Cultural Playing Field


Arts Council England Amateur Arts Forum meeting by Robin Simpson
June 24, 2009, 4:11 pm
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Today I have been back in London to attend the Arts Council England Amateur Arts Forum meeting – the inaugural annual meeting chaired by the ACE Chief Executive Alan Davey. Representatives of 14 national amateur arts umbrella bodies and ACE senior staff gathered around the board table at the ACE national office to discuss a range of issues. We were delighted to be joined before the meeting by a surprise guest – new Arts Council England Chair, Dame Liz Forgan – whose presence emphasised how seriously ACE is now taking its relationship with the amateur arts. Following up our discussions at the ‘Excellence and the Voluntary Arts Seminar’ in June 2008 we identified some different ways in which the amateur sector creates ‘great art’ and discussed how ACE and the amateur arts could work better together to encourage this. The three annual Amateur Arts Forum meetings will provide a platform for ACE to involve the voluntary arts in policy development. Today we started to discuss how this might work in practice. We also discussed how the amateur sector might feed into the development of an evidence base to advocate more collaboratively for the value of the amateur arts. We know that there are many potential sources of funding for amateur arts groups (eg from the Office of the Third Sector, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Big Lottery Fund) which are not currently providing much funding to the voluntary arts sector. We agreed that ACE might be able to help with this – both in terms of talking to these funders to ensure that they are open to applications from amateur arts groups, and in publicising the availability (and relevance) of such funds to the voluntary arts sector. Finally we discussed the effect of ACE’s new free theatre tickets scheme for young people (‘A Night Less Ordinary’) on the amateur theatre sector. It was a fascinating, productive and very positive meeting, reinforcing how much the arts landscape in England has changed as a result of ‘Our Creative Talent’. Notes from the meeting will be distributed to all national voluntary arts umbrella bodies shortly.

Robin Simpson.

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Amateur Arts Partnership Development Programme by Robin Simpson
June 24, 2009, 10:58 am
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On Tuesday I was in London to take part in a meeting of the Amateur Arts Partnership Development Programme steering group at Arts Council England. We reviewed our progress on each of the nine themes in the action plan derived from the ‘Our Creative Talent’ research. We also discussed a number of issues raised by voluntary arts umbrella bodies at the first ACE Amateur Arts Forum meeting in April. We agreed to mark the first anniversary of the ‘Our Creative Talent’ conference in July by publicly launching the Amateur Arts Partnership Development Programme and issuing a summary of our achievements in following up the conclusions and recommendations of ‘Our Creative Talent’ over the past twelve months.

Robin Simpson.



A manifesto for participation in the arts and crafts by Robin Simpson
June 24, 2009, 10:56 am
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Last Friday I was in Peterborough for a meeting of the Participation Manifesto initial development group. We agreed some final changes to the wording of the manifesto document and started to plan its launch and implementation. We hope to encourage as many organisations and individuals as possible to pledge their support for the Participation Manifesto and to create an online ‘Participation in the Arts’ forum and an annual ‘Participation in the Arts’ conference. The forum and conference will enable us to continue the momentum generated by the development of the manifesto, to link organisations involved in arts participation and to share experience and models. We hope to launch the Participation Manifesto in October 2009 – probably at the National Association of Local Government Arts Officers Conference.

Robin Simpson.



Philip Blond and progressive conservatism by Robin Simpson
June 18, 2009, 9:11 am
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On Wednesday I was in London again to attend a meeting of the Community Sector Coalition. Our guest speaker was Philip Blond, Director of the Progressive Conservatism Project at DEMOS. Philip is charged with “rethinking what modern conservatism means”. The proverbial ‘Red Tory’ is an impressive performer – intelligent, articulate and extremely fast-talking: it was often quite a struggle to keep up with him. Among many other things, he argued that most people feel society is broken: associative relationships have weakened. The key question for the community sector is “what builds associative non-state civic behaviour?” The resources for community renewal lie in the community itself: the state and the market now need to play a different role. Whereas traditional Tories want to reduce demand on the state by passing over responsibilities to the voluntary and community sector, “progressives see the voluntary and community sector as more effective in delivery than the state”. Philip Blond spoke a great deal about ‘subsidiarity’ – “power should be exercised at the most appropriate level” and ‘the right to parish’ – giving a group of local people the opportunity to manage the public money that is spent on their community. He felt that third sector organisations could share more back-office costs and should have the right to use unused public offices and other assets. At least I think that’s what he said! My impression was that his focus was mostly on VCS organisations providing public services rather than wider issues about civil society. But much of what he said was encouraging for the community sector and he gave us some clear advice on how best to make our case to a potential Conservative government.

Robin Simpson.



Progress on the 2012 Volunteering Legacy by Robin Simpson
June 18, 2009, 9:10 am
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I was back in London on Tuesday for my regular meeting with Sophie Chapman at the Office of the Third Sector. It’s all change at the Cabinet Office with Tessa Jowell taking over from Liam Byrne and Angela Smith becoming the new Minister of State for the Third Sector. We discussed progress on the 2012 Volunteering Legacy: three new posts are being created at Volunteering England, a project manager will be based at YouthNet to oversee development of the new online Participation Portal and the Office of the Third Sector is working with the Government Olympic Executive on the development of a national marketing campaign about volunteering and participation.

Robin Simpson.



Future Britain: Arts leading the way by Robin Simpson
June 18, 2009, 9:08 am
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On Monday I was at Tate Britain in London for the National Campaign for the Arts conference: ‘Future Britain: Arts leading the way’. The focus of the day was to launch the NCA Arts Manifesto for the next general election. Looking back at the previous NCA Arts Manifesto, where the voluntary arts featured as a separate section towards the end of the document, shows how far we have come in persuading the rest of the arts sector that we are all part of a single eco-system. The new NCA Arts Manifesto integrates the voluntary arts throughout – realising the greater strength we have together rather than apart. Another indication of this change in attitude was the fact that the final panel session at Monday’s conference featured the Culture Minister Barbara Follett, the Conservative Shadow Minister Ed Vaizey, the Chief Executive of Arts Council England Alan Davey, NCA Director Louise de Winter and me. I am very grateful to the NCA for recognising the significance and importance of the voluntary arts so publicly. And it was very exciting to be introduced by Joan Bakewell and followed by Melvyn Bragg, who formally launched the arts manifesto with an inspiring call to arms. Barbara Follett spoke about the Treasury as the ‘elephant in the room’ and stressed the need for quantification, citing ‘Our Creative Talent’ – the 2008 DCMS/ACE research into the voluntary and amateur arts in England. She said “the arts have an enormous contribution to make to wellbeing and happiness.” Ed Vaizey saw huge opportunities in the voluntary sector. He said there are lots of arts charities but was worried that they are not working together. NCA President Lord Bragg closed the conference by saying “the creative industries is an idea whose time has come … the spearhead of our economy is now the creative industries: the arts are the leading brand in this country”.

Robin Simpson.



Amateo Annual Meeting 2009, Utrecht by Robin Simpson
June 18, 2009, 8:32 am
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Last Thursday and Friday I was in Utrecht at the annual meeting of Amateo – the European Network for Active Participation in the Arts. A year after launching the network in Ljubljana the Board has registered Amateo as a company in Belgium, developed contacts and links with other European networks and planned activities for the coming years. Amateo now has 18 member organisations in 12 European countries (including Voluntary Arts and Making Music in the UK). The annual meeting included presentations on European Union cultural policy and funding opportunities from Culture Action Europe and Haute Equipe. The highlight, for me, was the Dutch composer Merlijn Twaalfhoven talking about the different ‘qualities’ of amateur musicians and why he prefers working with amateur orchestras. At the Amateo AGM we agreed that the network’s priority for the coming year will be to collate existing statistics and research to build a picture of the overall levels of participation in the arts across Europe. Aled Rhys Jones will continue to represent Voluntary Arts on the Amateo Board and I look forward to watching progress over the next twelve months before the network meets again in Denmark in June 2010.

Robin Simpson.