Welcome to the website of Susan M. Coles, Artist & Arts, Creativity & Educational Consultant.

Posted in Hope for the Future

A Conference every weekend in November has been quite daunting but each and everyone has been different- although the core of Art and Design education has been there for all. So, now let’s talk about the Art Party Conference on the 23rd of November, in that beautiful seaside town of Scarborough.

I have never been one for parties, preferring a quieter way to celebrate life’s great moments. But The Art Party Conference brought me out of the shadows and into the cold light of day, to march through the soggy sands of the Scarborough beach, with a crowd of arty people all proudly holding their placards, banners, portraits of Michael Gove and wooly gloves….. and led by our Pied Piper of Art advocacy Bob and Roberta Smith. Lesley Butterworth and I were proud to carry the NSEAD banner followed by other NSEAD members as part of the vibrant throng of like minded people. Bob bravely incited the crowd to chant, but perhaps this is where we could have done with Gareth Malone! As we almost reached the Scarborough Spa, a helping hand was lent by the magnificent Richard Wentworth, who took my side of the banner and asked us why we were there and who we represented.

Inside the Spa, the theatre’s main hall was a visual riot of colour and messianic art banners were hanging down from the surrounding theatre balconies. A platform in the middle stood out, strewn with flags and banners, and became the centre point for the laying down of the banners and placards as people walked in. It was like a great altar to art – more than symbolic on a day when spirits were revived, beliefs were re-stated, comradeship and friendships continued and also began. All around this centre piece were the art stalls, including our own NSEAD book stall creaking under the weight of all those fabulous books on Art and Art education. There were Performance artists, artists making and selling, organisations sharing their motives, rationale and work. The stalls spread out of the hall into other spaces, and up the staircase onto the next level. So, everywhere you looked there was a creative space or person. The historical building, with its ornate decoration and chandeliers, looked strangely at home with this contemporary and colourful tribe who had invaded it. The Wurlitzer organ being played as we walked in put the whole seaside context right into the centre of this grand show. Thank you Howard Beaumont.

After the Mayor and Mayoress opened the event, with a good speech from himself about the importance of art and design, Bob began proceedings with his eloquent letter to Mister Gove. It still moves me to hear this, because, amongst the sparks of humour, is a message so strong and so sincere. Provocative speeches followed throughout the day, including one from our own General Secretary, Lesley Butterworth. Lesley spoke eloquently and clearly about what NSEAD felt about the toxicity of the proposed national curriculum model and shared the news that we had decided to make our own “damn curriculum”, relevant to the 21st century child. It reminded us that this day was a call to arms, a reminder too that the Secretary of State for Education was not a friend of art and design education and, if anything, was its nemesis. Shelly Asquith, President of the University of the Arts Students’ Union, told us all what it was like to be a student in these difficult times, especially if you wanted to study the Arts. Obstacle after obstacle stands in the way, but passion prevails. Salvador Dali aka Jessica Voorsanger, (a woman of many guises) was master of ceremonies throughout the day, with a “Movember” moustache to die for.

I wandered about, weaving my way in and out of it all, enjoying the panels with artists and educators discussing their reasons for being artists, what turned them onto art, how they thought art should be taught and also responding to the views and comments from the large and diverse audience. At one point I just sat in the upstairs balcony and looked down on the main hall, soaking in the atmosphere and spending time looking at the individual contributions in the ever growing pile of votives and offerings around the altar of art. I also met a lot of pro-active NSEAD members, some of whom I knew and some of whom I had met via our Facebook groups or through Twitter talk.

Michael Grove MP made his promised appearance, although looking somewhat out of place. As near to the “real” thing as we were likely to get, he surely played his role well. His many Twitter discussions and spats have built up to this moment in time and you can imagine that he wasn’t greeted with applause! What would the real one have felt like if he saw people queuing up to throw wooden balls at clay effigies of himself? What would he have felt if he had seen the portraits and the placards? Is there a real Michael Gove? I’m moving towards the “Men in Black” theory of alien life on earth at the moment, aliens who live on Earth and hide their true identity from ordinary humans.

As twilight descended and the North Sea reflected the lights of the coastal town like colourful gemstones rolling on a glass floor, we had a brief break before the evening began. The arrival of the Deptford X Flash Mob moving in to spell out ART IS FOR EVERYONE started the evening off with an explosion of creative action. Lesley and I (both now honorary flashmobbers) were heroically struggling to do our letter E in our allotted five minutes (it was cunningly disguised as the colours of NUFC).

Music followed, loud and eclectic, people met and talked in the bar, performances continued, films were shared, and everyone seemed to have a smile on their face. It wasn’t just the drink either- it was being in such a supportive atmosphere. Bob and Stuart (Stuart is the Director of Crescent Arts) never stopped for a moment and their belief and enthusiasm was the pulse of the day.

One of the questions I asked the panel discussing how art should be taught in schools, was centered around “shouldn’t we actually be asking young people these questions?” I proposed that the next steps for the Art Party should be to capture student voice and opinion. Too many adults are busy telling us what they think is right for young people and we have to turn the spoltlight round. After all, in a few years time, these will be the voters who help decide the kind of government the country wants.

The Art Party Conference must surely be a beginning and not a one off event? We still need to educate and to inform. I was aware on Saturday that some artists presumed that all was lost with the school curriculum when in fact it isn’t. We really are working hard through NSEAD, with other alliances, and through our All Party Parliamentary Group on Art, Craft and Design education to inform and influence policy makers of now and of the future. Building more bridges between the various organisations who attended on Saturday (as the event itself did) is very important. Sharing what we do and seeing how it all connects in ensuring an entitlement to quality art craft and design education for all learners, (from early years to life long learners) is crucial to the success of advocacy. Social media has allowed connections to start, to develop, to flourish. Social media made this event vision happen. The art and design education world has great opportunities to move forward and build on a one day event which was both significant and worthwhile. Let’s not wait too long!

Links from the web “after” the event:



3888 days ago

Hear hear- whats next for the Art Party? We cant afford to let it stop here. Lets get out and do more.

the artist from Hull

3888 days ago

yes and we enjoyed the day and listened to many voices. We also feel we can keep this going but how do we do that as it must have took so long to organise one day? Who knows, but lets try.


3888 days ago

Not Michael G by the way! I wasn’t there but “watched” on twitter and Facebook which is great. Next time- can you do some live streaming (I’m based in Germany). Well done Bob and gang.

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