Cultural Playing Field


Art-Age Conference, Utrecht by Robin Simpson
April 11, 2014, 1:07 pm
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From Sunday to Wednesday I was in Utrecht in the Netherlands for the Art-Age Conference. Art-Age is our European Union Grundtvig Lifelong Learning Programme partnership project looking at arts-based learning and active ageing. The partnership includes six organisations from five countries (Denmark, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden and Slovenia), including national amateur arts representative organisations, alongside others providing expertise in the field of learning and culture in a civil society context.

Delegates at the Art-Age Conference, Utrecht, Netherlands

Delegates at the Art-Age Conference, Utrecht, Netherlands

This week’s conference was the culmination of the two-year project and brought together around 45 delegates, including groups of older arts participants from each of the five countries. The UK representatives were members of the 3rd Thought Arts Collective from London (who have been working with Maxine Webster and Peter Avery at 1st Framework). They performed an interactive theatre piece during the conference and have now been invited to perform it at the Löftdalens Folk High School in Sweden.

Professor Evert Bisschop Boele speaking at the Art-Age Conference, Utrecht, Netherlands

Professor Evert Bisschop Boele speaking at the Art-Age Conference, Utrecht, Netherlands

The conference included fascinating keynote speeches from two Dutch academics. Professor Jeroen Lutters, spoke about ‘The essence of civilisation: on the value of aesthetic learning by arts participation’ and Professor Evert Bisschop Boele gave a presentation titled ‘Learning by elderly people: a contextual and biographical view on how elderly people learn in music and its consequences for arts participation’. But the most interesting parts of the conference were the group discussions which brought together elderly people from across Europe to look at why they take part in creative cultural activity, what learning results from their participation and how we might make a better case for support of arts-based learning for older people. These discussions were dynamic, thought-provoking and extremely enjoyable.

Breakout group discussion at the Art-Age Conference, Utrecht, Netherlands

Breakout group discussion at the Art-Age Conference, Utrecht, Netherlands

The conference was very well organised by our Dutch colleagues at Landelijk Kennisinstituut Cultuureducatie en Amateurkunst (LKCA) and I think it was a very succesful conclusion to the Art-Age project.

Landelijk Kennisinstituut Cultuureducatie en Amateurkunst (LKCA), Utrecht, Netherlands

Landelijk Kennisinstituut Cultuureducatie en Amateurkunst (LKCA), Utrecht, Netherlands

Robin Simpson.



Understanding Everyday Participation by Robin Simpson
March 20, 2014, 6:16 pm
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On Tuesday I was be in London for a meeting of the partners in the AHRC Connected Communities Everyday Participation research project. It was very interesting to hear from the researchers who have been conducting the project’s first door-to-door interviews, in Cheetham Hill, Manchester and Broughton in Salford. They have been asking people what they do in their leisure time and the excerpts from the interview transcripts we saw were fascinating. It’s chastening to remind ourselves how far away most people are from ‘the arts’ but it was very encouraging to see how the Voluntary Arts definition of ‘creative cultural activity’ is proving extremely relevant in this study of ‘everyday participation’. The project team have also been re-analysing data from the Taking Part survey to start to create a new segmentation based on statistical methods (hierarchical cluster analysis). This revealed some interesting and surprising patterns of cultural participation.

Robin Simpson.



Discussing diversity with Arts Council England by Robin Simpson
March 7, 2014, 3:16 pm
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On Wednesday I was in London to meet Amanda Roberts, Director of Diversity at Arts Council England, with colleagues from our partner organisations Voice 4 Change and Black & Ethnic Minority Arts (BEMA). This was the second of our regular meetings to explore connections between ACE and voluntary BME arts groups. We talked about diminishing resources for equality work and the danger of equality becoming a luxury rather than a necessity. We discussed how ACE could better communicate its funding opportunities to BME artists and organisations. In particular we discussed the lack of awareness of the availability of small grants up to £15k from ACE’s Grants for the Arts Lottery fund. Applications under £15k now have a 6 week turnaround and a success rate of approximately 60%. We also discussed the Voluntary Arts Expert Advisory Panel which is about to start an investigation into the nature, scale and scope of creative cultural activity within black, Asian and ethnic minority communities in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Amanda Roberts has agreed to sit on the Expert Advisory Panel and stressed how important she feels this initiative is. 

Robin Simpson.



Cultural Value Project Advisory Group meeting by Robin Simpson
March 7, 2014, 3:15 pm
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On Tuesday I was in London for a meeting of the AHRC Cultural Value Project Advisory Group. The project leader, Professor Geoffrey Crossick, gave us a report on the second funding call which resulted in 26 awards to support critical reviews and expert workshops exploring a variety of aspects of cultural value. The project team now plan to commission some further research to fill the gaps not met by the open funding calls. They will also run a series of project workshops, bringing together some current grant holders and other researchers. On Tuesday we started to discuss the structure of the final report of the Cultural Value Project. There have been some interesting contributions to the cultural value debate on the project’s blog at: http://culturalvalueproject.wordpress.com/

Robin Simpson.



2014 Epic Awards Winners’ Reception at Platform Arts in Glasgow by Robin Simpson
February 28, 2014, 11:33 am
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On Wednesday evening I hosted the 2014 Epic Awards Winners’ Reception at Platform Arts in Glasgow. Delegates from the Voluntary Arts Scotland conference were joined by Epic Award winners and runners-up from across the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The evening started with a performance of a song from the Commonwealth Games Songbook from local voluntary arts choir, East End Voices. The awards and certificates were then presented by the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop MSP, and the Chair of Voluntary Arts, Peter Stark. The four Epic Award winners each received special Epic Award 2014 trophies made for us by Maklab and GalGael. GalGael is a community-engaged organisation in Glasgow that offers vulnerable people the opportunity to learn practical skills in wood working and GalGael also made the baton for the Commonwealth Games Queen’s Baton Relay. I read out personal messages of congratulation to the Epic Award winners from the UK, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland Culture Ministers. Details of all the winners and runners-up can be found at http://epicawards.co.uk. The evening finished with the presentation of the Peers’ Award for Excellence 2014, voted for by the shortlisted groups, which went to Foyle Haven Arts Collective in Derry for a creative writing project that gave the homeless and those struggling with addiction a voice in print and on stage as part of Derry/Londonderry UK City of Culture 2013. We were then piped out of Platform Arts by Scotland Epic Award runners-up, Lewis Pipe Band. Thanks to all Voluntary Arts staff, Board members, Advisory Group members and Voluntary Arts Ambassadors across the UK and Ireland for their help with the administration, shortlisting and judging of Epic Awards 2014. A particular thank you to Jemma Neville, Director of Voluntary Arts Scotland, who managed the Epic Awards scheme this year. Thanks also to everyone who sponsored Epic Awards and donated prizes – we really value your support. And thanks to Fiona Campbell for her calligraphy on the beautiful Epic Award certificates. The Epic Awards Winners’ Reception was part-funded by the Big Lottery Fund and Spirit of 2012 Trust ‘Keeping the Spirit of 2012 Alive’ programme. It was a moving and inspirational evening celebrating the extraordinary achievements of local volunteer-led arts groups. 

Robin Simpson.



Voluntary Arts Scotland Conference ‘Culture, creativity and you: why making matters’ by Robin Simpson
February 28, 2014, 11:31 am
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On Wednesday I was at Platform Arts in Easterhouse, Glasgow for the Voluntary Arts Scotland Conference ‘Culture, creativity and you: why making matters’. Delegates were brought to the conference from the centre of Glasgow by bus with local historian Douglas McCreadie explaining the history and culture of the area. The Acting Chair of Voluntary Arts Scotland, Jim Tough, opened the conference and Jackie Shearer, Arts Manager at Platform, described the role the arts centre has been playing in urban regeneration in Easterhouse.

Richard Holloway speaking at the Voluntary Arts Scotland Conference 'Culture, creativity and you: why making matters'.

Richard Holloway speaking at the Voluntary Arts Scotland Conference ‘Culture, creativity and you: why making matters’.

Our keynote speaker was Richard Holloway, Chair of Sistema Scotland. Richard, a former Chair of Scottish Arts Council, spoke passionately and inspirationally about the how humans “represent the world back to itself” through art. He said “play is the fundamental engine of human evolution” and suggested that culture requires both conservatives who preserve traditions and radicals who break new ground. He spoke about the challenges of the modern world, suggesting “we have created a leisured class [the unemployed] with no capacity for using that time wisely”. He said “we’ve created a class that works too hard and a class that can’t get work”. Richard Holloway spoke about the success of ‘The Big Noise’ in Raploch, Stirling, saying there are now 12 children from Raploch in the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland.

Crafting the Arts panel discussion at the Voluntary Arts Scotland Conference 'Culture, creativity and you: why making matters'

Crafting the Arts panel discussion at the Voluntary Arts Scotland Conference ‘Culture, creativity and you: why making matters’

After lunch the conference continued with a panel discussion, chaired by Caroline Docherty from Creative Scotland reflecting on the Voluntary Arts Scotland Crafting the Arts project (funded by The Big Lottery Fund). Gillian Harrison and Carol Stobie spoke about our learning from the project, the changes to local authorities and Third Sector Interfaces over the past five years and the achievements of our Voluntary Arts Ambassadors. It was great to see so many Voluntary Arts Ambassadors in the room and to have a chance to pay tribute to the wonderful voluntary contribution they have made to the work of Voluntary Arts Scotland.

Feltmaking at the Voluntary Arts Scotland Conference 'Culture, creativity and you: why making matters'

Feltmaking at the Voluntary Arts Scotland Conference ‘Culture, creativity and you: why making matters’

Delegates then engaged in a ‘Cultural Crofting’ creative discussion, addressing the challenges facing local cultural infrastructure and expressing possible solutions through the medium of felt-making – with expert instruction and support from members of the International Feltmakers Association.

Chriistopher Silver and Patricia Ferguson discussing the Scottish Independence Referendum at the Voluntary Arts Scotland Conference 'Culture, creativity and you: why making matters'

Chriistopher Silver and Patricia Ferguson discussing the Scottish Independence Referendum at the Voluntary Arts Scotland Conference ‘Culture, creativity and you: why making matters’

The final session of the conference saw us hosting what we believe to be the only public debate on the Scottish Independence Referendum to focus on the implications for the arts and culture. Christopher Silver of the National Collective represented Yes Scotland and the Labour Party’s Shadow Culture Minister, Patricia Ferguson MSP, spoke on behalf of the Better Together Campaign. They were joined by Andy Milne, Chief Executive of SURF, Scotland’s Independent Regeneration Network who provided a thoughtful provocation. The ensuing debate was thoughtful and polite with many areas of agreement between the speakers about the importance of the arts and culture in Scotland’s future and the need to encourage as many people as possible to vote in the referendum.

The Voluntary Arts Scotland was an excellent event in a great venue with a creatively constructed programme, interesting speakers and an attentive sell-out audience. Congratulations to Jemma, Kelly, Gillian, Carol, Jason, Cassandra and Harriet for a wonderful event.

Robin Simpson.



Community Games by Robin Simpson
February 28, 2014, 10:10 am
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On Monday I was in Birmingham to meet Nikki Enoch, the National Manager of Community Games (a legacy of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games). Since January 2012 there have been 3,551 Community Games across England. Each Community Games has to be led by volunteers, needs an cultural element as well as sports and must have opening and closing events. Community Games is run by a partnership involving the County Sports Partnership Network and the YMCA, and is administered by Nikki who is a freelance consultant. To run a Community Games in your community all you need to do is register on the Community Games website at http://www.communitygames.org.uk/. You will then be contacted by your local County Sports Partnership and will receive a toolkit, access to e-training and a package of resources including bunting, banners, postcards and t-shirts that can be customised for your event. You get a page on the national Community Games website to promote your event and help and advice from your local County Sports Partnership. We talked about the potential to involve voluntary arts groups in providing the cultural elements of Community Games, the possibility of voluntary arts groups leading their own Community Games and the opportunities to link Community Games to Voluntary Arts Week. Community Games is an England initiative at the moment but has ambitions to spread to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Robin Simpson.




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