“Together we call for more adults to have the chance to learn about and take part in the arts.”

To mark Lifelong Learning Week 2023, L&W is advocating for collaboration between arts and education institutions. Our letter has been signed by leaders in the education and non-profit sectors alongside household names in arts and culture.


07 11 2023


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In the 1950s, adult educators created Art for the People, an initiative to give everyone access to the arts. We argue for collaboration between arts and education institutions to restore that vision as a class ceiling of lost opportunities and cuts risks holding us all back.

The creative sector is a big part of the UK economy, employing two million people and contributing £108 billion in gross value added annually. We know this is one of the Prime Minister’s priority sectors for economic growth.

Barely half of our top actors come from schools in the state sector – we risk missing out on so much talent if people feel locked out based on background or because community facilities are lost. Former Doctor Who, Christopher Eccleston said on the closure of the theatre in which he started his career: “You don’t believe if you come from a council estate that you can be an actor or a poet or a painter. So places like Oldham Coliseum… they’re a beacon for people like me.”

Writers like Malorie Blackman, Andrea Levy and Anna Burns, who have added to much in recent years to the diversity of voice in this country, were able to develop and refine their craft as adults at City Lit in London.

How many Hockneys, Emins, Oliviers, Ecclestons and Denchs are we missing out on based purely on background? It’s unfair to them and it makes us all poorer.

Learning about the arts is also about who we are as people: everyone should be able to experience art if they wish. Take the Pitmen Painters. In 1934, the Ashington miners’ Workers’ Educational Association branch decided to focus on art appreciation – just because they liked the sound of it. They were so good they were invited to the National Gallery and Royal Academy and featured in documentaries. Would they have that opportunity today?

If that weren’t enough, learning and taking part in the arts can help improve our health and wellbeing. Last year the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra won a national award for their Music and Mental Health programme. It uses singing, improvisation, music appreciation, writing, painting, composition and poetry to help people improve their confidence, self-esteem and mental health.

Today, these opportunities are too limited. The adult education budget in England has halved since 2010 and the focus narrowed more toward what can get someone a job today. That’s obviously important, but so are culture and health and wellbeing. We can do both.

Together we call for more adults to have the chance to learn about and take part in the arts. For the sake of fairness, prosperity and a better society.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive, Learning and Work Institute

Mark Malcomson CBE, Principal, City Lit

Simon Parkinson, Chief Executive and General Secretary, Workers’ Educational Association

Jack Gamble, Director, Campaign for the Arts

Gillian Anderson OBE, Actor and Fellow of City Lit

Sir Antony Gormley OBE, Artist and Fellow of City Lit

Sir Grayson Perry CBE, Artist and Fellow of City Lit

Dame Evelyn Glennie DBE, Percussionist and Fellow of City Lit

Anna Burns, Author and Fellow of City Lit

David Lan, Director, The Walk

Esther Chesterman, Chief Executive Officer, National Extension College

Dipa Ganguli OBE, Chief Executive Officer and Principal, WM College

Dr Andrew Gower, Chief Executive and Principal, Morley College

Ros Morpeth OBE, Member of the Board, National Extension College

Robin Simpson, Chief Executive, Creative Lives

Jill Westerman CBE, former Principal of Northern College

Lindsay Nicholson MBE, Chair of City Lit

Professor Matthew Weait, Director of the Department for Continuing Education, University of Oxford

Savannah Stanislaus, Trustee, Campaign for the Arts

David Brownlee, Chief Executive, Data Culture Change

Estelle van Warmelo, Trustee, Campaign for the Arts and Artistic Director, Feral Productions

Dave Edwards, Trustee, Campaign for the Arts

Richard Dorrance, Chair of Board of Trustees & Finance Subcommittee, National Extension College

Colin Woolliscroft, Vice-Chair of Finance Subcommittee, National Extension College

Sanjay Mistry, Trustee, National Extension College

Nick Barratt, Trustee, National Extension College

Faruk Miah MBE, Principal/Head of Idea Store Learning, Tower Hamlets Council

Contact us

If a representative of your organisation would like to sign our open letter, please contact Helen Grant, Communications and Campaigns Manager at Learning and Work Institute.

Discover Lifelong Learning Week 2023

Discover our exciting programme of activities celebrating the power of lifelong learning across a range of themes and policy areas.