Cultural Playing Field

Voluntary arts in England research by Robin Simpson
March 27, 2008, 5:06 pm
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Today I have been in London at DCMS for a meeting of the voluntary arts research steering group. The researchers, TBR, presented the initial results of the online quantitative survey of voluntary arts groups in England and the qualitative interviews they have conducted. We’re not allowed to make any of the findings public yet – the final report will be launched at the VAE/ACE/DCMS conference which is now going to take place on 2 July – but I was reassured that the initial results seem to reinforce some of our key messages.


The civil society agenda by Robin Simpson
March 27, 2008, 5:05 pm
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I was in London on Wednesday to attend my first full NCVO Executive meeting since being elected to the Executive in February. Among many other topics, we had a very interesting discussion about NCVO’s plans to develop the ‘civil society agenda’ – looking at how voluntary organisations, community groups, universities, trade unions, housing associations etc. can work together to develop a strong and healthy civil society. This echoes the mission statement the Voluntary Arts Network adopted many years ago and I will, of course, be working hard to ensure that arts organisations are an integral part of the developing agenda. Two key issues came out of our discussion: firstly the need to see ‘civil society’ as a space in which to work together rather than a ‘sector’; and secondly the need to identify specific causes and issues that will motivate all parts of civil society to work together.

Cultural Olympiad ‘open for business’ by Robin Simpson
March 11, 2008, 1:52 pm
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This morning I was at Live Theatre in Newcastle for one of the regional briefing sessions on the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. As Bill Morris announced on the London 2012 blog this morning, the Cultural Olympiad is now “open for business”. Details of how to apply to have your project recognised as part of the Olympiad are now at: Months of delicate legal negotiations with the IOC have resulted in an agreement to endorse a ‘non-commercial mark’ for the 2012 Olympics. This is the first time this has ever been achieved and makes the concept of a four-year UK-wide cultural festival viable. The ‘Inspire Mark’ (which bizarrely we were only shown the tiniest glimpse of in this morning’s official presentation) will be used (sparingly, at least at first) to endorse non-commerical projects and events inspired by the Olympics. This means that it will only be available to projects without any commercial sponsorship which may prove to be a problem for some. We were told that the application process for Cultural Olympiad projects will have a 7-week turnaround time and everyone will first have to have discussed their ideas with the relevant local Creative Programmer. In this morning’s question and answer session I asked Lorna Fulton, the North East Creative Programmer, how she planned to cope with potentially thousands of enquiries from voluntary arts groups in the North East. I was delighted that her answer was that she understood discussions were going on nationally about this with the Voluntary Arts Network. We still have work to do on this but it’s great that the Creative Programmers seem to have accepted the importance of VAN playing a role. But, as Bill Morris says in his blog: “The truth is that all of this will come to naught without great content” and I am still frustrated by the clear need for a small grants fund to inspire local community groups across the UK to dream up projects that fit the criteria for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. Time to redouble our efforts on this.

Find your talent by Robin Simpson
March 6, 2008, 11:21 am
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On Wednesday Reemer and I were in London to meet James Stevens at DCMS who is responsible for overseeing the Government’s new ‘5 hours a week’ cultural offer to children (now disappointingly branded ‘Find Your Talent’). James was keen to reassure us that he saw voluntary arts groups as an important part of the cultural offer. ‘Find Your Talent’ is to be developed through 10 pilots over the next 3 years. Applications are invited by 7 April from partnerships wanting to run the pilots. James encouraged us to contact (and to invite voluntary arts umbrella bodies to contact) the ‘regional contact groups’ who are advising partnerships on their applications to stress the need for applications to consider the involvement of voluntary arts groups. He also said there would be opportunities for us to talk to the successful partnerships once the pilots are chosen to encourage them to build voluntary arts groups into their activities. It was great to be talking to DCMS about this at such an early stage in the process – and that they had invited us to see them. We were reassured by James that ‘Find Your Talent’ will provide a real opportunity to show children that the voluntary arts are an integral part of the wider cultural continuum and their local community. More details at: