Cultural Playing Field

Excellence and the Voluntary Arts: The Seminar by Robin Simpson
June 4, 2008, 4:08 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , ,

This morning I was at Arts Council England in London to take part in the seminar ‘Excellence and the Voluntary Arts’ which looked at the applicability and implications for the voluntary arts sector of Sir Brian McMaster’s report ‘Supporting excellence in the arts – from measurement to judgement’.

Culture Minister, Margaret Hodge, introduced the seminar, describing how it had come about as a result of her meeting with the acevo Arts, Culture & Heritage Special Interest Group in January. She revealed that the research DCMS and ACE had commissioned to scope the voluntary arts sector in England would show an incredible capacity which the Government wants to nurture and grow. She said that a lot of ‘excellence’ in the arts funded by ACE comes up from that voluntary arts activity on the ground. She was particularly interested in the role of culture in strengthening communities and defining place. The Minister challenged the seminar to address how the Government could better recognise the contribution of the voluntary arts sector.

We had a fascinating and wide ranging discussion lasting just over two hours which covered definitions of excellence, the relationship between diversity and excellence in the amateur arts, where amateurs sit with innovation and risk-taking, how new technology and digital media help, the relationship between excellence and the promotion of audience development, how the amateur arts and professional sector support each other and much more.

Some of the key points raised included:

  • for art to be excellent it has to be relevant, rooted in the community in which it is operating
  • the diversity of society is not fully reflected in the publicly funded arts
  • in some cases the amateur performer can be better than the professional
  • the amateur sector tends to judge itself against a variety of factors including engaging with its community – as well as artistic excellence
  • diversity is a key driver of the voluntary arts
  • McMaster’s definition of excellence as that which affects and changes individuals is absolutely what happens in participatory arts
  • McMaster provides the opportunity for joining up – embedding the concept of creativity across every aspect of our lives
  • innovation, risk-taking and excellence are relative not absolute terms
  • DCMS, ACE and local authorities need to look at support for the voluntary arts rather than direct funding
  • we all need to play a leadership role in encouraging innovation and risk-taking in the voluntary arts
  • there is an important role for ACE to play in joining up relevant agendas across Government departments
  • technology has driven the need for the creativity agenda: the skills needed to succeed in life today are creative
  • DCMS and ACE could help to broker a relationship for the voluntary arts with local authorities

(This is just a short extract from a long and detailed debate.)

Summing up, Alan Davey (Chief Executive of Arts Council England, who chaired the seminar) said there is relevance to McMaster for the voluntary arts and it is very clear. He said we need to work together to articulate this more strongly. Alan said the DCMS/ACE voluntary arts research will give a strong research-based platform to develop working plans. Beginning with more explicit recognition for the sector is very important. He concluded by saying that the voluntary arts sector is very important: it goes to the heart of what Arts Council England is about – getting people participating and deepening their interest and engagement.

It felt to me like this seminar represented a very significant milestone in the growing recognition and involvement of the voluntary arts sector by the Government and Arts Council England. Many thanks to everyone involved – and particularly to Robin Osterley for his extensive work in developing and preparing the seminar.

You can read further comments on ‘excellence and the voluntary arts’ and continue the debate by clicking here.


2 Comments so far
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Thanks Robin – a useful summary. I too thought it was a good session, with lots of positive noises coming out of the right mouths, particularly the admission/assertion/acceptance that McMaster can be applied quite happily to voluntary sector activity – a fact which needs to be spread abroad very widely I think. Question is, where do we go from here? What happens next? Looking forward to the July 2nd do, and I would like to make sure that there are some concrete outcomes which will help us keep the momentum going.

Robin O

Comment by Robin Osterley

Robin’s summary is really useful. Like Robin Osterley, I’m keen to know what happens next. I’d also add that an important point was made at the meeting about McMaster’s stress on young people. Of course, there’s no question that young people must be introduced to and involved in the arts, but what about the demographic context? The numbers of older people are increasing; many are involved with the arts already, but more could be. Neuroscientists claim that creativity can increase with age. We must work with ACE through VA in co-operation with many others to ensure the potential is realised.

Comment by Brian Groombridge

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