Though everybody has the right to be creative, keynote speaker Johnny Vegas made clear his fears that government policy on arts education and higher tuition fees will exclude those “who are from backgrounds where they need the loan, [who] need to go to art school and learn to question. The ones who can afford it, they don’t need to question, because they’ve got the trust fund.”
He outlined why students from poor backgrounds are wary of signing up for an arts education at a cost of £9,000 a year. Speaking of his own experience, given his family background, he said, “there is no way on god’s green earth that I’d have borrowed that sort of money”. Aisha Richards (pictured above), founder of the organisation Shades of Noir, summed up the situation succinctly, saying, “if you do nothing, nothing changes”.
The state of the emergency unfolding in arts education and cultural life was outlined most forcefully by AE Director Neil Griffiths (above left), who cited the toxic mix of poor advice, a lack of positivity from peers, institutional elitism, prejudice, lack of qualifications and fear of debt that hold back many students from less wealthy backgrounds before adding, “It’s our concern at Arts Emergency that the latest raft of fee rises and structural changes will only exacerbate these existing inequalities of access.” The broader purpose of art schools as social melting pots was reiterated by the artist Bob and Roberta Smith (pictured above right), who said, “art schools are about association, free thinking and participation”.
Fees and loans were the subject of much anger throughout the day. The student union president at the University of the Arts London, Shelly Asquith (pictured left) told the audience of academics, outreach workers and students that she had no choice but to drop out in her first year when a maintenance loan failed to arrive before her rent payment was due. She said that universities don’t always stand up for their less economically advantaged students.
It was a long and interesting day that brought together a diverse range of voices. The highlights are well worth a watch!