Creative Sparks: Why the arts are vital to addressing society’s big challenges

The #CreativeSparks phase of MadeAtUni showcases the contribution of UK universities to the nation’s creative industries and future economic success. We’ve spoken to Principals about the far-reaching benefits of the creative and performing arts.

First up is Professor Jeffrey Sharkey, Principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. We asked him how the performing arts, and the graduates from those disciplines, can help to address big societal challenges such as climate change, inequality and an ageing population.

The power of ideas, the shared empathy, the delicate and finely honed listening, the giving of yourself to others while losing nothing of yourself – these aspects have always been drivers of performing arts practice. Like every institution, we are re-thinking our own sustainable practices and about how the power of ideas, through our arts, can change minds and habits. Look at how smoking was phased out of our screens, so it was no longer something to aspire to do. With subtle shifts in screenwriting, stars can put on wooly hats and jumpers rather than turn up the thermostat, ride a bike or drive an e-car instead of a V-8. Their actions, while still solving a mystery, fighting aliens, or falling in love, can shift the mindset of whole populations into greener behaviours.

Those same finely honed listening and collaboration skills from the arts are needed to bring society back post-pandemic. We have forgotten how to occupy the same space as others and listen to the stories of others as they age or as they experience inequality. Only by listening and sharing, especially through the arts, do we re-learn that there is far more that unites us than divides us.