Cultural Playing Field


Naming and framing the art across Europe by Robin Simpson
March 23, 2009, 2:20 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , ,

On Friday I was in Utrecht to attend ‘Naming and Framing the Art’ – an ‘expert meeting’ organised by Kunstfactor: the National Institute for active participation in the arts and cultural activities in the Netherlands. I was one of three keynote speakers asked to address the thorny issue of the best terminology to describe the voluntary/amateur/participatory arts sector – particularly with the intention of developing a clear common way to refer to the sector across Europe. My presentation literally tied the audience up in knots (see the picture at www.culturaloutlook.blogspot.com), suggesting that the subject was even more complicated than it first appeared. I pointed out that the ‘voluntary arts’ exists within a range of overlapping spectrums and suggested that the best terminology always depends on the precise context and purpose for its use. I felt that, in the UK, we had used the vagueness of ‘voluntary arts’ to our advantage – enabling us to encompass a wide range of interests whilst always being clear about our main focus.

Kaat Peeters, Director of Forum voor Amateurkunsten, which supports the amateur arts sector in Flanders, felt that the sector as a whole does not have a real image. Arts participants define what they do by referring to the particular discipline (music, drama, dance etc) rather than seeing themselves as ‘amateur artists’ or ‘voluntary artists’. Kaat revealed, however, that the findings of new research commissioned by Forum voor Amateurkunsten (and due to be published in May 2009) would show that the term ‘amateur’ was viewed much more positively in Flanders than might have been expected. Asked to identify descriptions they would associate with ‘amateur’, the vast majority of respondents chose positive phrases. The top two terms were ‘enthusiasm’ (chosen by 67.7% of non-participants and 76.1% of existing participants) and ‘creativity’ (65.2% of non-participants and 72.2% of existing participants). Interestingly, though, younger people were much more likely to equate ‘amateur’ with negative phrases.

Ilona Kish, Secretary General of Culture Action Europe (formerly the European Forum for Arts and Heritage) spoke about the reasons for changing the name of her own organisation. Her key message was that “terminology is both extremely important and not important at all”. Ilona thought a name didn’t matter as much as a shared vision of what we are trying to achieve.

It was a fascinating debate which, while it didn’t resolve the problems of terminology, helped us all to develop our thinking about how to approach lobbying for the ‘voluntary arts’ across Europe effectively.

Robin Simpson.

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