Family Arts Conference takeaways

How the arts bring together multi-faceted audiences (while politics don’t).

As a first-time attendee at the Family Arts Conference, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. The website had promised an exploration of the value of family engagement and how to showcase and communicate it to families, funders and the wider cultural sector. 

Diving into the schedule, it looked like I was in for some seriously interesting presentations.

1. Playing the long game to bridge the culture gap

“I could see how her vision to engage the youngest members of the city as a way to bring them and their families into a cultural event could be a blueprint for many other places."

Bradford Literature Festival’s founder and director Syima Aslam keynote kicked off the event with a fascinating discourse. More precisely, it was the uniting nature of what has been called Britain’s most diverse literature festival that we found captivating. As a one-time Bradford resident myself, Aslam’s words really resonated with me. 

I could see how her vision to engage the youngest members of the city as a way to bring them and their families into a cultural event could be a blueprint for many other places. As Aslam pointed out, Bradford is often singled out because of its particular mix of cultures, but the issues faced there are very similar throughout the UK. 

Playing the long game is the only way to approach these sorts of challenges. This first lecture set the tone for the day, with the theatre acting as a safe space where successes and failures could be shared and all views and opinions were valued and considered.

2. Intergenerational fun

The intergenerational challenge experienced in the arts branch was beautifully illustrated by Dr. Zoe Wyrko, whom you might know from her documentary “Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds”. In it, she brings together old and young in an experiment to tackle social isolationThe results she reported are astounding. 

The improvements older participants experience from their interactions with the youngest participants (and their families) in both their mood and wellbeing are just extraordinary. I’m looking forward to her next endeavour, the “Restaurant that Makes Mistakes”, which will be run by people with dementia.

3. Turning dreams into deeds 

The big thing that seems to be happening in the arts, that’s not happening elsewhere, is that the BIG problems are actually being addressed. Arts practitioners are forging links with experts in all fields to train and advise organisations. By aiming to shape the way they work, they help rebalance inequality and push forward with inclusiveness. They are getting on and doing it. 

At a time when politicians are locked into a meaningless argument over something that should never have happened, I’m continually struck with the feeling that they are creating a diversion from the real issues that need to be confronted. After this conference, I have renewed hope that solutions are out there. 

4. My five takeaways

  • The real reasons for exclusion are socio-economic. If you’re struggling to put food on the table, you’re not likely to be worrying about whether to go to a literature festival or not. The lesson? Find ways to offer practical help. 
  • When you mix up the age groups, you get some magic going. Create something that appeals to several generations alike. 
  • Find a way to make the fringe part of the main. 
  • Try joining the dots between different strands of society. 
  • Politics have failed us. Perhaps the arts can save us.