Arts and humantities vs STEM. Why is it a competition?

There has been a lot of controversy over the past couple of days caused by Nicky Morgan’s comments at the Your Life campaign. There has been a backlash from the arts and humanities communities as her comments downgraded these subject areas and instead proclaimed that the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects were the way to keep young people’s options open. Yes, there is a place for these subjects but there are also places for the arts and humanities that are equally important and are just as valuable at STEM subjects.

I cannot understand for one thing how you can value certain subjects based on the earning potential of the jobs they can lead to. There are many people who studied arts and humanities who make a good living, a living that they are happy with, in a field that they love. For many people the sciences and maths are just not for them, just as the arts and humanities are not for others. How can we school people to value some subjects over others based on earning potential rather than the strengths of the student? The arts can have such a great social impact on young people, their development of self-worth, confidence and concentration. Is this not more important than earning potential?

Another element of the argument for promoting STEM subjects was the imbalance of how many boys take these subjects compared to girls. Having gone to an all girls school between the ages of 7 – 18 I have always been aware of the glass ceiling, and it has always been drilled into me that I should pursue any subject I liked. There was no such thing as a boy subject or a girl subject. My headteacher had a motto of ‘be the best you can be’ and was a great advocate of encouraging girls to pursue their interests. I remember being sent on a science day between three schools to encourage us to take sciences to A Level and I enjoyed sciences and loved maths, but the arts were always my bag. I find it hard to believe that in this day and age we still have to address the fact that girls don’t feel comfortable to take sciences and girls should be encouraged into the areas, but not at the expense of others.

This isn’t the same however as degrading the arts and humanities. My first music teacher told me I was ‘too academic to do music as a career’, another told me that I shouldn’t do music as I ‘didn’t practice enough’ even though I was stronger at the research and historical side, and when I decided to drop the maths side of my joint degree after first year and instead do a full music degree I had friends argue that it was a  bad decision, I’d drastically decrease my job prospects and that I wouldn’t earn as much. How on earth has this opinion become so ingrained?

I have not regretted my decision for one moment.

I definitely value the fact that I have a good numeracy level, and I enjoyed sciences to GCSE and took maths and further maths to A Level and into university, but that does not change the fact that music was my strength, I have learnt a huge range of skills through it and I am now pursuing a career in the arts, something I love. I will always be grateful that I went to a school that encouraged me to reach my potential in whatever field I wanted, regardless of earning potential or gender bias. Pupils should be encouraged to explore a range of interests but that does not mean that some interests are more valuable than others and that taking the arts and humanities closes doors. By not partaking in these areas you can close just as many doors as not studying STEM subjects.


Colour Bandits – KickThePJ / PJ Liguori

Youtube is a weird and wonderful world of creativity, bursting at the seams, over-flowing with new ideas and creators. There is a freedom about youtube that allows for an outpouring of innovation and original thought. I have been an avid viewer of youtubers since 2007 and I am still blown away by how creators continue to develop and evolve.

One of my favourite creators is the film maker PJ Liguori, aka KickThePJ. His quirky imagination is vividly translated onto the screen and I am really enjoying seeing him attempt more complex shoots, challenge his storytelling abilities and collaborate with other artists.

It’s at this point that I’d like to direct you to Colour Bandits.

Cinematography by Director Jamie Swarbrick and music by PJ, who plays the bandit, Colour Bandits is wonderful in it’s simplicity. The costume and make up by Sophie Newton and Louis Grant work perfectly. I find it very inspiring that a whole story can be told in 2 minutes, with only a plain white set, plain white clothing, and a collection of colourful powders. The music and the lilting tone of PJ’s voice meld with the artistry of the cinematography to create a whole new world.

It is a stand alone piece, as many of PJ’s works are, and I encourage you to explore them.

Director & Cinematography: Jamie Swarbrick

Music & Bandit: PJ Liguori

Costume & Make-up: Sophie Newton & Louis Grant

Additional Help: James Allen & Georgie Woodley

We will remember them

For anyone not in the UK who has not heard,Poppies in remembrance of the centenary of the start of World War I a huge installation has been growing over the past two months in the moat of the Tower of London, a sea of poppies, 888,246, one for each of the British soldiers lost in the war. The poppies were created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins and the setting designed by stage designer Tom Piper.

On Friday evening I made the journey to the Tower to see the poppies. By the time I arrived the sun had set, so it was under floodlights that I saw them. The scale of the installation is what is so astounding as the entire tower is surrounded, flooding the area in a sea of red. The differing heights of the poppies adds another element as they form waves as you walk past, and the tears that spill out from the tower itself is a very moving touch.

The tears

The good news is that they have decided to keep these sections intact until the end of November, allowing more people to see them, rather than take down the installation on Wednesday as originally planned. It was astonishing how many people crammed into the small walkways to see the poppies and I can only imagine how many thousands of people have made a special trip to the site since the poppies were first planted.

There has been a lot of debate recently, brought about by the publicity given the poppies of the tower, as to how the symbol of a poppy is now perceived. For me, and many others, the poppy is a symbol of remembrance. It reminds us of all those who lost their lives in service to their country, in the world wars and in every war. It is a reminder of everything we lost, and everything we maintained, and that there are still soldiers and their families who need help and support. To think it as anything else is, I think, to miss the point entirely.

Unknown Soldier

Unknown soldier3Also on Friday a brass statue of the Unknown Soldier was unveiled in Trafalgar Square as part of the Every Man Remembered campaign, commemorating the 1,117,077 men and women of the Commonwealth who fell during World War I. The figure stands tall with poppies fluttering and falling around him, a very poignant display. I was particularly struck by the soldier having his eyes closed as it seems to invoke a sense of self reflection and remembrance. The sculpture, a collaboration with artist Mark Humphrey, will be in place until 16th November before going on tour around the UK for the next four years.

Both the poppies at the Tower of London and the Every Man Remembered sculpture are remarkable reminders of all those lost in the First World War, and mark the centenary with understated poignancy.

The Master Returns? (contains spoilers)

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t watched this series of Doctor Who and don’t want spoilers then don’t read this post! Just go watch it… ASAP.

Since Doctor Who’s return with Christopher Eccleston I have grown to love the show. I’ve seen four regenerations and the demise of the Master… or had I?

All season we’ve been teased with who the mysterious Scottish woman is and last week she was revealed as Missy… aka The Master… aka The Mistress! Brilliant!

Moffat’s decision to bring back The Master adds a whole other dimension back into the programme, and the decision to bring The Master back as The Mistress is a serious development! It opens up the possibility that The Doctor may one day regenerate as a woman. With so many people speculating about this possibility at every regeneration I can remember, it will only add to the hype over the next, even though we are only one series into Peter Capaldi’s era. Whilst I don’t think the next regeneration will be a woman, future incarnations may well be. Goodness knows the Doctor Who fandom has gone bananas over it, just have a look at twitter or tumblr. And with the introduction of a female Doctor, could we have a male companion?

Michelle Gomez is, I think, a genius bit of casting. She is such an eccentric actress, adding a sarcasm and wit to the character that balances the dry, seriousness of Capaldi’s Doctor. There is also an aspect of her character that reminds me of River Song, and I’m interested as to how this plays out. Additionally, I liked how in the same series they’ve mirrored a Scottish Doctor with a Scottish Mistress.

I think the introduction of a female Master is a huge step forward for Doctor Who and I’m excited to see what direction the series heads in from now on.

But what do you think? Are you excited that The Master/Mistress has returned?

Water Fools & The Dreamers

As in previous years the festival opened with a bang. Set on Willen Lake, just after sunset, the French company Ilotopie presented their dreamscape, Fous de Bassin (Water Fools). I sat down on the bank of the lake with my family, surrounding by hundreds of people not quite knowing what to expect. It starts with a floating car driving out into the middle of the ‘stage’ before catching fire! Two characters climb out of the car and one walks across the water as more characters and structures begin to appear. To be honest I thought it was really slow to start as at this point they were all quite normal characters… a lady with her baby crossing the scene, a dustbin man releasing lamppost in order to create a set… a man on a giant bed floating into a tree?

At this point, things got weird. Gradually the scene morphed from the fairly normal to the distinctly abnormal. Imagine a king with rosy cheeks, a powdered white face, wearing nothing but a metal box to preserve his dignity… from which he flung handfuls of glitter whilst on a motorised gondola with a rather creepy jester… Yep. That happened.

Fire was introduced as the production progressed with fireworks, pyrotechnics set on boats and two men in their own gondolas dropping small bowls of fire into the water to burn on the lake’s surface. The most spectacular part of the show was when one of these men, adorned with a huge set of beautifully white, feather wings, set fire to said wings with the fire spreading from the bottom right to the tips with burning feathers floating away across the water to leave nothing but the wire frame.

Even though the show was spectacular, it received quite a mixed reception and to be honest it wasn’t my cup of tea. As with marmite, people either loved it or really rather didn’t. Whilst I was in the latter group I  spoke to a good many people in the former who thought the whole thing brilliant, if rather bonkers.


Whilst this only lasted the first weekend, IMAG0222the festival was not short of things that lasted the week. This included Lucie Lom’s statues, Les Reveurs (The Dreamers). Rising from the earth on the very first day, with no explanation and no warning, the figures caused quite a stir. Throughout the week groups of the figures appeared in different spaces, moving from the train station through the centre of Milton Keynes down to Campbell Park, and each time they prompted discussion as to who they were. Stories began to circulate as to who they were and where they were going…

On the final day of the festival a final tableau was created in Campbell Park. Having stumbled across them all week I was blown away by the final part of the story. The figures lead down to a pond, sinking back into the earth from whence they came…


IFMK:2014 Casus & The Iron Man

Casus are an Australian contemporary circus company whose acrobatics are simply sensational. Their show Knee Deep has you sitting on the edge of your seat, holding your breath and breathing deep sighs of relief every three seconds. It’s a thrilling show.

Set in the Spiegeltent, the stage was a plain square in the centre of the tent with the audience seated all around the stage. Being so close to the action was incredible as every tiny movement could be seen in detail. I can not tell you how many times the audience gasped at the feats unfolding before their eyes because I was too busy gasping with them…

There are no sets, no complex costumes, no speech. The performers are all extremely expressive both through their movements and their faces, telling a story beautifully. I won’t attempt to describe the incredible aerial feats and acrobatics. I will only encourage you to take a look at their website and to go see one of their shows. You won’t be disappointed… but you may think you’ve having heart failure at moments… it’s not for the faint-hearted but go see them anyway!Iron Man

The second show I’d like to talk about is Graeae Theatre Company‘s adaptation of the classic children’s tale, The Iron Man by Ted Hughes. A cast of deaf and disabled actors and musicians introduce the characters initially, teaching the audience the signs for them. Then through a combination of music, signing and audio description the story unfolds.Iron Man Hand

The wonderful Iron Man is a 5 metre tall moving giant, operated by two actors, that helps to save the world! Children absolutely love this show and it works perfectly as an outdoor event. The festival had placed the show in the bowl at Willen Lake, forming a wonderful performance space that enabled MKPA Iron Maneveryone to have a good view. The cast also allowed children to meet the giant afterwards and this went down an absolute storm.

Despite being a children’s show, adults loved it as well! The tale is so well told and the Iron Man so engaging that the performance flew past! The show  inspired kids to make their own Iron Man at the MK Play Association workshop!

It was truly wonderful to see people inspired by the performances they saw, particularly seeing children engaged with theatre, taking the story away with them and allowing their imaginations to take over. The festival catered to so many different people of all ages with varying interests which was wonderful to see!

Under the Vaulted Sky – Rosemary Lee

Today I want to tell you about my absolute favourite performance from IF: Milton Keynes International Festival 2014, Rosemary Lee‘s Under the Vaulted Sky, a new commission for the festival.

The performance was set in the beautiful Cathedral of Trees, a very tranquil setting with trees planted in the architectural footprint of Norwich Cathedral. A combination of dance and live music, with a community cast of over 100 dancers and musicians, Under the Vaulted Sky was breathtaking.

Over the course of the performance you are guided through the Cathedral, entering different sections, sitting for a while to watch groups of children present delicate leaves in wooden boxes filled with grass, walking the length of the tree cathedral as bells ring and dancers with bells attached to their dresses tinkle as they run by…

The use of music, composed by Terry Mann, and sound is very cleverly crafted throughout. Each cast member has a bell for the opening sequence. Dressed in red gowns the dancers, nymph-like, seem to invoke the air around us, combining movement and the ringing of bells to move the air and bring the sense of the cathedral to life. Just as you feel the weight of history around you in a stone cathedral, here you feel emotions well inside you as the sheer beauty and simplicity of the piece overwhelms you.

Hugo Glendinning

Photo: Hugo Glendinning

We were then led through to the cloisters where children presented us with golden leaves as gongs and drums are played to the rhythm of the dancing. The whole audience of around 100 people sits quietly, not saying a word, taking in everything that is happening.

Being led through the archway around the outside of the cathedral to come in at the top we pass through members of the cast. This for me was the most moving part. With bugles being played in the distance the dancers would walk up to members of the audience as they passed, whispering about pathways to the stars and handing these pathways as tokens of small circular mirrors… This gave you a moments reflection before heading back into the cathedral.

Under the Vaulted SkyIn the chancel we are surrounded by dancers being crowned with gold hands as brass instruments play fanfares, before being lead back down the cathedral under golden books suspended in the treetops. At the crossing we disperse to the sides as dancers open gold sheets, dressing the trees. Finally the dancers line the way out with their eyes closed, in a world of their own, ethereal…

This delicate performance invoked both the strength of the cathedral and the fragility of the bells to enclose the audience in it’s atmosphere. There is a poignancy in the gold, the music, the movement… But it is up to each to experience it in their own way.