“My generation has made a right mess of this planet, a right mess of the economy, a right mess of Brexit, a right mess of the education system.”

So said Kirsty Lang (broadcaster, journalist and chair of BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art), speaking at Northern Stage at the launch of City of Dreams, the NewcastleGateshead initiative to give every young person in Newcastle and Gateshead the chance to take part in cultural and creative activity.

“City of Dreams,” she added, “is about giving a voice to young people so they can tell their story, tell the older generation what they want the world to look like but we need to give them the tools to do so.”

16-year-old Andrew Adams from the Gateshead Youth Assembly echoed her.

“City of Dreams is different,” he said, “because it’s for ALL children and young people in Gateshead and Newcastle, and because young people have been involved in how it works from the start through a Big Culture Conversation which has given 1,000 under-15s the chance to plan how it will work.”

Kirsty Lang told a story from her own experience.

In September four years ago, her son had just got his GCSE results, and they weren’t quite as good as he’d been hoping for. He was struggling to decide which A levels to do and she was summoned to a meeting at his school.

One of the options he was looking at was Drama A level and the others were History, Politics and Economics. He could only choose three so one had to go and the deputy head of the sixth form said, “well, the obvious thing to drop is Drama…”

Red rag to a bull!

“Why is that obvious?”

“Well, he doesn’t want to be an actor, does he? The others are more… well, you know… more academic…”

She proceeded to give him a list of six qualities which drama develops: confidence, presentation skills, team work, project management, creative thinking and storytelling.

“Storytelling,” she said. “That’s another critical skill that we deploy in all sorts of professions: politics, journalism, advertising. Why do you buy Nike trainers rather than a pair of unbranded shoes? Because you’ve been told a story about them, that they’re cool, that they’re worn by some of your heroes, that they’re shoes winners wear, and so on.”

“We know that growing up on Tyneside isn’t always easy,” explained Executive Producer for City of Dreams Ben Dickenson, “but we firmly believe our city can earn a reputation as the best place to be young. Over the last year, we’ve worked with thousands of children and young people and organisations in the arts, education, community, health and science sectors to come up with plans that can make a real difference to the lives of under-25s.”

City of Dreams, he added, “is a 10-year strategy to engage all children and young people in NewcastleGateshead in culture. It was initiated by NewcastleGateshead Cultural Venues in late 2017, through a consultation with 1,000 under-25 people on Tyneside called the Big Culture Conversation. Over the 10 years to 2028, City of Dreams will lead multiple programmes engaging all under-25s in cultural and creative activity, supporting them to have a stronger voice in decisions about the city, and growing their skills, confidence and resilience.

“Launching formally in September 2018, City of Dreams is a partnership mission, supported by a network of over 40 organisations from arts, culture, heritage, science, community, voluntary and statutory sectors. A Young Champions board, with members from Newcastle Youth Council and Gateshead Youth Assembly, ensure a strong voice of under-25s in everything we do.”

Initiatives announced at the launch include:

  • Make Something Brilliant, a city-wide programme of creative activities for all ages;
  • Projects supporting 1,000+ young people to pursue creative careers;
  • A long-term research partnership with Newcastle University;
  • Plans to engage 100% of schools in Newcastle and Gateshead by July 2019;
  • The Our City, Our Story programme to give young people a platform to share their stories about the city.

“No private school in this country has cut back on arts subjects,” argued Kirsty Lang. “On the contrary, they have theatres, rehearsal spaces, orchestras, art rooms. They get it. Meanwhile kids in the state sector are being deprived of this.

“The number of teenagers being entered for creative arts subjects at GCSE has dropped significantly in the past five years. Entries for GCSE design and technology fell by nearly a third (32 per cent) between 2012 and 2017. Between 2010 and 2017, there was a 24% drop in students taking drama GCSE.

“Our education system is stuck in the 19th century cramming kids' heads full of information which made sense when information was hard to get but now we’ve all got access to unlimited information on our phones. Many educational experts believe that we’re better off teaching the four Cs: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.”

An initiative from NewcastleGateshead Cultural Venues (NCGV), City of Dreams is funded by Arts Council England, Gillian Dickinson Trust & Wear and the Northumberland Community Foundation and is supported locally by BALTIC and BALTIC 39, The Centre for Life, Dance City, Live Theatre, Northern Stage, Sage Gateshead, Seven Stories, Theatre Royal and City Hall, Tyneside Cinema and all the Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM) venues, which are: Laing Art Gallery, Shipley Art Gallery, Discovery Museum, Great North Museum, Segedunum Roman Fort, Arbeia Roman Fort and Museum, Stephenson Railway Museum, South Shields Art Gallery and Museum, Hatton Gallery. TWAM also operates Tyne & Wear Archives from Discovery Museum.