Cultural Playing Field

Excellence and the voluntary arts – join the debate by Robin Simpson
May 30, 2008, 9:06 am
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Thanks to everyone who has posted comments on excellence and the voluntary arts ahead of the DCMS seminar on Wednesday 4 June. There is still time to join the debate – click here to read the latest comments and add your own thoughts.

Volunteering and the voluntary arts by Robin Simpson
May 21, 2008, 4:08 pm
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On Wednesday I was back in London to meet Justin Davis-Smith at Volunteering England. This was my first one-to-one meeting with Justin since he succeeded Christopher Spence. We talked about how to promote best practice in volunteering and volunteer management within voluntary arts groups and how to develop volunteering within VAN – identifying a couple of potential projects in these areas which Volunteering England might help us with. We also discussed the idea of discounted membership of Volunteering England for voluntary arts umbrella bodies. I was particularly pleased to find Justin very amenable to considering arts participation as ‘volunteering’ – opening up the possibility of local volunteer centres playing a role in ‘signposting’ people to opportunities to participate in the arts.

The full value of the voluntary arts by Robin Simpson
May 20, 2008, 3:47 pm
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I was in London again on Tuesday to meet Richard Piper and Jake Eliot from the Performance team at NCVO. We had a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion about performance, effectiveness and impact in the voluntary arts. Richard was keen to explore the application of NCVO’s ‘Full Value’ model (see in a voluntary arts context. We talked in detail about the forthcoming government seminar on excellence and the voluntary arts (on 4 June) and looked at examples and learning from the wider voluntary and community sector that might prove helpful to this debate.

Informal adult learning and the voluntary arts by Robin Simpson
May 20, 2008, 3:45 pm
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On Monday I was in London to take part in a third sector round-table event as part of the informal adult learning consultation being undertaken by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. This was the last of six round table events consulting different groups of stakeholders. I was one of a dozen representatives of the voluntary and community sector given the opportunity to discuss issues around informal adult learning directly with the Minister for Skills, David Lammy. I strongly encouraged the Minister to work with the existing voluntary and community sector infrastructure organisations, including the voluntary arts umbrella bodies. I was also keen to link the need to help people find informal learning opportunities with our desire to develop better ‘signposting’ to opportunities to participate in the arts and crafts – not through some giant top-down government IT solution but by developing links between existing networks to create an organic and sustainable web of information. The informal adult learning consultation deadline has been extended to 12 June – full details at

Developing the Participation Manifesto by Robin Simpson
May 13, 2008, 3:52 pm
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On Monday I was in London for a meeting of the Participation Manifesto initial development group. This was our first chance to meet Hardin Tibbs, the consultant who is going to facilitate the first major Participation Manifesto consultation event in London on 9 June. We discussed the format of the day in detail and looked at how to focus on how the 170 organisations that have already expressed an interest in the development of a manifesto might be able to support each other to increase and widen participation – rather than risk the message of the manifesto becoming simply about the need for more funding. Hardin grasped the issues quickly and had some inventive ideas about making the most effective use of the consultation event. I’m really looking forward to 9 June …

Make the artists’ parliament inclusive by Robin Simpson
May 12, 2008, 4:15 pm
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Writing in The Guardian today Mark Ravenhill proposes establishing an “artists’ parliament”. In order to stand for a place in this parliament “all candidates would need is proof that a significant part of their income came from work in the arts”. Why? The vast majority of the artists creating and performing in this country are not paid to do so. One of the major disappointments with Arts Council England has been its lack of connection with the overwhelming majority of arts organisations. If he really wants his parliament to “raise public awareness of ongoing cultural debates and help foster a sense of ownership and involvement in the arts” Ravenhill should be truly revolutionary and include equal representation for the amateur arts.

Rising to the Inspire Mark challenge by Robin Simpson
May 9, 2008, 10:42 am
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Yesterday morning I was at Canary Wharf in London at the offices of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) to meet the UK Cultural Programme Advisor, Francesca Canty. Francesca told me that, since the ‘Inspire Mark’ for non-commercial projects inspired by the 2012 Games was launched on 11 March they have had 30 applications. She is very keen to ensure that the first few projects granted the Inspire Mark include some from voluntary arts groups in order to reinforce the message that the Cultural Olympiad is open to all groups – regardless of scale. We talked further about how the Voluntary Arts Network could work with the regional and national Creative Programmers to ensure that voluntary arts groups maximise the opportunities presented by the Cultural Olympiad to achieve recognition at a national and international level. We discussed the possibility of a series of LOCOG roadshows around the country specifically for voluntary arts groups. Francesca emphasised that to achieve the Inspire Mark, projects will have to embrace the Cultural Olympiad criteria and values and be new and innovative – “like never before”. I assured her that voluntary arts groups were more than capable of rising to this creative challenge.