culture through smaller, perhaps independent organisations. Without shirking the value of 'smaller' culture, King's Leadership's cultural leader and Arts Award advisor, Lucy Graham, explained that these young people were so unaware of culture regardless of its scale that it was important to gradually introduce that to them over time.

Of course, the students had to consume local culture but, in a city so creatively rich as Liverpool, these experiences also weren't quite 'small'. It was important, too, that they enjoyed what they saw and so the size and clout reflected their own choices. Furthermore, the visits to larger organisations helped forge rich relationships between these schools and influential cultural organisations.

How did they choose where to go?

Graham told me later on that cultural advisors were attached to schools by Curious Minds to inform the decision making process and, of course, deliver the Arts Awards.

There were myriad options available to the students. As little culture as they had consumed, there was no end of options they couldn't not know about like Harry Potter World and Matilda.

"If they were a youth theatre or a music group, they'd have a common interest in one art form, whereas these kids were chosen because they had low interest or engagement in art. So, when you sit down as a group and ask 'where do you want to go?' they go 'I don't know'. So, we looked at places to go and a big one [at King's] was London and they wanted to see a theatre show and we knew Harry Potter World was nearby…"

"We kind of chose [The Florry] for them in terms of making them aware of what's on their doorsteps."

They were able to repeat elements from the first term as well as explore new ones. "The second group wanted to go to London like the first group but they after they'd come back they said 'we'd really like to go to Blackpool'. So it was about the locations for them."

"It's a slow process. It's a massive leap going from not going to something at all to feeling you can walk in to something whenever you want."

The Arts Award was enormously well received. "We've also had great comments like 'we've done our Bronze Arts Awards, when can we do our Silvers?'" King's Leadership will be implementing it into the curriculum. "I think, if we gave them the opportunity to do it, I think nine out of ten of them would do it."

Most importantly, and most heartening to hear, is the reaction to the programme by the real bosses – the students. Students of few words spent those words highlighting the project for its fun and excitement. But on a less superficial level, the students have come to recognise the lack of arts and culture they once engaged with and the impetus they feel to continue the creative life in and out of school.

On days like this, it's natural to see reticent students floating between the workshops, avoiding getting involved. However, the image of impassioned, unanimous involvement was a vivid one.

Any difficulties?

Though it wasn't plain sailing from the beginning, as the Arts Award wasn't relayed to schools as part of the programme. "What's hardest when you're working with a school who sell it as 'you've been selected for this to go on five trips' but you as the Adviser is going 'I actually need you to sit down and write for a bit' so actually getting them to put something on paper."

Kelly Allen, Head of Inclusion and Innovation for Curious Minds was part of the project from the beginning, before getting Liverpool Learning Partnership to choose five schools. Curious Minds and LLP collectively decided that all the schools should not have Artsmark accreditation – with the view of getting them to approach accreditation through the programme.

She explains that, through the programme, schools have become aware of the importance of extending cultural provision for young secondary school students.

Consuming is one thing, but it's important, of course, to encourage reflection and criticism, too, which was a challenge. "They've had to develop language around arts and culture to start with and learn what they like," explains Kelly. "[Arts Award] requires a certain level of reflection and they didn't have the reflective language." This, however, was a level of challenge that the schools and Curious Minds relished.

They recognised that it wasn't going be a plain sailing programme as a pilot and due to the sheer scale of it. "We knew it'd be a challenge. But, that's kind of the point. One of the good things about Arts Award is, because it's about distance travelled rather than hitting a bar, it makes it possible for them to do it."

It was a short programme, in some ways. That said, it was important to run two cohorts in the time given. "We made it quicker than it needed to be," Allen tells me, a sentiment echoed by Claire Sharples at Curious Minds, "and there's value in that because [students] get to apply their learning. If you've got all the time in the world, you take all the time in the world."

What next?

The Bronze Arts Award moderations will be done this week for both the Spring and Summer term cohorts.

"The Arts Award gave them the option for it to be more about them engaging with the process and having that slightly deeper and more extended reflection. It allowed for that scrutiny of the arts world."

The national evaluation has looked about what the programme would look like without funding. "Schools could use it as a really effective model for engaging young people both in arts and culture but also there has been evidence that wider impact on better behaviour, attendance and, generally, engagement with school life," Sharples explains.

There will be exploration about replicating the current model, running multiple similar models and more possibilities.

We'll hear about the future of Cultural Citizens going forward come September.

  • Image, gathering at FACT in Liverpool for the celebration day.


Bhavesh Jadva

Bhavesh Jadva Voice Team

Media Editor and former Arts Award Editor. As Voice's Media Editor, his writing on Voice is geared towards film, TV, photography, and music. Other than media and music he takes a crack at writing about comedy. Also believe Liam should've won GBBO 2017.

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