Cultural Playing Field

Our Creative Talent by Robin Simpson
July 4, 2008, 9:44 am
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

On Wednesday I was back at the Barbican for ‘Our Creative Talent: building local voluntary and amateur arts participation’ – a joint conference organised by Voluntary Arts England, Arts Council England and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The event was fully booked weeks ago and attracted delegates from voluntary arts umbrella bodies, several government departments, local authorities from across England,  voluntary sector agencies and lots of officers from Arts Council England as well as representatives from Scottish Arts Council and the Arts Council of Wales.

The main focus for the conference was to launch the report ‘Our Creative Talent: the voluntary and amateur arts in England’ – the results of research commissioned by DCMS and ACE and undertaken by the consultants TBR. Culture Minister Margaret Hodge opened the conference by revealing the headline statistics from the report:

  • there are 49,140 voluntary arts groups in England
  • between them they have a total membership of 5.9 million and an additional 3.5 million people volunteer as extras or helpers – that’s a total of 9.4 million people taking part
  • the voluntary arts sector has an income of £543 million a year
  • voluntary arts groups attract an annual audience of 159 million attendances
  • 564,000 people have management roles in voluntary arts groups

It was very exciting for me to be sharing a platform with Margaret Hodge, Arts Council England Chief Executive Alan Davey and Feargal Sharkey. The Minister started by saying “I hope and believe that this conference marks a significant change in the way we think about the arts and what we call ‘the arts sector'”. She called the research “a significant new landmark in our  understanding of how and why people participate in the arts” and said “we have been paying too little attention to such an important part of the arts ecology”. Margaret Hodge said “I firmly believe that the health of our arts depends on both the professional and the voluntary sector – the two are closely and directly dependent on one another”.

In my speech I stressed the importance of moving beyond marvelling at the statistics and starting to work out how to unlock the enormous potential of the voluntary arts. I explained that what voluntary arts groups want and need is recognition, involvement, capacity-building and challenge. I finished by suggesting that this conference was possibly the most important moment for the voluntary arts in the 60 years since the establishment of the Arts Council – but added that it would mean nothing unless it was the start of an ongoing dialogue to realise the potential of the voluntary arts.

Alan Davey said “from an Arts Council perspective the voluntary arts isn’t a  footnote or appendix to the arts in England today: it is part of the core script”. He announced that in the coming months Arts Council England “will be working with Voluntary Arts Network to agree a plan of how we play a role in building on the strengths and successes of the sector by working with local government and other key partners”.

Feargal Sharkey speaking at the \'Our Creative Talent\' conference

Feargal Sharkey speaking at the Our Creative Talent conference

The conference also included detailed sessions on the ‘Our Creative Talent’ research, Arts Council England’s segmentation model of arts engagement, the development of a Participation Manifesto, the VAE/Media Trust ‘Up for Arts’ campaign, local authorities and the NI11 arts engagement indicator and the 2012  Cultural Olympiad. There was a real buzz throughout the day and the feedback has been incredibly positive. It really felt like a significant turning point and it will be vital that we quickly build on the enthusiasm generated.

Copies of presentations, video, audio and much more will soon be available at and you can see photos from the conference at The research report is available at
Congratulations and many many thanks to everyone involved in a wonderful day for the voluntary arts.

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