Blog: Reflecting on 20 years of Artsmark

08 November 2021

By Tony Harrington, Executive Director, The Forge

I’ve been working in arts education for more than 30 years and I believe that Artsmark is the most important programme for young people and schools Arts Council England has ever created. In our conversations we hear, on a daily basis, about the transformational impact that Artsmark has had for school leaders, teachers and pupils. 

The Forge has been involved in the delivery of Artsmark since its inception. The programme was piloted with schools in County Durham before it was rolled out nationally. In the early days, we worked alongside the local authority arts advisory service to recruit the first schools and supported them to navigate the copious paperwork that accompanied the programme. As time progressed, it became clear that there needed to be changes in the programme. We were measuring school’s quality of cultural provision on things that were more relevant to the cultural sector than schools. 

The shift in 2015 to create a framework that responded to school’s needs was both timely and vital. We now work with a flexible framework that responds to school priorities and a process that embeds creativity in the delivery of a broad and ambitious curriculum. It supports teachers and schools to understand how cultural learning is vital to providing a broad and balanced curriculum. 

The Forge is a creative organisation committed to improving the life chances of young people through the arts, which makes us the ideal partner to support CBNE in delivering Artsmark in the region. Here in the North East we have a tendency to do things a bit differently, and we are the only model in the country where the Bridge organisation partners directly with a National Portfolio Organisation to deliver the Artsmark programme. This unique partnership has produced some significant results - 24% of schools in our region are now on an Artsmark journey. However, we know we can improve and are constantly working with schools and our colleagues at CBNE to develop our practice in supporting schools. 

As well as my role as Executive Director of The Forge, I am also the Chair of Culture Durham. We recently found out that we had been longlisted to become City of Culture in 2025. As I said before, we do things a bit differently in the North East, and our bid is for the whole of the County as we know there is so much more to Durham than just the City. Gaining UK City of Culture 2025 would bring transformational social and economic benefits to County Durham. It would attract investment, increase visitor numbers, and provide an opportunity for us to show the rest of the country, and the world, what we have to offer. Although the focus will be Durham, I have no doubt that a successful bid will be beneficial to the region as a whole. We are inviting schools and young people to be a central part of our bid and we’d love to hear from teachers and students about how we might be able to work with you to maximise the benefit of this unique opportunity and make the North East an even more outstanding region for its arts and cultural provision.