The teaching of art and culture in school was a life line

21 June 2016

I design and draw things for books. Whether it’s designing a book cover published by Penguin or writing and drawing my own books, creativity is a large part of my life. 

Art was how I got a foothold in education. Without it I would have had no reason to keep trying to participate. School was not easy. There were dizzying moments of isolation and frustration: skills other children grasped seemingly instantly made no sense to me. I could not read the time on a clock face or comprehend the times tables. Much of my day was spent in a confused haze. Apart from art classes where I could paint and draw; in those lessons I found I could finally integrate myself in school life.

Every art teacher I had helped me develop my talent. I gained my confidence in these lessons: I could escape the pressure of the classes I found hard. Individual thinking was encouraged and there were no wrong answers or questions about my ability. Just having this space in my school week made it more bearable. When I got to  university, studying Typography and Graphic Communication, I was diagnosed as dyslexic, and finally I had an explanation for  those years of frustration. 

As a child I was not connected to a world of professional artists. I grew up in a small town on the North Norfolk Coast and my main route to art was through books. But my school played an important role by arranging visits from artists. Hearing them speak about their work and working with them on projects made me imagine a life as an artist.  I’m still grateful for this: schools that promote the cultural element in their curriculum forge a link between worlds, a link that is not readily available to many children. It certainly created a link for me.

Art is where I am the happiest, it is most the natural way of integrating and processing the world around me. It gave me something to dream of as a child. It stopped that child from giving up on education. I feel that a cultural education is imperative for children to explore, create and communicate in an individual way. It gives children a voice and nurtures creativity which for myself is the spark that makes life exciting.

Exposure to the arts broadens horizons, enriches experiences of the world, opens up new opportunities. It creates debates and emphasizes individuality, opens minds and makes the world more magical. It empowers different perspectives, creates a place for expression of emotion and exploration of human experience.

I am thankful that schools teach a varied and mixed syllabus that include the arts. Every child is different and this diversity is nurtured by offering a creative education alongside all the regular stuff. 

I do know that without the arts, my life would not be as rich and vibrant as it is. So when The Arts Council approached me to work with them, I jumped at the chance to create something beautiful to celebrate the achievements of schools with programs promoting education in arts and culture - and to encourage others to join the scheme.

‘Coralie Bickford-Smith holding the new Artsmark plaque’  (Credit: Ollie Harrop )



Cultural education gives children and young people the opportunity to develop their creativity, both individually and collectively, and that's why our goal is for every child and young person to have the opportunity to experience the richness of the arts.

Darren Henley
Chief Executive
Arts Council England

It's vital that children have the opportunity to learn and enjoy arts and culture from an early age. It develops their creativity, inspires future careers and enriches their childhood.

Artsmark Award does brilliant work in schools and education to ensure young people access a broad and balanced curriculum that includes high-quality arts and culture.

Michael Ellis MP
Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism
Department of Culture, Media and Sport