Cultural Playing Field

Arts Development UK Professional Development Working Party meeting by Robin Simpson
September 5, 2014, 4:17 pm
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On Friday I was in Birmingham for a meeting of the Arts Development UK (ADUK) Professional Development Working Party. We were joined by Jessica Harris from NCVO to discuss the Cultural Commissioning Programme (CCP) and the potential for links between the CCP learning programme and the ADUK professional fellowship programme. We also considered the possibility of further ADUK national events to share learning and research from the CCP, following the success of the initial national seminars on cultural commissioning in June 2014. We then discussed the ADUK Conference which will take place at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff on 16/17 October, where the keynote speaker will be the Chair of Voluntary Arts, Peter Stark. You can book your conference place at: We were delighted to learn that the 2016 ADUK Conference will be hosted by Hull, UK City of Culture 2016. We also looked at the programme for the next ADUK national seminar which will focus on Arts & Health and will take place at the Catrin Finch Centre at Wrexham University in February or March 2015. The ADUK Professional Development Working Party then discussed ‘Our Cultural Commons’ – which is a partnership between Voluntary Arts and ADUK. We looked in particular at the scoping research currently being undertaken by the C3 Consultancy, led by Sue Isherwood, and talked about how best to publicise Sue’s call for existing examples of innovative, collaborative approaches to local cultural infrastructure. We also considered how the proposed Our Cultural Commons national event in June or July 2015 would fit into ADUK’s wider events programme. Finally we reviewed the ADUK Professional Fellowship Programme, which has now been running for three years, and discussed how to encourage more ADUK members to take part and the potential for further progression beyond the level of Senior Fellow. The fellowship programme is a really interesting way of encouraging and enabling continuing professional development for people working in local arts development and it is good to see how well the scheme has been taken up so far.

Robin Simpson.

Luminate Festival Trustees meeting by Robin Simpson
August 8, 2014, 12:44 pm
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I was at the Saltire Society in Edinburgh on Thursday for a meeting of the Trustees of the Luminate Festival. Now that Luminate (Scotland’s creative ageing festival) has been established as a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation, we have the usual range of governance, HR and financial issues to address as a Board. At this week’s meetings we approved several new policies and considered our latest management accounts. We also looked in detail at the programme for the 2014 Luminate Festival which will take place across Scotland from 1st – 31st October. It’s going to be the best festival yet with a fantastic range of events and activities. Full details will be available shortly at:

Robin Simpson.

53 Million Artists by Robin Simpson
August 8, 2014, 12:43 pm
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On Tuesday I was in London to meet Jo Hunter and David Micklem from 53 Million Artists. Jo and David started the ’53 Million Artists’ campaign at the end of last year. Despite having worked in arts organisations for some years, they both felt they had lost their own sense of creativity and came up with the idea of a campaign centred on doing which would encourage everyone to do something creative. The 53 Million Artists test website ( says “We think an artist is someone who has great ideas and who shares them with other people. We think you can do that too. We can do that. Everyone can do that. We can all be everyday artists. It’s not about talent or having a special skill – it’s about doing something different and sharing this with others.” Jo and David explained the four stages of the 53 Million Artists process: 1. Commit, 2. Do something creative, slightly outside your comfort zone, 3. Reflect, 4. Share online. 53 Million Artists secured some initial funding from Arts Council England with matched support from the Kings Cultural Institute which is undertaking research the effect taking part in the campaign has on individuals and communities. They have completed a pilot phase and are now developing a new website and partnerships to enable them to roll out a full UK-wide campaign next year. Jo and David are passionate about reclaiming the notion of artistry as something everyone does and want this to become a mainstream national conversation. We talked about the potential for Voluntary Arts and 53 Million Artists to work together and discussed possible links to Creative People and Places, the Media Trust’s Do Something Brilliant campaign and the Understanding Everyday Participation research project.

Robin Simpson.

Meeting the Connection Culture Programme Manager by Robin Simpson
August 8, 2014, 12:42 pm
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I was in Peterborough on Monday to meet Josie Hickin, the new Creative People and Places Programme Manager for Connection Culture. The Peterborough Creative People and Places consortium (of which Voluntary Arts is a member) has employed Josie to lead its programme to increase engagement in the arts in Peterborough. We talked about the various strands of the Connection Culture programme (focussing on young people, diverse communities and the voluntary arts sector – supported by the ‘Chamber of Culture’ which is providing training and mentoring). We discussed some of the particular challenges we are likely to face and the role each of the consortium partners will play in the delivery of the programme strands. It’s great to have Josie in post and I hope the Connection Culture programme will now really start to take shape.

Robin Simpson.

Culture Guides by Robin Simpson
July 24, 2014, 11:07 am
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Culture Guides logo

Culture Guides logo

On Wednesday I joined Daniel, Laraine and Janina in Birmingham for part of our two-day Culture Guides event. Culture Guides is our EU Grundtvig partnership project, which is engaging volunteers as “culture guides” in six European countries – to reach out and strengthen the access for social and cultural marginalised groups to arts and culture as a gateway to personal development and social inclusion. It is based on the concept of “cultural sustainability” meaning that active citizenship, social inclusion and cultural cohesion will be promoted by “citizens help citizens” in a civil society context. In the UK, Voluntary Arts is working in four areas to recruit and develop volunteer Culture Guides – Wrexham and Torfaen in Wales, and St Helens and Faversham in England. This week volunteers and representatives of our partner organisations from Wrexham and St Helens joined us in Birmingham to learn more about the project and to start to explore the details of how the volunteer Culture Guides will work in practice in each location. You can see more details of the Culture Guides project at and there is a Facebook group for the UK part of the project at:

Robin Simpson.

Understanding the value and impact of cultural experiences by Robin Simpson
July 24, 2014, 10:50 am
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On Monday I was at Sadler’s Wells in London for the Arts Council England event on “Understanding the value and impact of cultural experiences”. This event marked the launch of a literature review commissioned by ACE from WolfBrown. Alan Brown and John Carnwath of WolfBrown explained that they had been asked to gather literature from around the world on the intrinsic value of arts and cultural experiences. They looked at what people mean when they talk about value, impact and meaning in relation to the arts and culture. They identified three meanings of ‘value': the value of cultural experiences to individuals; the value represented in cultural organisations; and the value to society of a thriving cultural sector. The literature review concentrates on the first two meanings. John Carnwath spoke about the intrinsic and instrumental benefits as they are experienced by the individual. He described peaks of impact decreasing (or sometimes increasing) over time – with some cultural experiences resulting in impressions that linger in audiences’ minds weeks later. Alan Brown outlined the ‘creative capacity’ of organisations as six core elements: 1. Clarity of intent and commitment to risk taking; 2. Community relevance; 3. Excellence in curating and a capacity to innovate (new works are not necessarily innovative); 4. Technical proficiency, skill and artistry; 5. Capacity to engage audiences; and 6. Critical feedback and commitment to continuous improvement. These elements are backed up by two conditional elements: supportive networks and sufficient risk capital.

Alan Brown, Principal, WolfBrown, speaking at 'Understanding the value and impact of cultural experiences

Alan Brown, Principal, WolfBrown, speaking at ‘Understanding the value and impact of cultural experiences

I was interested to hear Alan Brown say “Many agree that quality is best judged by outside experts. We know from our own research that programmes of what some would consider low artistic quality – for example amateur productions of stage plays – can generate high audience impacts. And, contrariwise, programmes of high artistic quality can leave audiences uninspired or worse.”

Jane Bryant from ArtsWork asked about the relationship between audiences and participation. John Carnwath said there is “a lack of agreement among different studies in terms of the constructs that they are using and the methods they are using to assess impact, [which] makes it very difficult to compare the studies with one another. There are some studies that are more focussed on active participation and others that are more focussed on reception but there is very little that we can say about comparing those at this point.”

Alan Brown added: “when an individual contributes something to the creative work itself, making something or in co-creating or being involved in some way, there is literature to suggest that another level of meaning can be accessed in terms of creating something of your own that is an expression of yourself and the identity development outcomes that are associated with that, up to and including legacy outcomes and creating something that is a legacy, which are unique to participatory involvement. But teasing out the additional impacts of participatory involvement is really tricky and very much a need for additional research.”

You can read the full literature review at:

Nick Merriman, Director, Manchester Museum, speaking at 'Understanding the value and impact of cultural experiences

Nick Merriman, Director, Manchester Museum, speaking at ‘Understanding the value and impact of cultural experiences

After the WolfBrown presentation we heard from Nick Merriman, Director of Manchester Museum, and Catherine Bunting about the Manchester Quality Metrics pilot. Inspired by an Australian example and developed for Manchester by John Knell, the pilot has been working with a number of arts and cultural organisations to trial before and after surveys – for audience members, arts organisations and peers – using tablet computers. The next phase of development has been funded through the Digital R&D for the arts fund (supported by ACE, NESTA and AHRC) and will comprise a 12-month project to refine the metrics, wider testing, automating the system, exploring how to incentivise public feedback, and carrying out academic research. ACE has published a report on the quality metrics pilot which is available at:

Finally we heard from James Mackenzie-Blackman (from New Adventures and Re:Bourne), Caroline Sharp (from the National Foundation for Educational Research) and Ben Lee (from Shared Intelligence) about quality principles for work by, with and for children and young people. Caroline said they had identified seven principles characterising high quality work. I was intrigued to hear her make a distinction between young audience members, participants and artists. What is the difference between a ‘participant’ and an ‘artist’?

The ACE event was interesting and thought-provoking but I found the lack of attention to active participation, in relation to the value and impact of cultural experiences, frustrating.

Robin Simpson.

Peterborough Connection Culture meeting by Robin Simpson
July 18, 2014, 3:23 pm
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On Monday I chaired a meeting of Connection Culture, the Peterborough Creative People and Places consortium, at the Key Theatre in Peterborough. Connection Culture is a three-year programme, funded by Arts Council England, to achieve a step-change in arts engagement in Peterborough. We plan to do this through three main strands of activity – focussing on young people, diverse communities and voluntary arts groups – linked by a ‘Chamber of Culture’ which will provide training, mentoring and networking to each of the three strands. On Monday we were joined by Jan Kofi-Tsekpo from Arts Council England. We updated Jan on our progress and discussed issues relating to the programme budget and risk assessment. We also talked about learning points from the recent national peer learning meeting of Creative People and Places consortia in Doncaster.

Robin Simpson.


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