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Five is the magic number, apparently: A visit from the Arts Council

Submitted by Education on Thu, 17/10/2013 - 00:00

Last week members of the Bow Arts Green Team hosted a visit from Ian Rimmington, sustainability lead at Arts Council England, and his colleague Sophie Merriman. The five of us sat in our cosy Carmelite Café and had a good old yarn about what sustainability might mean and I left the meeting feeling energised by being involved in this young area of practice.

As I’ve suggested in earlier posts, one the most appealing aspects of sustainability is its co-dependency on other disciplines and areas of practices and we gravitated towards this characteristic during the meeting. For example, Dawn pointed out how the Equality and Diversity action plan she is working on seems to feed into the sustainability agenda through a shared desire of both to promote equity and fairness. Likewise, this ability to intersect between disciplines is why I am excited by art education, which goes way beyond the scope of simply delivering a set of skills; as one child succinctly put it, ‘art is not one little thing, it’s a million things in life’. Like art practice, sustainability is constantly being framed and reframed in a variety of contexts which I think can allow us to re-imagine the present, the future and our role within those.

We talked about a couple of five-legged models through which we can interpret and implement sustainability agendas and how these might be relevant to Bow Arts’ approach. Ian mentioned the five capital model of sustainable development. There are a few different versions of this, but Forum for the Future’s includes manufactured, financial, natural, human and social capital. The simple premise is that all five need to be nurtured and not depleted to ensure sustainable development. We’ve aimed to take a holistic stance in our statement on sustainability and think that this breadth aids us in engaging stakeholders with differing agendas as well as securing the future of the organisation. We talked about how the education work that Bow Arts does generates social capital, for example, providing a hopefully relevant service to local schools through framing our work in response to their needs and developing long term partnerships.

We also discussed the role of sustainability in promoting wellbeing – a key ingredient of human capital - and the fact that, as well as being untenable in the long run, buying more stuff is proven to make us unhappier. The ‘five ways to wellbeing’, pioneered by the New Economic Foundations suggests that in actual fact learning, being active, giving, noticing and connecting are all resource-light and cheaper ways to achieve a sense of wellbeing.  With reference to our education programme again, we speculated on the impacts that our CPD programme for teachers might have on participants’ wellbeing through, for example, learning through doing, connecting with other teachers and artists, and noticing things anew through reflection. Ian recommended one of the most powerful ways to capture these things is through stories told directly by those involved; indeed much of the evidence for these kinds of impacts is anecdotal and takes place in informal chats throughout and after sessions. As we develop our methods through which to communicate what we do, we hope to ensure that those stories are told: watch this space.

Lydia Ashman, Education Officer,