There are many shared themes and ideas across the fields of arts-based and inclusive research: the arts have the capacity to connect different communities, provide a means of expression, and promote wellbeing at individual and social levels. Researchers into inclusivity often draw on arts-based methods to promote engagement or capture ideas and perspectives.
In the past few years, the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of arts in promoting wellbeing and inclusivity. From singing on balconies to NHS rainbows in windows, there were many reminders of how the arts can build community resilience and connection (Greenberg & Gordon, 2020). However, certain issues of inclusivity within arts education have only grown worse during this period; for example, the decreased opportunities for arts education for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, the lost specialist support from periods of lockdown or isolation, and the funding cuts to arts provision faced by many schools (ISM, 2020; Sabol, 2022; Shaw & Mayo, 2021). As we emerge from the pandemic and face further crises, such as the cost of living, and the residual impact on mental health, how can we promote further inclusivity in, and through, arts education?
In November 2022, the Arts-Based Educational Research and the Inclusive Education special interest groups (SIGs) held a joint webinar, ‘Arts for All: Exploring Inclusivity in Arts Education’. This event brought together the membership and themes of both SIGs to explore how arts education can promote inclusivity. Following the webinar, we invited our presenters to contribute to a BERA Blog special issue. This special issue includes contributions from researchers at different career stages, independent researchers and international perspectives. The authors share a vibrant palette of arts-based methods, and explore common themes of voice, identity, expression and inclusion.
In ‘Story Crafting a Picture of Me’, Jane Dudman and Tracy Hayes document an inclusive method utilising multiple art forms, which provided a mode of personal creative expression for young participants with special educational needs and disability. This highlights the potential of the arts to empower and provide a voice for young people, especially those who may face barriers to communication and expression.
Simeon Bates continues this theme in ‘A Case Study Exploring What Role Music Can Play in Integrating EAL Students into Education’, where he presents an action research study on how music education can overcome linguistic barriers and provide a sense of participation and belonging for students whose first language is not English. This blog post again shows the importance of arts education in giving a voice to young people, but it also reminds us that this is often the first part of their education to be cut.
In ‘What’s Your Tag? Graffiti Art and Curriculum Injustice’ Frances Howard and Pat Thomson consider the impact on young people who are deprived of such opportunities for individual creative expression. The authors use urban street art as a method for exploring voice and identity in young people in alternative education.
In their blog post, ‘A Hong Kong School Music Education Perspective’, Gigi Chi Ying Lam and Stephanie Hoi-Ying Chan provide a context of inclusivity through music education in Hong Kong. Drawing on Small’s (1998) concept of ‘musicking’, the authors explore how different musical traditions and practices shape musical learning from an international perspective.
Another international perspective is provided in Hiroko Hara’s blog post,‘Practising Collaborative Filmmaking for Inclusivity’, which presents action research from the University of Kumamoto where students document and celebrate their diversity through a collaborative media project. This reminds us of the universal power of arts engagement to embody personal expression and inclusion.
Finally, in ‘Fostering Curiosity and Inclusivity through Early Years Creative Encounters in a Museum’, Dimi Kaneva describes a series of interactive workshops for early years learners. This blog post explores how open-ended play in a creatively engaging environment built confidence and inclusion, and reminds us of the impact on young people of the loss of this kind of creative social interaction during Covid-19 lockdowns.
Greenberg, D. M., & Gordon, I. (2020, May 1). Lockdown singing: The science of why music helps us connect in isolation. The Conversation. www.theconversation.com/lockdown-singing-the-science-of- why-music-helps-us-connect-in-isolation-137312
Incorporated Society of Musicians [ISM]. (2020). The heart of the school is missing: Music education in the COVID-19 crisis. https://www.ism.org/images/files/ISM_UK-Music-Teachers-survey-report_Dec-2020_A4_ONLINE-2.pdf
Sabol, F. R. (2022). Art education during the COVID-19 pandemic: The journey across a changing landscape. Arts Education Policy Review, 123(3), 127–134. https://doi.org/10.1080/10632913.2021.1931599
Shaw, R. D., & Mayo, W. (2021). Music education and distance learning during COVID-19: A survey. Arts Education Policy Review, 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1080/10632913.2021.1931597
Small, C. (1998). Musicking: The meanings of performing and listening. Wesleyan University Press.