Cultural Playing Field


ACE Amateur Arts Forum meeting by Robin Simpson
December 17, 2009, 10:37 pm
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I was in London on Thursday for the third Arts Council England Amateur Arts Forum meeting. Representatives of voluntary arts umbrella bodies covering theatre, dance and literature were joined by the three ACE Artform Directors for those disciplines to discuss a range of issues including the development of ACE’s new 10-year National Arts Strategy, the ACE National Engagement Campaign and the viability of small venues for voluntary arts activity. We were also joined by Leonie Sakey, ACE’s Vision 2012 Project Manager, to talk about opportunities for amateur arts groups in the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, and Deborah Shaw from the Royal Shakespeare Company provided an update on our work on the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival. This was the end of the first year of the Amateur Arts Forum meetings: they have all been extremely interesting and positive occasions and have allowed ACE and our umbrella bodies to air a range of current issues and learn more about each other’s work. In planning next year’s programme of Amateur Arts Forum meetings our challenge is now to focus on beginning to try to solve some of these issues and develop more tangible ways in which ACE can interact effectively with the amateur arts sector on a day-to-day basis.

Robin Simpson.

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Developing community choirs by Robin Simpson
December 17, 2009, 10:36 pm
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On Tuesday I was back in London to meet June Mason at the Department of Communities and Local Government. June, who works in the Cohesion and Faiths Division, had assisted TwentyTwenty Television to identify South Oxhey in Hertfordshire as the location for the latest series of BBC2’s ‘The Choir’. In seeking a suitable estate for Gareth Malone to try to establish a community choir, June had received 200 expressions of interest from communities around the country. She is now keen to see whether it would be possible to encourage the development of a host of new community choirs in areas where they might have a significant positive effect on community cohesion. June had held a meeting for a range of interested organisations last week, which I was unfortunately unable to attend. She had been impressed by the level of support for her idea and the variety of organisations with relevant expertise who were keen to help. We discussed the key attributes of a community choir (as opposed to other kinds of choir) and how best to ensure a community choir becomes sustainable without losing its open access principles. We agreed to meet again in January to look further at how this initiative might be developed.

Robin Simpson.



Community media and the voluntary arts by Robin Simpson
December 17, 2009, 10:34 pm
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On Monday afternoon I chaired a meeting of voluntary arts umbrella bodies, at the offices of Making Music in London, to discuss the Community Media Association’s Arts Project. The CMA Arts Co-ordinator, Tamar Millen, described how the project intends to bring arts organisations and community media organisations together to create broadcast content and expand audiences. In a fascinating discussion, representatives of umbrella bodies including the British Association of Barbershop Singers, the Morris Federation and the Handbell Ringers of Great Britain explored what their members might have to gain from collaborating with community radio stations and other community media organisations and what they might have to offer. We identified three common needs of the voluntary arts groups represented around the table which the project might help to address: to raise the profile of the relevant artform; to attract new audiences for voluntary arts groups; and to seek new members. Tamar explained the plan to run nine regional roadshows during 2010 which will provide opportunities for voluntary arts groups to meet community media organisations and discuss further how they might work together.

Robin Simpson.



Further discussions about the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival by Robin Simpson
December 17, 2009, 10:33 pm
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On Monday I was in London to meet Michael Boyd, Deborah Shaw and Geraldine Collinge at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s offices in Covent Garden. We discussed what we had learned from the VAN/RSC creative planning weekend that we held in Stratford-upon-Avon at the beginning of November and agreed the main components for the pro/am strand of the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival. The details will be announced early in the New Year but it looks like being a fantastic opportunity to showcase the creativity and talent in amateur arts groups across the UK. There will be a series of professional/amateur collaborative productions across the country in 2012 as well as the chance for the best amateur theatre groups to perform on the Royal Shakespeare Theatre stage in Stratford. I was impressed again by the RSC’s enthusiasm and determination to create a genuinely two-way collaboration in which the professionals have much to learn from the amateurs. I hope our work together on the World Shakespeare Festival will also become a model for how other major professional arts organisations could collaborate effectively with the voluntary arts sector.

Robin Simpson.



London 2012: Delivering a Legacy for the Whole Country by Robin Simpson
December 11, 2009, 4:07 pm
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On Thursday I was in London to speak at the Westminster Briefing event ‘London 2012: Delivering a Legacy for the Whole Country’. Although the event looked at a wide range of aspects of the 2012 legacy, the main focus of the day seemed to be on creating a legacy of increased participation in sport. The delegates included representatives of sports national governing bodies, local authorities and sports funding organisations and the event was chaired by Tim Lamb, Chief Executive of the Central Council for Physical Recreation. The keynote presentation was by David Brooker, Director of Legacy at the Government Olympic Executive (GOE). David stressed the Government’s target to get 2 million people more active by 2012 but also talked about the desire to get tens of thousands more young people giving time to their local communities as a result of London hosting the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. He also mentioned GOE’s plans for a national campaign to encourage everyone across the country to find their ‘Olympic moment’. Sports commentator (and former BBC Sports Editor) Mihir Bose was an entertaining speaker: he predicted that London 2012 would be a great games but would be like Wimbledon tennis – we will enjoy the spectacle but the legacy of sport in this country will not change as a result. I spoke about the opportunities presented by the Cultural Olympiad to increase participation in the arts and to truly spread the legacy of London 2012 across the whole of the UK. I also reiterated my worry that the ambitions of the Cultural Olympiad organisers are still too limited: talk of thousands of local events over four years seems like a missed opportunity – surely we should be creating tens of thousands of Cultural Olympiad events and using the massive scale of voluntary arts activity in the UK to present an enormous, unique, diverse, eclectic and widespread festival of culture to the world.

Robin Simpson.



The Value of Volunteering by Robin Simpson
December 4, 2009, 3:24 pm
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On Thursday I was at the Volunteering Ireland conference, ‘The Value of Volunteering’, in Dublin where I met John Curran, the Minister of State for the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. I spoke to the Minister about the VAI ‘Another Way In’ cross border volunteering project which his department is co-funding: he was fascinated to hear about the sofa our Project Officer, Isobel Cleary, had placed in the middle of a street in Enniskillen as a platform for artistic performance during our recent Up4Arts day. My short speech to the conference immediately followed the Minister’s opening address and gave me the opportunity to stress the scale and value of volunteering in the voluntary arts in Ireland. I then introduced the wonderful ‘Women Making Waves’ drama group from Fermanagh who performed their sketch about disability and prejudice, ‘Does She Take Sugar’. Their performance was extremely well received and lots of people came to talk to us about it during the coffee break. Many thanks to Eileen Drumm, Carmel Campbell and Liz McCord for helping us to demonstrate the value of voluntary arts participation and to Isobel for organising this. The Minister had spoken about volunteering as being “central to the goals of democracy, social inclusion and active citizenship”. Subsequent speakers, including Eilis Lawlor (from the New Economics Foundation), Elaine Bradley (Chief Executive of Volunteering Ireland) and the independent MEP for North and West Ireland, Marian Harkin, addressed the social, economic and political value of volunteering. There was much discussion of the problems of using gross domestic product as the only measure of a country’s success, the potential use of the Social Return on Investment model, the invaluable contribution of volunteers during the recent floods in Ireland and the opportunities presented by the 2011 European Year of Volunteering and Ireland hosting the 2012 World Volunteer Conference.

Robin Simpson.



Second Community Media Association Arts Project steering group meeting by Robin Simpson
December 4, 2009, 3:22 pm
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On Monday I was in Sheffield for the second meeting of the Community Media Association Arts Project steering group. We looked in detail at the latest draft of the CMA’s Arts Strategy and discussed the content and format of the 9 regional roadshows which will take place during 2010. These events will aim to attract policymakers and funders to discover the wealth of arts activity already taking place through community media organisations and the massive potential the sector has to offer in relation to the arts. They will also provide a networking opportunity for community media practitioners to meet artists and arts organisations (and each other).

Robin Simpson.