Cultural Playing Field

Volunteering and the Cultural Olympiad by Robin Simpson
April 25, 2008, 2:03 pm
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This morning I presented a session on the 2012 Cultural Olympiad at the Volunteering England Convention in Gateshead at which I launched the second VAN ‘Once in a Lifetime’ Briefing – available shortly at: – which explains how to develop and submit project ideas for the UK-wide cultural festival. It was good to hear Sarah Benioff (Deputy Director of the Office of the Third Sector at the Cabinet Office) later in the morning referring to the importance of the Cultural Olympiad in helping to develop a sustainable legacy of increased volunteering. Sarah took a fair bit of flak from delegates – particularly about the lack of sustainable funding for local volunteer centres. Someone made the point that, welcome though the Government’s new Access to Volunteering fund to encourage more disabled volunteers is, this £4M investment compares poorly with the £117M recently allocated to youth volunteering. But I think the Office of the Third Sector gains credibility and respect by regularly being willing to put up senior civil servants to listen to the sector at conferences and seminars.


Drama training by Robin Simpson
April 17, 2008, 11:29 am
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On Tuesday I was at the British Film Institute in London to attend the National Council for Drama Training Conference. It was good to hear about the development of the NCDT’s new strategic plan – particularly as the key element of the plan is going to be about widening participation. NCDT Director, Hilary Strong, is keen to encourage more young people from diverse communities into drama training. The conference included sessions on colour-blind casting and the new media landscape which led to some fascinating – and heated – discussions. It was interesting to hear the suggestion (and some emerging evidence) that, even in the world of online video, quality will out: despite the ease with which anyone can create and distribute drama, after the initial novelty wears off what will survive and flourish will be that which is well written, acted and directed.

Cultural Olympiad update by Robin Simpson
April 11, 2008, 8:46 am
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On Wednesday afternoon I met Leonie Sakey at Arts Council England for a catch-up on the Cultural Olympiad. Following the 11 March launch of the application process for groups wishing to have their projects included in the Olympiad, there has been a slow start with plenty of enquiries but few actual submissions. LOCOG is looking again at its communications and thinking about engaging an agency to help get its messages out. Meanwhile I told Leonie that Ginny has been working on the second VAN ‘Once in a Lifetime’ Briefing which will spell out exactly how voluntary arts groups can get involved in the Cultural Olympiad. This should be available by the end of April. Leonie commented on how helpful our first Briefing had been in simplifying and clarifying the mysteries of the Olympiad and said she had used it herself on many occasions. She emphasised that very few organisations were being endorsed by LOCOG to issue information about the Olympiad and, although LOCOG was not able formally to make VAN an official Olympic partner, we were as close as anyone to such a position. I raised again the idea of a small grants fund to encourage voluntary arts groups to develop projects for the Olympiad and Leonie agreed there was a need for this but could not see where the funding might come from.

Charity public benefit changes by Robin Simpson
April 11, 2008, 8:45 am
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I was in London on Wednesday for a meeting of the acevo Arts, Culture & Heritage Special Interest Group. Among many other things we had some very interesting discussions about the ‘public benefit’ changes resulting from the 2006 Charities Act which could result in some ‘fee charging charities’ losing their charitable status. Although this will mainly affect independent schools there may be implications for arts and heritage charities that charge substantial fees for their services. We also heard the latest rumours about the ‘Hodge Review’ of the regional cultural agencies in England and discussed the Heritage Bill, the forthcoming DCMS seminar on excellence in relation to the voluntary sector (which came about as a result of the acevo group’s meeting with Margaret Hodge at the end of January) and the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

National Campaign for the Arts advocacy seminar by Robin Simpson
April 2, 2008, 1:56 pm
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On Monday afternoon I was at Tate Modern to attend a National Campaign for the Arts advocacy seminar. Representatives of a wide range of arts organisations discussed topics including the recent Arts Council England funding changes, the McMaster report on ‘excellence’, ‘Find your talent’ and the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. There were some interesting points made but it’s a shame that any gathering of arts organisations always seems to end up spending more time talking about money than anything else. Still it was lovely to see Philip Hedley in fine form: from when I started working in the arts (and I suspect many years before that) no gathering of arts organisations has ever seemed complete without the passionate, entertaining and often mischievous interventions of the former Artistic Director of the Theatre Royal, Stratford East.

The future of volunteering by Robin Simpson
April 2, 2008, 1:44 pm
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On Monday I was in London for a meeting of the England Volunteering Development Council (EVDC) to consider the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Volunteering. Baroness Julia Neuberger, the Chair of the Commission, presented the recommendations to us in detail. One of her main concerns was that the public picture of volunteering seems to be “old women sorting old clothes in a charity shop”: most volunteers don’t think of themselves as ‘volunteers’. As a Liberal Democrat peer, recently appointed by Gordon Brown as the Government’s ‘Volunteering Champion’, Baroness Neuberger was keen to stress that volunteering is currently very high on the political agenda of all parties – a point supported by the EVDC Chair, Tory peer Baroness Joan Hanham. The meeting then looked at how EVDC can help to take forward the Commission’s recommendations. I was intrigued to see that the recommendations had been grouped into three themes: Promotion (focussing on individual volunteers), Creating Volunteering Opportunities (focussing on volunteer-involving organisations and the volunteering infrastructure) and Joined-up Government (focussed on national and local government and the public sector) – which bear a remarkable resemblance to the three aim structure of the Voluntary Arts Network’s new strategic plan (demand/supply/environment).

Back the bloggin’ bosses by Robin Simpson
April 2, 2008, 11:26 am
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I’m very pleased not to be the only voluntary sector Chief Executive with a blog.


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