Bertie Carvel's speech to Parliament
On Thursday 30 June, Olivier award winning actor, Bertie Carvel, spoke in Parliament to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education, Performers' Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group and All-Party Parliamentary Group on Art, Craft and Design in Education:
It’s a very great honour to be invited here to address you all. Thank you. And it’s a very great honour to make a living doing something you love.
I came to acting quite late, and almost by accident. I was at the University of Sussex studying English, with absolutely no idea how I was going to make a living once I graduated.
Through a series of happy chances I came to realise that my childhood hobby – dressing up as elves, dwarves and goblins and camping out in my imagination in Chislehurst Caves every weekend; living in character for whole weeks at a time in the woods and fields of England and Wales each summer; had a marginally more mainstream cousin in the world of the theatre. I joined the University Drama Society, in an effort to make some new friends who didn’t own a homemade leather jerkin.
I didn’t study drama at school and it had simply never occurred to me that a real person could become a professional actor.
But when friends, who’d done a lot more acting than I had, started to suggest I should audition for drama school, my world changed forever.
Why am I telling you this? Because I think it’s absolutely vital to understand that artists – and actors more than most – need encouragement.
It was the opportunity to study at RADA that gave me the confidence to pursue it as a career. Being told that what I loved to do was also a serious, legitimate use of time and resources, was massively inspiring.
Now you might say to me “well, you’ve told us you didn’t do a drama GCSE and you did alright!” – but I’d say to you that I’m one of the lucky ones. I thank the universe for those happy little accidents that led me to my vocation.
But how about we don't leave it to chance. Growth requires investment. It’s obvious. We can’t expect the next generation of artists to grow on trees. They need careful nurture.
And their value to the nation – to its cultural life, but no less to its economy – is huge.
The UK's Creative Industries generate £10 million pounds an hour, that’s £84 billion a year – similar to the net worth of the construction industry or the financial services sector. You’re bound to hear these figures a lot today, so I won’t labour the point.
I think it's assumed that creative pursuits are recreational priorities. They should be educational priorities. You wouldn't expect kids to study maths in their free time. Why expect them to study drama, dance or painting? The word “educate” means “to lead out". We have to show leadership if we want future generations of artists to thrive. What hope for our cultural life if we leave these things to chance?
Now, I’m afraid I’m yet another posh kid who’s made it as an actor. I didn’t go to Eton or Harrow, but I didn’t go to a state school either – at least not for the majority of my schooling. It’s absolutely right that we’re now having a robust debate about the disproportionate influence those from privileged backgrounds wield in the arts. How much poorer our nation will be, if we wink at this worrying trend in social mobility, we will by definition never know. We will never see or hear the work of great artists whose voices are suppressed in this way. And make no mistake: things will get a lot worse in years to come if the Ebacc does not include creative subjects.
In a speech last month, Nicky Morgan underlined this government’s commitment to “giving every young person whatever background, wherever they’re from, the same opportunity to fulfil their potential.”
But imagine the child whose state-funded school, struggling with staffing levels and class sizes, has tough decisions to make when determining what subjects will be on offer to its students. Imagine that the school simply has to favour timetabling the EBacc subjects to achieve a decent Ofsted rating. Then imagine that child is Ralph Vaughan Williams, or JMW Turner or Laurence Olivier or David Bowie.
The Government have argued that the EBacc list of subjects represents the ‘core academic skills that employers and higher education institutions value’ and I don’t know – maybe that’s true. The prejudice that arts subjects are worth less in terms of life chances than “proper” subjects goes deep.
Up and down the country, parents too, worried for their children’s prospects in adult life, will often push traditional academic subjects, as mine did, and discourage study of the creative disciplines.
But for many kids it’s precisely through art and culture that they will create wealth and opportunity for themselves and, in turn, contribute to the nation’s economy. That’s how it happened for me, and for so many other colleagues whose names and faces you would be much more likely to recognise.
And let’s not get too far seduced by the idea that economic growth is the only kind that matters. Vision, self-expression and pure, pointless beauty are surely worth more than rubies. After all, what kind of country do we want to live in? What kind of workforce do we want to create? What is the point of living industrious lives if we aren’t encouraged – each of us – to make something for ourselves.
In summary: I urge you to ask questions on Monday that will expose the proposed policy as one that will undermine the future of our national cultural life. It’s simple really: if you believe the Arts are valuable then we have to give all children the encouragement, the confidence and the opportunity they need to CREATE.