300 young people are set to re-imagine London with Barking and Dagenham’s Cultural Citizens pilot.
Picture this: two gameshow hosts in red sequins race around the auditorium of the Barbican’s prestigious Conservatory Terrace with microphones, while 75 students from 5 Barking and Dagenham schools, along with 60 members of the cultural sector from across London yell “BINGO!... HIGHER!... LOWER!”, and all this on a Monday night!
These were the scenes taking place during the ‘Culture Gameshow’ at the launch of the Cultural Citizens programme - a new national initiative which is being piloted in London, Liverpool, Blackpool and Birmingham. If successful, the programme will be rolled out to thousands of young people across the country. It will be led by Arts Council England and delivered by A New Direction, Curious Minds and Kids in Museums with support from Historic England and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The London pilot of the programme is taking place in Barking and Dagenham, and is led by A New Direction in partnership with Studio3 and Creative Barking and Dagenham (the area’s Cultural Education Partnership). 300 young people are starting to co-design their own agenda of visits and workshops across a range of art forms with some of London's most innovative and exciting cultural organisations. They will attend clubs with professional artists, and will be supported by local ‘Cultural Connectors’ - a network of local adults engaging Barking and Dagenham residents in the arts. They will also achieve an Arts Award Bronze qualification which is a nationally recognized Level 1 qualification, a pretty big deal if you’ve not yet done your GCSE’s! All of this will set them off on a journey of discovery and give them ownership of their city.
Higher or Lower?
Two of the questions attendees were asked during the Culture Gameshow were:
1: How many jobs are in there in the creative industries in London?
2: How much money is made by the UK’s creative and cultural industries?
Very good questions, and ones we could all do with knowing the answer to as they have a big impact on our national economic and skills growth.
Not all of us have a chance to witness this amazing mass of creativity. Nor does everyone have a chance to author it, move to it, produce it, make it, solve it, or direct it.
As you may know, there are 8 million people living in London. What you may not know however is that over a quarter of those people are living below the poverty line. London's children are also much more likely to live in poor households than children in the rest of England - 37% versus 26%. 
Is everyone a winner?
Cultural disadvantage goes hand in hand with these economic barriers. Cultural engagement builds attainment, critical thinking, the ability to stay in sustained employment and, crucially, live above the poverty line.  Even if a young person doesn’t end up working in the burgeoning creative and cultural industries, creative problem solving is now the number one skill all employers look for above all else. Young people who aren’t offered any opportunities to engage with culture or develop their creative skills then face an uphill struggle.
The Cultural Citizens programme forms part of the government’s wider ‘life chances strategy’ which aims to address disadvantage in all of its forms and transform the lives of the poorest families in Britain by offering “every child who has had a difficult start the promise of a brighter future” (David Cameron, January 2016).
The strategy recognises that there are currently “too many young people who are culturally disenfranchised” and calls for the cultural sector to open its doors and reach out to marginalised groups so that “many more children can have the doors opened to their wonderful cultural inheritance”. This ambition is echoed in The Culture White Paper: “culture should be part of every child’s education both in and out of school”.
The government’s plans reflect the ambition of Arts Council England’s Cultural Education Challenge, to give every child and young person the right to:
· Create, compose and perform their own musical or artistic work
· Visit, experience and participate in extraordinary work
· Know more, understand more and review the experiences they’ve had
A New Direction and Studio 3 are starting to work with 300 students to give them the chance to author their own cultural map of London as part of Cultural Citizens. This includes five visits which they will plan themselves and deliver in after-school clubs, anywhere in London, across a variety of arts forms and styles – from opera to grime, Wicked to Shakespeare.
If you would like to find out more or get involved with the programme please do get in touch! We are particularly interested in talking to individuals and organisations who can offer tickets, discounts, tours, experiences, talks, masterclasses or workshops, to a group of talented young people. Through this programme we hope to ensure that young Londoners get a slice of the city for themselves to help them enjoy and achieve great things.