Leading actors, comedians and composers have joined Prince Charles in his campaign to help every child have access to the arts.
Benedict Cumberbatch, Sir Lenny Henry, Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Myleene Klass and Meera Syal were among the guests at an event at the Royal Albert Hall hosted by Children and the Arts, a charity that was set up by the Prince of Wales.
Research has found that the number of students studying arts and creative subjects is in steep decline, with fewer taking GCSEs in art and design subjects.
The chief executive of the charity Rosie Millard said that creativity in some state schools has effectively fallen off a cliff, while private schools continue to invest in new theatres and music facilities.
Speaking at the event Prince Charles recalled the joy of being taken to the ballet by his grandmother, the Queen Mother.
He added: “I know that so many actors and actresses and musicians are there because they’ve had either a grandmother or a grandfather or teacher, very often it’s the teachers at school, who inspire them to take an interest.
“And as a result, we in this country have a fantastic reputation as a country through its creative industries.”
Sir Lenny Henry, one of the stars supporting the campaign, told Sky News: “The arts is vital to society. The contribution to gross national products alone is immense – between £8bn and £20bn. So why is the arts in schools being deprivileged? It’s hard to understand.”
Industry leaders, government ministers and headteachers were all invited to join round-table discussions to look at what can be done to reach young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who feel the arts aren’t open to them, and may be missing out on cultural experiences as a result.
Among the speakers was Andria Zafirakou, an art teacher from London who won the 2018 Global Teacher Prize.
She said: “Schools are facing lots of challenging circumstances with funding cuts, but I think it’s about changing mindsets, making sure that people are aware – families, parents, society – that the arts are critical now more than ever.”
Her student Prakruti Pindolia got a grade nine in GCSE art this year, and gave the Prince Charles one of her works.
She said: “Without doing art I would not have opportunities like this, I would not have been able to present my work to the Prince of Wales. So I’m so grateful to Miss [Zafirakou] for pushing me so much.”
The government insists it does take the arts seriously and that’s why music and art is compulsory until the age of 14.
But campaigners want more investment and believe there has to be a change in how creative subjects are viewed by schools and wider society.
They realise that not all children will grow up to be performers or work in the industry but believe they should at least have the opportunity to watch or participate if they want to give it a try.