Children have a right to enjoy art and culture


All the Nordic countries have signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It states that all children have a right to participate in art and culture. In the Nordic countries, there are a number of best practices to inspire us.

The UN children’s right convention was celebrated on November 20th. A couple of days earlier, I had a conversation with Professor Anne Bamford, who has made surveys worldwide for Unesco regarding children’s access to the arts. Here are her most positive examples of how this right manifests itself in the Nordic countries.

Tónstofa Vargerðar is an Icelandic music school, specialized in offering music lessons to physically or mentally challenged young people. Dr. Bamford underlined the joy participating in musical activities can offer, even to someone with severe impairments. With the technology and knowledge of today, active participation is possible . The school in Iceland is alone in its specialization, unfortunately long waiting lists mean that many children are not able to get in.

In Denmark, Anne Bamford highlighted the kindergartens and the Danish kindergarten teachers, who both use active pedagogics and are aware of how important their work is for the participation of small children in creative processes. She also mentioned another Danish best practice: the Ministry for Culture has reintroduced singing on a daily basis, not only in kindergartens and schools, but in meetings and conferences as well. Denmark sings!

In the Faroe Islands, Anne Bamford was impressed by young people finding art and music education on the internet, teaching themselves instruments, creating bands, as well as learning visual arts and film making. Creativity outside the institutions lives well.

Professor Anne Bamford

The teachers’ education in Finland is unique in the world. No teacher leaves training without tools for teaching in the creative subjects and use creative tools in other subjects as well. The research of Anne Bamford has consistently showed that learning in and through the arts has a well documented positive influence on wellbeing as well as on achievements. But this holds true only if the teacher has a solid professional ground to stand on – if not, the damage may outweigh the gains.

A strength in Sweden is giving room to difference –an increasingly diverse cultural expression, reflecting the changing population. The Swedish culture schools have taken big steps to include many forms of art. This is a positive change from the traditional pattern in the Western world, where music schools have been state institutions, whereas dance, drama and visual arts schools have been primarily privately run.

In Norway, the flag ship is the Cultural Rucksack, a school touring programme which guarantees that all Norwegian school children will be able to experience art at least three times yearly throughout their school time. Dr. Bamford has herself criticized the programme for all too often providing isolated one time experiences of art. In our discussion, however, she stressed that, considering the geographical and logistical challenges in Norway, it is quite sensational to have a nationwide priority programme that truly reaches all pupils, no matter how remote their school may be.

But what, then, can the Nordic cooperation contribute with to promote the right of all children to art and culture? I mentioned the Nordic Culture Point’s grant programme Volt, where you people up to 25 years of age can get support for their own initiatives. Dr. Bamford immediately responded “That’s good!”, underlining how many of the best projects are born where the young people are given the support to create themselves.

She also called for compiling an overview of the existing reports and research. Such an overview would facilitate interchange of ideas and inspirations for all who work with children and young people in the Nordic countries.

TEXT: Hedvig Westerlund-Kapnas, Senior Advisor at the Nordic Culture Point

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