Cultural Playing Field


West Midlands Cultural Offer Hub meeting by Robin Simpson
January 29, 2010, 3:32 pm
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On Wednesday I was in Birmingham to take part in the first meeting of the West Midlands Cultural Offer Hub. The Hub pulls together local authorities, arts organisations and others from across the West Midlands to look at how the Government’s 5-hours-a-week cultural offer to young people might best be delivered in the region. Maria Howes, a freelance consultant who has been appointed as the regional co-ordinator for the cultural offer, is working on a delivery plan to build on the experience of the current ‘Find Your Talent’ pathfinder schemes and extend the cultural offer to young people throughout the West Midlands. Anne Bamford from Culture, Creativity and Education explained that the cultural offer needed to include a balance between ‘making and creating’ (which could happen anywhere) and ‘going to’ (experiencing cultural activity within a social/cultural space). She said that reading a novel in your bedroom would not count as part of the cultural offer but joining a reading group would. I was pleased to get a very strong agreement from the members of the Hub that, for the cultural offer to be really effective, it needs to involve local adult amateur arts groups – both to provide realistic, recognisable role models and to encourage progression to continuing cultural engagement into adulthood.

Robin Simpson.



The third sector role in informal adult learning by Robin Simpson
January 29, 2010, 3:10 pm
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On Tuesday I was at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in London for the third Learning Revolution Third Sector Forum meeting. We heard from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council about the extensive informal adult learning initiatives being undertaken by museums and libraries as part of The Learning Revolution and from the Learning and Skills Council on the changes to the distribution of the Government’s ‘adult safeguarded learning’ budget as the LSC prepares to relinquish its role at the end of March. We also looked in detail at the role of third sector organisations in the Learning Revolution Transformation Fund projects. Of the 315 projects supported by the Transformation Fund it is thought that around 180 are being led by a third sector organisation and at least 250 projects include third sector partners. We continued our practice of focussing on particular third sector led Transformation Fund projects in these meetings, this time with a presentation by Laraine Winning about the Voluntary Arts England/Media Trust/BBC Radio Merseyside ‘Up for Arts’ project in Liverpool. Laraine’s presentation was very enthusiastically received and demonstrated the strengths of working with multiple partners in this many-stranded project.

Robin Simpson.



The Learning Revolution Communications Stakeholder Group by Robin Simpson
January 22, 2010, 6:14 pm
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This afternoon I have been at a meeting of the Learning Revolution Communications Stakeholder Group at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Liz Lawson from BIS gave us an update on the various Learning Revolution programmes and initiatives. The Transformation Fund has provided £20M in grants to 317 projects (including our ‘Up for Arts’ project in Liverpool). The target of 1000 people or organisations signing up to the Learning Revolution Pledge has been considerably exceeded with somewhere in the region of 5000 pledges to date. There is still work to do on the target of identifying 7000 spaces that could be opened up for self-organising learning groups to use free of charge (or at low cost). The Community Learning Champions programme is up and running with 36 grants made to local schemes. And the contract for the online informal adult learning portal has been awarded to School of Everything. The main focus of today’s meeting, however, was the results of the Learning Revolution communications survey conducted by the Central Office of Information. Voluntary Arts was one of 12 key partner organisations who completed the survey. The results provided a revealing overview of communications relating to The Learning Revolution and a valuable tool for the Stakeholder Communications Group to use to improve the effectiveness and co-ordination of communications.

Robin Simpson.



Visiting the School of Everything by Robin Simpson
January 22, 2010, 5:46 pm
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This morning I was in London to meet Paul Miller at the School of Everything – winners of the contract to build an informal adult learning online portal as part of the Government’s Learning Revolution programme. Paul already has a good understanding of the voluntary arts: he previously worked for Demos for whom he wrote the ‘The Pro-Am Revolution’ with Charlie Leadbeater. Paul is clear that local clubs and societies form an integral part of how people learn and find out about learning opportunities and resources in their area. Arts subjects are School of Everything’s most popular topics. If you enter ‘learn Morris dancing’ in Google, for example, the first result is from School of Everything. Paul was keen to emphasise that School of Everything content can be syndicated to other sites, filtered by subject or location. So a national voluntary arts umbrella body could have a search box on its website which would search opportunities relating to the relevant artform in the School of Everything database. Or a local authority could include a search box on its website, filtered by the relevant geographical location. We agreed that Voluntary Arts will work with School of Everything to test the new facilities for clubs and societies to ensure they meet the needs of local voluntary arts groups.

Robin Simpson.



Performing Englishness in New English Folk Music and Dance by Robin Simpson
January 22, 2010, 8:34 am
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On Tuesday I was in Committee Room 15 in the House of Commons to attend the launch of a research report on ‘Performing Englishness in English Folk Arts’. This research, conducted by Dr Trish Winter from the University of Sunderland and Dr Simon Keegan-Phipps from the University of Sheffield, was being presented to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Folk Arts. The Chair of the All Party Group, John Battle MP, introduced the researchers to an audience of MPs, peers and representatives of the folk industry. The research looked at the contemporary resurgence of English folk music and dance in the context of the wider debate on English national identity. It concluded that English folk is a highly significant site for the negotiation of English identity but noted that folk arts hold a strong appeal for the far right and are therefore becoming politically contested. Recent suggestions that the British National Party has been trying to appropriate English folk music for the cause of English nationalism has led to the development of the massive ‘Folk Against Fascism’ movement. The researchers suggested that the ‘normalisation’ of English folk arts as part of a multicultural society that celebrates diversity could limit their availability for appropriation by the far right. It was a fascinating presentation and discussion: the report on ‘Performing Englishness in New English Folk Music and Dance’ is available online at:  http://myblogs.sunderland.ac.uk/blogs/newenglishfolk/Project%20Closing%20Report%20final-2.pdf

Robin Simpson.



More discussions on community choirs and community cohesion by Robin Simpson
January 22, 2010, 8:23 am
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I was back in London on Wednesday to meet June Mason at the Department for Communities and Local Government for a further discussion about developing new community choirs in areas where they might have a significant positive effect on community cohesion. I told June my interest is in building stronger links with CLG and looking more widely at the impact of arts participation on social cohesion. I’m also keen to join up any CLG community choirs scheme with other relevant Government initiatives such as The Learning Revolution and the 2012 Social Legacy Plan. June and I have therefore agreed that Voluntary Arts and CLG will host a cross-departmental meeting sometime in March involving including a range of music organisations plus representatives of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Arts Council England, the Office of the Third Sector, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the Local Government Association etc. The idea of this meeting will be to look at community choirs as an example of a wider picture of arts participation and social cohesion – and the meeting may be an end in itself.

Robin Simpson.



DCMS Opportunity and Excellence Programme Board meeting by Robin Simpson
January 15, 2010, 10:11 am
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On Thursday afternoon I was at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for a meeting of the Opportunity and Excellence Programme Board. This Board brings together DCMS Directors with the Chief Executives of the Department’s five main Non-Departmental Public Bodies (including Arts Council England, English Heritage and Sport England) to oversee progress against two of DCMS’s four Departmental Strategic Objectives. At this week’s meeting we heard a fascinating presentation on the effects of arts participation on mental health from Jenny Secker, Professor of Mental Health at Anglia Ruskin University. Professor Secker’s 2007 study of new arts participants produced some interesting conclusions on barriers to arts participation and ways to increase participation. We also had a first discussion on ‘digital participation’ in the cultural sectors and how promoting increases in digital engagement might help DCMS reach beyond the cultural organisations it (and its NDPBs) directly fund to have a greater influence on the cultural activities of the nation as a whole.

Robin Simpson.