Concern over arts education for youngsters

Concerns over a lack of opportunities to study the arts in Wolverhampton have been raised with the city’s education and skills chief.

The University of Wolverhampton
The University of Wolverhampton

Councillor Clare Simm highlighted the issue at this week’s full council meeting, in light of an announcement by the city’s university earlier this year that it intended to cut 146 courses – including those in performing arts, fashion, social sciences, interior design and fine art.

University bosses said the cuts had come about due to increased costs and fewer enrolments following the impact of Covid on public services.

Councillor Simm said: “Does the council recognise that arts and culture in education are important to the fabric of Wolverhampton as a city, our culture and our contribution to the wider world?”

Councillor Chris Burden, cabinet member for education, skills and work, said: “Wolverhampton really does have a proud history of arts and culture. If we look across the city to the arts and crafts movement centred in Tettenhall – Wightwick Manor in particular – and also to the centre of the enamelling trade globally which was in Bilston, we have contributed a huge amount to arts and culture in the world.

“We’re working hard to protect and expand this legacy for our educational programmes and for our arts and culture services. Our culture offer has been successful in terms of visitor experience. We work with Cultural Compact, which is an Arts Council group, in order to set out that strategy to drive forward improvements and they have been successful.

“As a council, we have secured priority status with the Arts Council and seen an uplift in funding, making an enormous contribution to our annual investment to the tune of £1.6 million a year increase.

“Our art gallery hosts content and exhibitions designed to educate and inform whilst being accessible and not stuffy, and I think that is a really key thing that we do well. Just this year we hosted the prestigious British Art Show 9 (BAS9) and had 2,800 children from 63 of our schools go round the gallery to see how it worked, which was fantastic,” he added.

“BAS9 also provided us with £6,500 of funding to put on a Saturday art school. Our local cultural education partnership works with 120,000 people every year to employ over 400 people working with our youngsters. They staged their first festival with over 600 people in attendance.

“On top of that, we do amazing work with our city’s music services. We give them £150,000 a year which they use to deliver subsidised music lessons and support to 500 children every week in 93 per cent of our schools.”

Councillor Simm said: “Earlier this year Wolverhampton University made a shocking announcement that it would suspend recruitment for 146 courses, with a large slice of those being in the arts. It is my view that this will have a negative effect on us as a city, and on our contribution to the wider world culturally.

“As you mentioned the British Art Show, I don’t believe opportunities such as that and the appointment to the Arts Council of England for the Arena Theatre will be as forthcoming in the future without the foundation for educating young artistic minds in the city.

“Has the council conducted analysis into the long-term repercussions of the loss of these courses, and what action has been taken by the council to counteract the impact these cuts will have?” she added.

Councillor Burden said: “The University of Wolverhampton has taken this decision and I’m sure that they have not taken it lightly. I myself have been a student of the arts in this city, so I understand that this is an issue that is so close to a lot of our hearts. I think what we are seeing is the culmination of the government’s cruel attack on the arts.

“It’s not just Wolverhampton that is suffering from this. The vine is withering and much of this is due to the government’s push on the English baccalaureate, which sidelines arts programmes. Fewer children than ever are getting the opportunity to study the arts and that is the result of government decisions.

“It’s sad that Wolverhampton’s young talents might need to now look outside the city in order to find their courses. But what we are focused on is what we can offer locally.

“I’m happy to report that the City of Wolverhampton College has seen an increase in applications, and fortunately our young people in the West Midlands are well served by other organisations locally – the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, the BIMM Institute and the opening of a new music university in Dudley,” he added.

“And let’s not forget the huge investment in our City Learning Quarter that is going to be coming in 2023, which will revolutionise college learning. We are going to be bolstering the city’s approach to the arts, music and music production.”

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