Cultural Playing Field

The Creative Industries Federation by Robin Simpson
October 22, 2014, 1:00 pm
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On Tuesday afternoon I was at the University of the Arts/Central St Martins in London to meet John Kampfner, Director of the new Creative Industries Federation. The Federation was the idea of Sir John Sorrell who felt that the public arts and commercial creative industries work in silos and, in recent years, have failed to make the case for the civic value of the arts. Having started in March this year, the Creative Industries Federation now has a team of nine staff, plus a range of pro bono support, and is working to create a single UK voice for the public arts, commercial creative industries and cultural education. The Federation will undertake advocacy and research and will seek to develop a national network (both physical and digital). John said he hoped the Federation would encompass everyone from individual potters to gaming companies to Time Warner. He wants the membership to include companies, organisations, trade bodies, small organisations and thousands of individuals across the UK. The Federation will be formally launched on 24 November and plans a dozen large roadshows around the country next year. I spoke to John Kampfner, and his colleagues Eliza Easton and Tim Moore, about the importance of looking at the whole cultural spectrum, including the voluntary arts, subsidised arts and the commercial sector.

Robin Simpson.

53 Million Artists update by Robin Simpson
October 22, 2014, 12:58 pm
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On Tuesday I was in London to meet David Micklem to discuss the ’53 Million Artists’ campaign. Since I last met David, and Jo Hunter, at the beginning of August, they have refined the language they are using to explain the four stages of the 53 Million Artists process (Make time; Do stuff; Think about it: Share it). David said they are aware that their work to date has been very London-focussed and focussed on their friends in the arts. They are now keen to make 53 Million Artists a genuinely national campaign. 53 Million Artists has secured further funding from Arts Council England for a second stage of research and development. David wants the 53 Million Artists website to be an aggregator of other similar sites rather than a competitor, with more of a ‘magazine’ feel to it. The most important part of the process for 53 Million Artists is getting people to reflect on their creative experiences. We agreed to continue speaking regularly about the campaign and the potential for 53 Million Artists and Voluntary Arts to work together.

Robin Simpson.

Arts Development UK annual conference, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff by Robin Simpson
October 17, 2014, 10:50 am
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Peter Stark giving the keynote speech at the Arts Development UK Conference in Cardiff

Peter Stark giving the keynote speech at the Arts Development UK Conference in Cardiff

On Thursday I was at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff to attend the Arts Development UK annual conference where Voluntary Arts Chair, Peter Stark, gave the opening keynote speech. Peter spoke about his formative cultural experiences with the People’s Theatre youth theatre in Newcastle, saying that the work of Arts Development UK and Voluntary Arts is in his ‘structural DNA’. The fact that other people did not have the advantages he had has been his driving force. He described his career in the UK and his work in South Africa. On returning to England in 2012, he felt the country and the arts sector had changed in some fundamental way. Referring to the recent reports he has published with Christopher Gordon and David Powell (GPS Culture), Peter said:

“I realised that we had become, in a way that was far more true than I had ever experienced before, not one nation but two, geographically and by wealth and by class and by investment. So I had a set of numbers on the one hand, and a growing sense of disjunction with the structure that was dealing with culture and the arts on the other. That’s why we started doing our work. We started doing it out of a feeling that things were wrong.”

Peter emphasised the importance of valuing the creation of artistic value as much as we value the creation of instrumental effects. And he said that the key to wellbeing in the arts is participation.

Looking at the current challenges facing local cultural infrastructure, Peter said “I don’t see any way other than to start again from the bottom”. He quoted Jack Dixon saying “Noah was an amateur. The Titanic was built by professionals.”

He said the heart of how local government works is changing and “if ever there was a challenge to national bodies in our country, it is to ensure culture becomes a competence of combined authorities.”

Peter quoted Sue Isherwood’s first piece of research for the Our Cultural Commons initiative in which she says: “I have read the words and listened to the voices of committed, passionate and thoughtful people, none of whom are nationally known names; all of whom deserve to be heard in the courts of the cultural elite.”

Peter finished by launching Our Cultural Commons – a joint initiative of Voluntary Arts and Arts Development UK which will:
– collect evidence of existing innovative local collaborative practice to sustain and develop local cultural infrastructure and then promote best practice
– provide a space for discussion of potential solutions to the problems facing local cultural infrastructure and organisation and the debate on the nature of the cultural commons that we aspire to in the future
– empower and support the voice of those ‘local’ ambitions in debates on future national cultural policies, structures and funding.

You can read the full description of Our Cultural Commons and join the debate at:

Developing community choirs in care homes by Robin Simpson
October 9, 2014, 3:05 pm
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At the end of last year, Voluntary Arts undertook an initial research project, supported by The Baring Foundation, on arts participation for older people in residential and day-care settings. We looked at the potential for voluntary arts groups to support arts activities in care homes, identified a number of ways in which this is already happening and suggested a range of ideas for developing further activity. In my subsequent discussions with David Cutler, Director of The Baring Foundation, we agreed to focus initially on choirs and singing, in order to try to achieve a step change in the level of arts activity in care homes across the UK. David and I planned a roundtable discussion about the potential for developing community choirs in care homes, which took place at The Baring Foundation in London on Wednesday. This meeting brought together representatives of choirs and choral conductors with experts from the care sector, including the Chief Executive of Care England and the Executive Director of the National Care Forum. We were joined by Janet Morrison, the Chair of Trustees of The Baring Foundation, who is also the Chief Executive of Independent Age – a charity for older people. David Cutler chaired a fascinating discussion which looked at the evidence for the benefits of choirs and singing in care homes, the scale and pattern of current activity, different models of provision and the barriers to increasing this activity. We talked about the need for some mapping of current levels of activity, developing case studies to illustrate the ways in which choirs are effectively engaging with care homes and the importance of suggesting a range of possible models of engagement. We reached a surprising degree of consensus about a possible national approach to increasing the number of choirs working with, or based in, care homes. The Baring Foundation will now consider how to take this forward.

Robin Simpson.

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.


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