Nick Ahad: Why the arts are worth more than just money

The plan this week was to write about something extraordinary that has been achieved at the Leeds Playhouse this theatre season.
Robert Pickavance, who plays Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at Leeds Playhouse.Robert Pickavance, who plays Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at Leeds Playhouse.
Robert Pickavance, who plays Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at Leeds Playhouse.

Then Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman suggested that colleges who encourage young people to take arts courses are giving ‘false hope to students’ because of the ‘relatively poor career opportunities’ in the arts once they graduate. Obviously, I have to write about that. Also, fairly obviously, I suggest that Spielman is talking drivel. On social media the arts world responded to her assertion by pointing out that school and college training for the fourth biggest employer in the UK – the arts industry – is fairly important. In a similar vein I point to a press release issued by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in November last year that came with the headline: ‘Creative Industries’ Record Contribution to UK Economy: £92bn sector growing at twice the rate of the economy’. So yes, young people who choose to train in the arts, something which might prepare them for a career in this £92 billion industry, are probably making a better career decision than Spielman suggests.

My argument against this nonsense that arts subjects are not worth studying, though, is more aligned to Tracy Brabin’s response. The Batley and Spen MP wrote on Twitter: “Access to the arts isn’t only about careers. It’s about confidence, articulacy, emotional intelligence, creative problem solving and teamwork.”

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It’s about all of those things and more. In fact, to demonstrate how much more, I return to the Leeds Playhouse. This year the Playhouse is undergoing a major refurbishment and has moved into a temporary space for this season. It has also decided to have a rep company for the first time in two decades, with a core group of nine actors appearing in all of the productions. Watching the ensemble in A Christmas Carol last week, I enjoyed something I haven’t previously experienced at this theatre.

Watching actors like Robert Pickavance, Darren Kuppan, Tessa Parr and all the others, seeing how each of them shift and change as they bring different roles to life, I was struck by how their relationship with the audience shifts and alters with each new role at the same theatre. 
We feel like we know these actors; seeing how a role in Road informs a role in Europe (two ensemble productions) has brought a depth of appreciation to the craft of each of the actors in the rep. It’s something incredibly special, but it comes with a problem. I can describe the feeling of seeing this, but I can’t measure it. I can’t put a number next it or put a pound sign on it. I can tell you it’s invaluable, priceless even; as is giving all young people access to creativity and the opportunity to study the arts, impressive career prospects or not.