Yvette Huddleston: Why we can’t allow culture to become the sole preserve of the middle classes

Slung Low's Alan Lane.
Slung Low's Alan Lane.
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So, let’s be frank – without being overly gloomy, these days there are relatively few things happening in the world to feel positive about.

However, a little ray of sunshine hove into view last week when in a blog post, Slung Low’s artistic director Alan Lane announced that the Leeds-based theatre company are opening a Cultural Community College. With support from Arts Council England and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, which awards funding to organisations that tackle disadvantage particuarly in relation to access to the arts and culture, the first courses will be available from the autumn of this year. The college, which Lane describes as “a place where people come to learn new things of wonder and beauty simply for the sake of the joy that such things might bring them”, will be supported by an advisory board made up of educators from across the education spectrum including universities, theatre education departments and the private sector. The philosophy of education has changed considerably over the past few decades from one of learning for the sheer pleasure of it to the monetisation of knowledge.

The prevailing attitude seems to be that it’s only worth studying something if it translates into a ‘proper’ job and salary. This is particularly true of arts education which has progressively been sidelined in the mainstream schools curriculum, especially by the current government.

Access to cultural learning has been denied to pretty much everyone apart from those who can afford to pay for it. And music lessons and drama classes don’t come cheap. Slung Low’s vision is a generous and uplifting one. As Lane says “in our little part of the world in Holbeck, we are going to make a varied, high quality creative education available to everyone who wants it regardless of financial status”. What is shameful is that the Government and our own education system is not providing this kind of access to creative learning in schools and beyond. The arts sector has received a pummelling in recent years in terms of cuts to funding and a woeful lack of recognition of its worth, but the resilience of the arts community in the face of all that lifts the spirits. The fact is that creative people, by their very nature, will always find a way to adapt and survive, reinventing themselves, forging ahead with innovative ideas and redefining their work for a new generation. And few are better at pushing against boundaries than Slung Low.

Thank goodness for their passion, imagination and unflinching commitment to creating a better world for all of us.