Cultural Playing Field

Maximising The Importance Of Arts And Culture Throughout The Economic Downturn by Robin Simpson
April 28, 2009, 10:16 am
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Last Friday I was in London at a seminar on ‘Maximising The Importance Of Arts And Culture Throughout The Economic Downturn’ organised by the Centre for Public Policy Seminars. An audience of more than 300 assembled at The Brewery to hear speakers including Mick Elliott, Director of Culture at DCMS, Sir John Tusa, consultant John Knell and Arts Council England Chair, Dame Liz Forgan. The general message seemed to be that times are tough but could be worse and, so far, the arts sector is remaining reasonably stable. There was also a strong feeling that the recession could present significant opportunities for the arts and a consensus emerged through the day that we need to see the recession as a catalyst for collaboration – across sectors and between arts organisations on different scales. In the first plenary question and answer session, I said I was cautiously optimistic that the recession was an opportunity for the voluntary arts. With people becoming more focussed on their local communities, less inclined to travel and more intent on giving something back to society through volunteering, there is potential for the voluntary arts to benefit. I was pleased to hear the calls for greater collaboration but stressed the need for this to include voluntary arts groups. I suggested that this might be the time for the arts sector to realise that ‘the arts’ is not just those organisations funded by Arts Council England. Liz Forgan closed the seminar by announcing the details of ACE’s new £40M ‘Sustain’ fund to support excellent arts organisations suffering as a result of the credit crunch. Perhaps more importantly for the voluntary arts, she also announced a £4M increase in ACE’s ‘Grants for the Arts’ Lottery fund which provides grants from £1,000 with applications for £5,000 or less turned around in 6 weeks. For bite-sized summaries of the day’s discussions read Taylor Nuttall’s twitter feed at:

Robin Simpson.


Inquiry into funding of the arts in Northern Ireland by Robin Simpson
April 23, 2009, 5:11 pm
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I was in Belfast on Thursday where Brenda, Stephen and I were at Stormont to give a presentation to the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly as part of the Committee’s inquiry into the funding of the arts in Northern Ireland. We recommended that the funding allocated to the Arts Budget by the Assembly be increased to bring it into line with per capita expenditure in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland. We asked that additional funding be dedicated to enabling the voluntary arts sector to survive and develop participation and audiences. We also asked the Department to take the lead in establishing an inter-departmental forum to increase the engagement of other Assembly Departments in the arts and that the Department commission research into participation and needs in the voluntary arts sector to inform the development of a plan of action to improve financial and other supports flowing into this important area of arts provision. Our points seemed to be well received by the Committee and there was a good level of understanding and appreciation of the importance of the voluntary arts sector as part of the wider arts ‘eco-system’.

Robin Simpson.

NALGAO Trustees meeting by Robin Simpson
April 23, 2009, 5:07 pm
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I was back in London on Tuesday to attend the National Association of Local Government Arts Officers Board meeting. Among many topics we discussed the new Arts Council England Arts Checklist for local authorities, voluntary arts groups being invoiced for the costs of policing free community events, the Participation Manifesto and the effect of the ending of the Awards for All grants scheme.

Robin Simpson.

First Arts Council England Amateur Arts Forum by Robin Simpson
April 23, 2009, 5:04 pm
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On Monday I was in London to attend the first Arts Council England Amateur Arts Forum meeting which brought together ACE senior staff with representatives of several music, visual arts and crafts umbrella bodies. A packed agenda – generated by the participants – allowed umbrella bodies to raise a wide range of issues including: the contribution arts participation makes to ‘wellbeing’; funding opportunities for voluntary arts groups via Grants for the Arts following the demise of the Awards for All scheme; possible solutions to the perennial lack of availability of suitable venues for voluntary arts groups through the ‘Building Schools for the Future’ and ‘empty spaces in town centres’ initiatives and much more. It was a fascinating, thoughtful and constructive discussion which saw the umbrella body representatives and ACE officers working together to try to address the various issues. At the end of the meeting there was an enthusiastic consensus that this felt like the start of a very positive new ongoing dialogue. One umbrella body representative said: “I am taking away a lot of heart: for once it seems you [Arts Council England] are taking the amateur seriously.” There will be two further Amateur Arts Forum meetings later this year, focussing on other artforms and general issues for the sector.

Robin Simpson.

Further discussions about the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival by Robin Simpson
April 17, 2009, 4:48 pm
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I have been in London today for a further meeting with the Royal Shakespeare Festival about the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival. Members of the Central Council for Amateur Theatre, including representatives of the National Operatic and Dramatic Association, the Little Theatre Guild and (by phone) the Scottish Community Drama Association, talked to RSC Associate Director Deborah Shaw about how their members might get involved in the festival. We also discussed in detail the planned consultative weekend on 31 October and 1 November in Stratford-upon-Avon at which we will bring together representatives of around 25 voluntary arts umbrella bodies (across a range of artforms) to work with RSC staff to develop the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival.

Robin Simpson.