Cultural Playing Field

Driving participation in culture, sport and tourism by Robin Simpson
March 18, 2009, 1:28 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

On Wednesday I was in Brighton to speak at the Local Government Association/Chief Cultural & Leisure Officers Association annual culture, tourism and sport conference. NODA Chief Executive, Tony Gibbs, and I led a session called ‘Working together to develop participation in the voluntary arts’ in which we discussed how councils might work more effectively with local voluntary arts groups to increase participation. We looked at the role councils could play in helping voluntary arts groups to network with each other and in capacity-building the sector. A recurring theme was the need to build the financial sustainability of voluntary arts groups through more effective marketing, planning and management. We also called for more fairness and consistency in how councils engage with our sector – particularly in relation to venue hire and licensing issues.


I then attended a session titled ‘Recession: opportunity or threat for cultural services and sport?’ in which the Chief Executives of Arts Council England, Sport England and MLA and the English Heritage Director, Policy & Communications, discussed the initial impact of the recession and the prospects for their sectors.


Alan Davey from Arts Council England said that in times of recession people want the things the arts can provide. Arts attendances appeared to be holding up so far but the pattern from previous recessions was that there might be a twelve-month time lag before effects are seen. Alan warned that, in previous recessions, boards of arts organisations had become very conservative which had led to unadventurous programming, resulting in declining audiences – creating a spiral of decline. He urged small arts organisations to maintain the quality of their work whilst adapting how it is offered, to accommodate the way audiences behave, eg performing at different times of day to suit changing lifestyles. Alan said ACE’s aim was to use its funding to “keep the excellent excellent”.


Roy Clare from MLA agreed that there may be a need to reduce numbers but it was important to ensure that the quality of those remain is high. Roy urged local authorities to remove ‘silos’ to reduce overheads – suggesting, for example, that adult education doesn’t need to be in a separate ‘silo’ to the provision of libraries.


Jennie Price from Sport England felt that the recession was just one of a number of factors representing a period of immense change. She thought the biggest change, in relation to participation in physical activity, is going to be informal ways of organising sporting activity using online social media.


Deborah Lamb from English Heritage confirmed that visitor numbers were holding up so far. She said “a lot of what we have to offer is fantastic value for money: making people feel better is a great offer!”


Robin Simpson.

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