Notebook: What We Need Is a Jamie Oliver Type to Convince Young People That the Arts Are Cool
Millard, Rosie, New Statesman (1996)
So charisma is not innate, but can be taught. According to the psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman from the University of Hertfordshire, learning how to shake someone's hand engagingly (briefly touch their upper arm) or address a room memorably (lean forward, move around to indicate enthusiasm) is vital to pepping up your personality. One might imagine the arts world to be full of overly pepped-up personalities, but it seems that good communicators are thin on the ground. Or so Arts & Business has suggested. This organisation, which aims to convert the suits in the Square Mile and beyond into arts sponsors, mentors and patrons, is seeking to turn children on to the arts. I was invited to chair a dinner run by its offspring, Arts & Kids, to discuss how this might be done.
The name of Jamie Oliver was invoked throughout the meal. Having vocalised, in a single TV series, years of growing parental unease about the rubbish that passes for school dinners, as well as directly affecting government policy, the Naked Chef was cited as a textbook example of how to get children to accept what is good for them. If you can get children to swap Turkey Twizzlers for aubergine stew, then who's to say you can't get them to trade slobbing in front of the telly for playing musical instruments, going to see Frida Kahlo at Tate Modern, or hanging out at the British Museum?
The panel agreed that the most important thing was not necessarily money (although Tate's announcement that all exhibitions will be free to the under-18s helps), but a Jamie Oliver type who could communicate, via television, to young people that the arts are cool.
Who is out there already? …