Cultural Playing Field


The Art of Conversation: Membership or Bust? by Robin Simpson
October 8, 2010, 4:44 pm
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On Friday afternoon I attended the second half of the Voluntary Arts Scotland annual networking event ‘The Art of Conversation: Membership or Bust?’ in Glasgow. Representatives of voluntary arts groups and umbrella bodies debated the changing nature of membership, how to attract new members, what puts people off becoming members and the use of digital technologies in relation to membership. There were presentations from Laraine Winning from Voluntary Arts England, Isabel Cleary from Voluntary Arts Ireland, Helen Black from the Citizens Theatre and Liz Whitehouse, Chief Executive of the Quilters Guild of the British Isles, as well as contributions from Voluntary Arts Scotland staff and Committee members. I chaired the final panel session and it was interesting to hear a variety of innovative and intriguing ideas that had emerged during the day.

Robin Simpson.

 



Redefining creative expression by Robin Simpson
October 8, 2010, 4:37 pm
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On Friday I was in Glasgow for the Mission Models Money event ‘Towards an Ecological View of Creative Vitality’. This was a seminar to consider how MMM might develop an action research project in Glasgow and Perth & Kinross which would aim to define a broader and more inclusive definition of creative and cultural expression. Alan Brown, an American researcher and management consultant in the nonprofit arts industry, asked us how you would know whether your community is creatively vital. He explained that when people are asked whether they take part in the arts or cultural activity they tend to say that they don’t do anything whereas when people are asked if they do anything creative almost everyone can cite something. Cultural policy and the arts world only seems to value specific artforms, ignoring other forms of creative expression such as cooking, gardening, designing attractive living spaces or writing letters. Alan described a framework of five modes of creative participation (inventive, interpretive, curatorial, observational and ambient). He was concerned that arts organisations have a very limited interest in gaining an overview of the cultural ecosystem, typically focussing on their own funding rather than seeing their interdependence on other parts of the sector, including the voluntary arts. Claire Cooper from MMM described the planned action research project which will attempt to answer the question “how can developing a broader and more inclusive definition of creative expression evolve our world view of what constitutes a healthy arts and cultural ecology”. It was a fascinating, and fiercely intellectual debate and it was great to see officers from Creative Scotland, local authorities and audience development agencies stressing the value and importance of all forms of arts participation and the role of the amateur arts in healthy and creative communities.

Robin Simpson.

 



Community Media Association East of England Roadshow by Robin Simpson
October 8, 2010, 8:42 am
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On Wednesday I was in Ipswich for the Community Media Association East of England Roadshow. Community media organisations and arts organisations from across the Eastern region gathered at Endeavour House – the home of Suffolk County Council – for a day of presentations and discussions about how they might work more closely together. This was the first of a series of regional roadshows we are presenting as part of the CMA’s Arts Project, funded by Arts Council England. Our plan is to look at the role of community media organisations can play in relation to the arts – not just as a means of publicising existing arts activity but as a “producer, platform and partner”. On Wednesday we heard details of some fantastic examples of community radio stations that already engage in lots of arts activity. Future Radio – a station in Norwich run by around 100 volunteers – has an amazing record in covering and commissioning arts activity. In 2009, as the culmination of a project funded by a Grants for the Arts Lottery award from Arts Council England, Future Radio created a radio production of Hamlet – working with 10 local theatre companies in and around Norwich to recruit a cast of 20 mostly amateur actors, commissioning original music and broadcasting the play in seven weekly episodes. From the extract we heard, the results were very impressive. For more details see: http://www.futureradio.co.uk/platform. To find a community media organisation in your area that might be interested in working with your voluntary arts group go to http://map.commedia.org.uk/.

Robin Simpson.



Entertainment Licensing by Robin Simpson
October 1, 2010, 1:37 pm
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I was back in London on Friday to meet Stuart Roberts and Mabel Wanogho from the Entertainment Licensing team at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to talk about possible changes to the licensing of live entertainment. The Government hopes to reduce licensing requirements under the Licensing Act 2003 for various forms of live entertainment. DCMS is considering a range of options and having informal early discussions with those who may be affected. Stuart explained that they are examining whether the licensing system is sufficiently targeted and proportionate, considering its impact on low risk and small scale events. I provided some initial feedback from the point of view of voluntary arts groups and offered to convene a meeting of voluntary arts umbrella bodies to discuss any proposed changes in more detail.

Robin Simpson.



NCVO Value of Infrastructure Programme by Robin Simpson
October 1, 2010, 12:31 pm
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On Tuesday afternoon I went to see Stephen Quashie, Value of Infrastructure Programme Manager at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). Stephen took part in the seminar about how the arts are structured in the UK that I organised at the South Bank Centre in July as part of the Points of Contact exchange programme with Brazil. We discussed the work that the Value of Infrastructure Programme has been doing to develop a standard framework for measuring the impact of infrastructure organisations. From the beginning of 2011, NCVO will be providing training courses and online tools for infrastructure organisations to enable them to communicate and grow their impact. We agreed to talk to infrastructure, support and umbrella organisations in the voluntary arts sector and the wider arts sector about whether this impact measurement framework could be useful to arts organisations.

Robin Simpson.



Catching up with the National Campaign for the Arts by Robin Simpson
October 1, 2010, 12:29 pm
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I was back in London on Tuesday for a catch-up meeting with Louise de Winter at the National Campaign for the Arts. Among many other topics we discussed the NCA’s ‘I Value the Arts’ campaign (http://www.ivaluethearts.org.uk), the Royal Shakespeare Company/Voluntary Arts ‘Open Stages’ programme, the Arts & Business/NCA Culture Forum, the Participation Manifesto and the Big Society. But, inevitably, we spent most of our meeting talking about the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review and the prospects for arts funding.

Robin Simpson.



Safe Network by Robin Simpson
October 1, 2010, 12:27 pm
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On Monday afternoon I met Kevin Garrod, the National Partnerships Manager for Safe Network – the National Voluntary and Community Sector Safeguarding Unit (in England). Safe Network is a partnership between Children England and the NSPCC which provides information, toolkits, learning materials, training and an enquiry service to help voluntary and community sector organisations keep children safe. On 18 November they will be launching the ‘Safe Network Standards’ – an online interactive assessment for organisations. We talked about how Voluntary Arts might work more closely with Safe Network to provide information and advice on child protection and related issues to the voluntary arts sector.

Robin Simpson.



Amateur arts and the Big Society by Robin Simpson
October 1, 2010, 12:26 pm
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Later on Monday morning I met Richard Russell, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Arts Council England, together with Phil Cave, Meli Hatzihrysidis and Sian Clarke from ACE, to discuss opportunities and challenges for the arts within the Government’s Big Society agenda and the ways in which the amateur arts sector could work with ACE in this area. Richard was keen to look at how Voluntary Arts might help ACE in the development of sustainable relationships with local authorities. We discussed the practical steps that would be needed to build in the amateur arts within partnerships with local authorities and agreed to pursue the idea of several geographical pilots. It was a very encouraging meeting, with Richard stressing the importance of Voluntary Arts acting as a partner to ACE in this work.

Robin Simpson.



Arts Council England national research programme by Robin Simpson
October 1, 2010, 12:24 pm
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On Monday I was in London to meet James Doeser from the new research team at Arts Council England. ACE is consulting on the future direction of its national research programme as it plans research for 2011/12 to 2014/15 which will support ACE’s new 10 year strategic framework. James and I discussed the importance of ACE’s research looking at the arts as a whole – not just the organisations ACE directly funds – and the need to use data and evidence to help influence policy. I talked about the scale and impact of the voluntary arts sector and encouraged ACE to link to research initiatives in the wider voluntary and community sector, such as the Third Sector Research Council.

Robin Simpson.