Why the work we do is needed

c. Louise King
c. Louise King

Many Scottish children face barriers to accessing the arts

Just like adults, children have a right to enjoy theatre and dance purely for pleasure.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that all children should have equal access to arts and cultural experiences appropriate to their needs. Unfortunately, this is not yet the case in Scotland.

  • People living in the most deprived areas are 16% less likely to attend cultural venues or events than those living in the least deprived areas.
  • 58% of primary schools surveyed by Theatre in Schools Scotland do not take their pupils out on trips to the theatre.
  • People with long-term disabilities or health conditions are 29% less likely to attend cultural venues or events than people without these conditions.

Imaginate believes that socio-economic background, location or disability should not prevent any child from accessing inspiring theatre and dance. We work to enable more children from all backgrounds across Scotland to experience more high-quality performances, more often.

Many disadvantaged children lack confidence and aspiration. Theatre and dance experiences can help to combat this.

There is a significant gap between the educational attainment of poorer children, and that of children from wealthier backgrounds. By the age of five, there is a gap of 10 months in problem solving development and a gap of 13 months in vocabulary. Throughout primary school, lower attainment in literacy and numeracy is linked to deprivation. Watching and talking about theatre and dance can be one of the tools in closing this attainment gap: it improves communication skills and enables children to express themselves emotionally. A recent study by the New Victory Theatre in New York, also shows that repeated experiences of theatre and dance encourage young people to aspire beyond their own lives and immediate neighbourhoods, into their potential future selves.
Through Imaginate’s Festival Accessibility Programme and our work in schools, we enable more children from disadvantaged backgrounds to benefit from theatre and dance experiences. You can read about an example of this work here.

In a climate of increasing social division, performances can help children to broaden their horizons

High-quality theatre and dance can offer a window into other cultures, voices, stories and ways of seeing the world. This is important in the current climate of growing social division and suspicion of ‘the other’. The author Philip Pullman writes that: ‘After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.’ However, stories which are too simplistic can feed a one-sided or blinkered outlook. By contrast, stories which present a range of perspectives, give a platform to under-represented voices, or showcase a different culture, can help to broaden children’s minds. This ultimately contributes to building a more tolerant and inclusive society.
The productions that Imaginate presents and supports, provide compellingly told stories designed to challenge and inspire young minds. Productions dealing with complex themes – like climate change, gender identity or family breakdown – can offer a gateway for children into reflecting on these topics in a safe, accessible way. Imaginate also supports artists from under-represented backgrounds to make work for children, thus increasing the diversity perspectives that our children see onstage.

Creativity is a vital skill in today’s job market

Creativity, imagination and emotional intelligence are key skills for today’s fast-evolving job market. The Scottish Government states that there is a strong economic case for developing the creative skills of today’s young people. Theatre critic Lyn Gardner reflects on how experiencing and talking about live performances can support this process: "Theatre for children fires the imagination, it gives our children the skills and the creativity necessary to face the world, to understand it and perhaps to change it too. […] While we need people with the skills to build – let's say a bridge – we also need the people capable of imagining that bridge in the first place, or thinking how we could create a very different kind of bridge. Or perhaps asking whether we need a bridge at all."

Shared ‘live’ experiences are important in a digital world

The digital revolution means that children are spending more and more of their leisure time on screens. Theatre and dance provides an important counterpoint to screen time: a chance for children and their families to share a ‘live’ experience and feel part of a wider cultural community in the places where they live.

Artists need support to create inspiring performances

Scotland has developed an international reputation for making high-quality theatre and dance for young audiences, but this reputation is not secure. Arts budgets are being cut in some local authorities, and it’s increasingly difficult for early-career artists to ‘break in’ to the sector. Disabled artists and artists of colour face particular barriers. By supporting artists at all levels of their careers, and by targeting opportunities for those under-represented in our sector, Imaginate helps more artists from more diverse backgrounds to make innovative theatre and dance for children.
As the national organisation which champions theatre and dance for young audiences, Imaginate also plays a central role in advocating for the importance of funding the arts for young audiences.