Cultural Playing Field

Arts Council England Amateur Arts Forum meeting by Robin Simpson
June 18, 2010, 9:56 am
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On Thursday Mary, Helen and I were at Arts Council England in London for the annual Amateur Arts Forum meeting chaired by ACE Chief Executive, Alan Davey. Representatives of a range of national voluntary arts umbrella bodies gathered around the council room table at ACE head office to discuss key issues for the sector with senior officers from ACE. Alan Davey started by saying that he saw this forum as “really really important” and he hoped that, increasingly, the things discussed at these meetings would influence how the Arts Council does what it does. Alan provided an update on ACE’s ‘Achieving Great Art for Everyone’ consultation. He said “the arts are so important to the fabric of this country: having a clear view of the major planks of our ambitions over the next 10 years will help us to support those in the arts world to maintain a sense of ambition and keep our eyes on the main goal – Great Art for Everyone”. ACE launched its consultation in January 2010 and received around 2000 substantial responses. The results will be announced in July but the initial analysis of responses suggests that small organisations, grassroots participation, the amateur arts, volunteering and community engagement will feature prominently. Alan Davey emphasised that, for ACE, “our view is not just about the arts industries we fund: people participating in the arts is now part of what we do”.

The rest of this Amateur Arts Forum meeting highlighted the scale, creativity and quality of London 2012 Cultural Olympiad projects being developed by amateur arts organisations.

John Clifford from Open Morris told us about the ‘Dinosaurs Not Allowed’ project – a visually spectacular fresh perspective on Morris Dancing. In September 2009 almost 200 dancers from across the South West took to the floor in a mass participation event, open to all – held in three venues in Weymouth. Dancers aged from 8 – 25 formed six separate teams in a massed display. In 2010 the project will work across a wider area with nearly twice as many people.

Philip Watson from The British Federation of Brass Bands talked about ‘Bandstand Marathon’. On 27 September 2009 over 50 simultaneous 2-hour concerts took place at bandstands across the South West region involving around 3,000 musicians. On 26 September 2010 the organisers are hoping to hold simultaneous concerts in 200 bandstands across the country.

Liz Whitehouse and Marilyn Lovett from the Quilters’ Guild of the British Isles told us about two projects: ‘A Gift of Quilts’ and ‘Quilts 4 London’. A Gift of Quilts’ is a project to encourage stitchers all over the UK to make and donate up to 500 patchwork quilts.  The object is to give a quilt to each country participating in the London Olympics and Paralympics in 2012 as a unique sign of friendship and peace. The project is open to anyone, any age, any skills, it can be an individual, a group of friends, a village project, a school project, a community project involving care homes, day centres, all you need to be able to do is hold a needle. 267quilts have been registered with the project so far and are now in preparation. ‘Quilts 4 London’ is a project to make a A3-sized Pennant (or ‘mini’ quilt) for each athlete participating in the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games (about 14,000 pennants in total). The project gives quilters, felt makers, embroiderers, textile artists, in fact anyone who sews (or not!), the opportunity to express their support, through the medium of fabric, fibre and stitch, and become part of the whole Olympic event in London 2012. Quilts 4 London is involving the Batik Guild, the International Feltmakers Association, the Cross Stitch Guild and UK Hand Knitting, in addition to the Quilter’s Guild of the British Isles. All these organisations want to encourage as many textile forms to take part as possible – this project is a fantastic way to bring people together to support the athletes in London 2012, and a wonderful way to showcase all the diverse forms of textiles that exist. With two years left to go, these two projects are already involving more than 14,000 participants!

Evan Dawson from Making Music spoke about the Making Music ‘2012 Overture’ project and Making Music’s involvement with ‘Music Nation’, the major London 2012 music project which is being led by the BBC.

Geraldine Collinge from the Royal Shakespeare Company talked about ‘Open Stages’, the ‘pro-am’ part of the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival which has been developed by the RSC, Voluntary Arts and a range of amateur theatre and other voluntary arts umbrella bodies. The project aims 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.

It was wonderful to hear about these exciting, ambitious and genuinely inspiring projects – and to ensure that the Arts Council England Chief Executive (himself a member of the Cultural Olympiad Board) appreciates the impact that the amateur arts sector is making in relation to London 2012.

Robin Simpson.


Amateo Conference 2010 by Robin Simpson
June 18, 2010, 9:53 am
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On Monday and Tuesday Aled and I were at Slagelse in Denmark for the annual conference of Amateo – the European Network for Active Participation in Cultural Activities. The conference programme included a presentation about the EU Culture Programme by Lisebt Tegllund from the Cultural Contact Point in Copenhagen, an interesting account of the experience of the European Jazz Orchestra, ‘Swinging Europe’, in accessing funding from the EU Culture Programme from Linda Stenholt Jensen and an academic look at the notion of European identity (‘Who will die for Europe?’) by Peter Dueland from the University of Copenhagen. Amateo has 18 member organisations in 12 European countries and almost all the members were present at the conference this year. It was great to see everyone again and to talk about the effects of the current financial situation and political changes across Europe on the amateur arts. We also focussed on developing a clear and more specific mission, vision, position and strategy for Amateo to guide the work of the Amateo Board over the coming year. Finally we said farewell and thank you to Tina Moller Jacobsen, the administrator of the Danish amateur arts organisation AKKS. Tina has been a key member of the group that worked to create and establish Amateo but is leaving AKKS (and therefore Amateo) to start a new job. Next year’s Amateo conference will be on 16 & 17 June in Antwerp, Belgium.

Robin Simpson.

ACE Amateur Arts Partnership Development Programme steering group meeting by Robin Simpson
June 4, 2010, 1:50 pm
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On Thursday Mary and I were at Arts Council England in London for a meeting of the Amateur Arts Partnership Development Programme steering group. As well as representatives of ACE and DCMS, this time we welcomed Liz Lawson from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Natasha Innocent from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council who were attending their first steering group meeting. It was extremely useful to have Liz and Natasha there and we had one of our most positive and productive meetings. Despite the current climate of budget cuts and uncertainty, we managed to identify a number of areas in which we might be able to link existing initiatives and agendas across Government departments and agencies in order to make real progress in addressing the recommendations of the DCMS/ACE ‘Our Creative Talent’ research for developing the amateur arts sector in England. In particular we agreed to work together on three key areas: support for setting up new amateur arts groups, opening up spaces for amateur arts groups to use and developing local champions and ambassadors. There was an enthusiastic reception for the Voluntary Arts England ‘Epic Awards’ which were launched this week (see and congratulations were noted to all those involved in developing the scheme. We came away with lots of actions and work to do but it really felt like we had managed to move things forward – an excellent meeting.

Robin Simpson.