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Cultural policy & arts education

A country’s cultural policy aims to define, regulate, and preserve artistic activities, cultural heritage, and creative sectors, particularly literature, music, art, dance, and theatre. Additionally, cultural policies promote and cultivate society's artistic and intellectual capacity. Undoubtedly, the cultural and creative industries face significant challenges as the pandemic recedes.

My interest in cultural policy relates to the gaps between policy and practice, particularly at the nexus of education. Regardless of a country’s cultural policy formulation and its defined goals and priorities, there can be no thriving of the creative and artistic industries if few formative and quality arts experiences are offered to the next generation. Arts education and cultural policy are intertwined. Cultural policies require a framework that advocates for strengthening arts education throughout the life span.

To stimulate economic growth across the cultural and creative sectors, I recently noted a discrepancy in large amounts of grant funding awarded at various levels of government without the foresight to envision and plan for capacity building and sustainability in the future. The arts and creative industries need both artists and patrons, robust cultural and creative infrastructures inclusive of arts education centers, in addition to expanding access to arts education and training for citizen formation. Through their cultural policies, countries need to create the conditions to nurture the development of artists, the appreciation of artworks and cultural capital, and the broader societal support and patronage of the cultural and creative sectors.

Cultural policy and early childhood practice

As early childhood educators, we have an incredible opportunity before us to nurture the artistic development of young children. The enactment of a national cultural policy begins in the nursery room. When we sing lullabies or perform rhymes and fingerplays, we affirm the intrinsic value of the arts from the start. One of the main challenges of the early childhood field is the laissez-faire and experiential approach to arts pedagogy and engagements. Artworks and cultural engagements arise out of children's interests, imagination, and experience. Intentional didactic methods in art history appreciation and technique development in the arts are being discouraged to the detriment of the quality of artistic experiences and the overall development of young children. Mere improvisation and therapeutic (or process art) approaches appear to be the norm in early arts education, promoting what I term “chance” experiences in the arts. Intentional mediation of the arts for artistic skill and technique development for the creation of cultural works of art (inclusive of performances) and artifacts is not typical in the early years. It has become normative and an intuitive belief that all children will naturally and effortlessly unfold their artistic capacities and talent without formal arts education. I contend this current practice in the early childhood field needs to be contested.

Cultural policy inputs need to consider the full scope of policy intersections across the education field, family life and society, the economy, and the creative and cultural sectors. Ireland’s Culture 2025 National Cultural policy frameworks offer a great example and paradigm of cultural policy done right, connecting children and youth practically to tuition, access, experience, and participation in art, music, drama, and coding. Its youth plan will increase opportunities for creative activity in both formal education and out-of-school settings. A planned, integrated, and coherent approach to cultural policy must encompass valuing the importance of the arts and culture, preserving artistic works in society, and strengthening entrepreneurship and the artistic workforce in the cultural and creative industries. It must also envision capacity building for thriving educational and communal environments for the arts for children and youth, encouraging greater citizen participation (namely among young families), and involving young children's formative development through the arts in the home and communal settings.

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