Cultural Playing Field

National Association of Youth Theatres ‘Excellence and Inclusion Scheme’ by Robin Simpson
February 26, 2010, 8:55 am
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I was at Symphony Hall in Birmingham on Monday for the launch of the National Association of Youth Theatres ‘Excellence and Inclusion Scheme’ (EIS). EIS is two self assessment toolkits for youth theatres created by Professor Jonothan Neelands and Juliet Raysnford through a two-year collaborative and consultative process. NAYT Chief Executive, Jill Adamson, claims they are “without doubt the most useful documents ever to have been produced specifically for the youth theatre sector”. She said “the EIS allows us to take huge steps towards achieving our goal of providing high quality, inclusive accessible youth theatre for ALL young people, regardless of where they choose to access the provision”. NAYT has created 12 new partnerships, starting in April, with 9 regional theatres and 3 national training providers who will be collaborating with NAYT to bring about regular regional activity and supporting networks. Helping to launch the EIS scheme on Monday, Royal Shakespeare Company Artistic Director Michael Boyd said “I learned my trade in you theatre: I learned to be brave and to realise concretely the social value of theatre … When a young person is facing the contradiction between being ‘me’ and the grim necessity of fitting in, theatre is a genius at solving that paradox.”

Robin Simpson.


The Learning Revolution Stakeholder Communications Group by Robin Simpson
February 19, 2010, 5:09 pm
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On Friday afternoon I was at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills for a meeting of The Learning Revolution Stakeholder Communications Group where we heard presentations from Paul Miller of The School of Everything and Claire Fieldsend from the Central Office of Information on the final results from the recent Learning Revolution communications survey, as well as updates on the latest projects and a PR activity round-up. The Learning Revolution activities formally finish at the end of March but there is much enthusiasm among the members of the Communications Group to continue to work collectively to promote informal adult learning.

Robin Simpson.

Voluntary cultural sector alliance meeting by Robin Simpson
February 19, 2010, 5:08 pm
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I was in London again on Friday for my regular voluntary cultural sector alliance meeting with Heritage Link, the Central Council for Physical Recreation (CCPR) and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). As usual we covered a vast range of topics including CCPR’s Facilities Inquiry – an independent inquiry into built and natural sports facilities in the UK (see: – Heritage Link’s rebranding (at the instigation of new Chair, Lloyd Grossman) as ‘The Heritage Alliance’, the progress of NCVO’s Funding Commission and the wide range of activities we are all undertaking in relation to the London 2012 legacy.

Robin Simpson.

Arts participation and social cohesion by Robin Simpson
February 19, 2010, 5:06 pm
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On Thursday I was at the Department of Communities and Local Government in London for a further meeting with June Mason to discuss the cross-departmental meeting we are organising in March to look at community choirs as an example of a wider picture of arts participation and social cohesion. We have invited representatives of a range of Government departments, Arts Council England and several music organisations to take part in the meeting and we have had a very good response. On Thursday we agreed the agenda and final details for the meeting which should be a good opportunity to try to link together some of our work across a variety of areas.

Robin Simpson.

Ratiu Romania Foundation by Robin Simpson
February 19, 2010, 5:04 pm
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Last Friday I was at the Romanian Cultural Centre in London to meet Cosmin Catana and Ouana Ionita from the Ratiu Romania Foundation. The Foundation is running a “Social Engagement through Art” platform with the aim of improving social, economic and individual aspects of life in the 4th District of Bucharest. They plan to establish a Centre for Voluntary Arts in Bucharest that will act as a resource centre for organisations using an artistic approach in social intervention projects. Cosmin and Ouana were in the UK to gather ideas and advice from organisations doing similar work here.

Robin Simpson.

Amateur Arts Partnership Development Programme by Robin Simpson
February 17, 2010, 5:08 pm
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On Monday I was in London for a meeting of the Arts Council England ‘Amateur Arts Partnership Development Programme’ steering group. This group, which includes representatives of ACE, DCMS, Voluntary Arts and the Local Government Association, is following up the recommendations and conclusions of the DCMS/ACE ‘Our Creative Talent’ research into the voluntary and amateur arts in England. In a packed agenda we discussed the 2010 programme of ACE Amateur Arts Forum meetings, involving the voluntary arts sector in the ACE ‘Great Art for Everyone’ consultation, the updating of the DCMS ‘Guide to Arts Funding’, opportunities for the voluntary arts sector in relation to the UK City of Culture and much more. The steering group is a great way of linking together a wide range of issues and initiatives and ensuring that the voluntary arts are properly considered and involved.

Robin Simpson.

Community Media Association Arts Project steering group by Robin Simpson
February 12, 2010, 11:18 am
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I was in Sheffield on Thursday to attend a meeting of the Community Media Association Arts Project steering group where we agreed the details of the first of 9 regional stakeholder meetings which will take place in Dewsbury on 5 March. These meetings will bring together arts policymakers and funders, including local authority arts development officers, to discuss the role of community media organisations in supporting and encouraging local arts participation. They will be followed later this year by a series of 9 regional roadshows which will provide opportunities for voluntary arts groups to meet local community media organisations to discuss how they might collaborate.

Robin Simpson.

Open Stages by Robin Simpson
February 12, 2010, 11:15 am
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On Wednesday I was at the National Operatic and Dramatic Association in Peterborough for a meeting of amateur theatre umbrella bodies where I announced the details of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s ‘Open Stages’ programme. ‘Open Stages’ is the RSC’s collaboration with UK voluntary artists, 2010-2012, and is one of 4 component parts of the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival – a major project within the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. The ‘Open Stages’ programme, which was devised by the RSC and Voluntary Arts as a result of the creative planning weekend we held for voluntary arts umbrella bodies in Stratford on 31 October/1 November last year, is intended to bring about a step change in the relationship between the amateur and professional theatre sectors and raise the profile of the amateur sector in the UK. ‘Open Stages’ will consist of 6 strands:

1. A national Shakespeare-themed theatre competition – working with existing amateur festivals and competitions to develop, through collaboration, a national competition. All entries will be performing Shakespeare plays, or devised responses to the themes and stories explored in his works. The finals will take place in Stratford as a major part of the World Shakespeare Festival.

2. Shakespeare festivals: UK multi region – supporting 12 producing theatres across the UK towards the programming of a festival in 2011 including a collaborative co-production working with representatives of the regional amateur sector. Highlights of these co-productions will be showcased in Stratford in 2012.

3. National Shakespeare Challenge – challenging amateur companies nationally, to create new cross-arts, collaborative productions of Shakespeare or works inspired by Shakespeare (such as existing musical adaptations or new commissions). The criteria, developed with national amateur organisations, will encourage the forging of new partnerships within local communities, involving young people and new audience development strategies.

4. Global Digital Shakespeare Project – enabling a global engagement with the World Shakespeare Festival, combining a worldwide online presence with a live-streamed element.

5. Engaging with global artists – linking with international artists from India, the Middle East and Russia as part of the World Shakespeare Festival, so that these visiting artists would be working across the education and amateur sectors, providing skills workshops and introductions to the making of their work for amateur companies.

6. Skills exchanges between professional and non professional artists – a national programme of skills exchanges between the professional and amateur theatre sectors with skills sessions available in each region and nation of the UK.

I think it’s a very exciting programme and it’s wonderful to see how much of it came directly from ideas generated at the creative planning weekend. There is still lots of work to do on the details of each strand and the programme is still awaiting approval from the Cultural Olympiad organisers but it is clearly going to provide a range of inspiring opportunities for voluntary arts groups across the UK.

Robin Simpson.

England Volunteering Development Council meeting by Robin Simpson
February 12, 2010, 11:08 am
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I was in London on Tuesday for a meeting of the England Volunteering Development Council, which brings together the volunteering infrastructure bodies and volunteer-involving organisations. This week’s meeting included a presentation by Ben Brown and Chris Hedges from the UK Borders Agency about the plans to include ‘active citizenship’ as an option within the new ‘earned citizenship’ scheme. This will allow people seeking British citizenship or permanent residence to reduce by 2 years the time it will take them to qualify if they undertake a certain amount of unpaid activity that benefits the community. The relevant legislation comes into force from July 2011 but it appears that there is still much work to do on the details. Concerns were expressed about which organisations will be accredited to provide volunteering opportunities that could be counted towards ‘active citizenship’ and whether, if it is primarily larger national charities that are involved, this might be counter-productive for small-scale community volunteering initiatives. We also heard an update from Jean Tomlin, Head of Human Resources at LOCOG, about the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics volunteer programme. The recruitment of the 70,000 ‘games-time’ volunteers will be launched in July 2010 and will be open for applications for the rest of this year. Selection events will be held around the UK during 2011. It was interesting to hear that the initial 10 Million expressions of interest about volunteering at the 2012 Games quickly dropped to 1.4 Million after LOCOG provided further explanation about what will be involved, including clarification that you won’t get paid! I asked how people will be able to volunteer as performers in the Olympic and Paralympic ceremonies and got confirmation that this will be a separate process from the main volunteer recruitment programme. More details will be available soon.

Robin Simpson.

National Association of Local Government Arts Officers Trustees meeting by Robin Simpson
February 5, 2010, 6:14 pm
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This afternoon I have been at the National Association of Local Government Arts Officers Trustees meeting. Among a wide range of topics we talked about the latest statistics relating to the national indicator for arts engagement (NI11) which show a small (but statistically insignificant) decline over the last year. We also discussed developments in relation to the 2012 Cultural Olympiad: there are now 150 ‘Inspire Mark’ projects but LOCOG hopes to get to 1,000 projects by the end of this year.

Robin Simpson.