Breaking down barriers in creative education

2 Mins read

Artefact talks to UAL students about navigating the challenges of access and equity in art schools.

It’s no secret that art schools and non-traditional degrees have always been much more accessible to the upper classes of society.

Those privately educated, or even those from financially more comfortable backgrounds have more room to risk not having a steady income and job secured as soon as you graduate to support yourself.

A report from the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre found that in ‘Music, Performing and visual arts’ just 22% are from more working-class backgrounds compared with 60% from more ‘privileged’ backgrounds.

Similarly, the Sutton Trust found that 38% of the wealthiest individuals in TV, film and music and 44% of newspaper columnists attended private schools.

“Sometimes a lot of people are taking certain things for granted, which can make being in a learning environment with them extremely frustrating,” Sam, a first-year Film Practice student at LCC told us.

What is taken for granted is knowing that their future is set regardless of their work efforts; based on their family connections, academic backgrounds, etc.

In attempts to overcome the disparity of efforts, some students often try to find those with similar backgrounds to themselves to socialise and work with, which can be much harder in a creative setting.

An art student working on a project
Nadia at work [Tamaa Almashama]

These isolating experiences often lead to imposter syndrome as aside from networking and knowing the right people to build a career – which inevitably helps – the consequences can also be psychological.

Nadia, a Fine Arts student at Chelsea College of Arts explains how she found that “it has been harder for [her] to find groups of artists…many collaborative projects lack intersectional thought and [she] often feel[s] excluded or not included in their circles of thoughts.”

Under the umbrella of “intersectionality,” being in an ethnic minority undoubtedly affects one’s experience as Nadia delves into the struggle of having her work constantly misinterpreted as an extension of her identity that is undetachable from her background and heritage.

To her, this means that “a lot of [her] practice is discredited and therefore [she] feels excluded, especially from collaborative projects which involve discussion/ discourse.”

Anyone who has attended a state-funded school can vouch that there is always a focus on ‘core’ subjects, prioritising science, maths, and other STEM subjects that are believed to guarantee a future.

The arts have never been seen as important, which is why they are grossly underfunded. This not only minimises the chance of developing creative skills but also limits pupils’ awareness of alternative career prospects. This is not to say that it is impossible for those who attended state schools to study an arts degree, but it makes it that much harder.

“My theory knowledge is quite far behind a lot of my peers who did film studies courses, and my practical knowledge is also only where it is now because I’m mostly self-taught” Sam says.

This would no doubt make some feel out of place when the majority begin their courses with more advanced knowledge than others.

Aside from a lack of resources, Nadia shares the notions of insecurity and inferiority that come along with her experience as she explains how “many discussions and debates are centred around concepts and ideas I’m unfamiliar with due to these not being covered in state education…the atmosphere and elitism and inaccessible language makes it seem like a closed circle of debate, I find myself unable to interject or contribute due to my educational background.”

It’s important to note that institutions are coming up with solutions to make things more accessible such as grants, bursaries, and scholarships for those from poorer backgrounds.

However, this does not compensate lacking the foundational knowledge when starting these courses which inevitably affects these students’ experiences and the pressure to find ways to feel less isolated and excluded from the rest.

Featured image by Tamaa Almashama.

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