Cultural Playing Field


2009 Hinton Lecture: ‘The arts and the voluntary sector: friends or distant cousins?’ by Robin Simpson
November 27, 2009, 7:08 am
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , , , ,

On Wednesday evening I attended the AGM of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). 2009 is NCVO’s 90th anniversary and Chief Executive, Stuart Etherington, spoke about the origins of the organisation and how it grew out of a number of regional ‘Guilds of Help’. NCVO now has more than 7,500 member organisations ranging from small community groups to the largest charities. The AGM was followed by the annual Hinton Lecture which, for the first time in its eleven-year history, had an arts theme. Sir John Tusa’s lecture was titled ‘The arts and the voluntary sector: friends or distant cousins?’. Sir John (currently Chair of the University of the Arts, the Clore Leadership Programme and the Wigmore Hall Trust) started by saying that, in a dozen years as Managing Director of The Barbican, he had not consciously been involved with the voluntary sector: it had not occurred to him that it could be useful, necessary or natural. He examined the differences in purposes, relationships, responsibilities, beneficiaries and funding between the arts and the voluntary sector but he also emphasised their commonalities and interdependence. Sir John said “the arts are critical to civil society: they are the conscience of society” and “a civil society uninterested in the arts isn’t much of a civil society”. He thought the voluntary sector was ahead of the arts in the area of assessment and gathering evidence of effectiveness and felt the case for arts funding might be stronger as presented in the wider context of the voluntary sector. Sir John’s conclusion was that the arts and the voluntary sector are “side by side but not yet firm friends”. I was very pleased to hear Sir John Tusa emphasise that the organisations funded by Arts Council England “are only a small part of the whole arts sector” and delighted to hear him quote, as an example, some statistics from the National Operatic and Dramatic Association (NODA). In the question and answer session at the end of the lecture I suggested that arts organisations have much to learn from the wider voluntary sector about best practice in relation to governance, Trustee Boards, volunteering etc. Sir John agreed that there would be substantial benefits to both the arts and the voluntary sector from a closer relationship – presenting a stronger argument for funding and a more powerful lobby on issues of common cause such as tax reform. It was really useful to have the high-profile opportunity created by the Hinton Lecture to discuss how we might encourage closer working between the arts and the rest of the voluntary sector – and to see so many arts organisations represented at an NCVO event.

Robin Simpson.

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