Cultural Playing Field

Talking to Artswork by Robin Simpson
December 23, 2010, 10:20 am
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On Monday I spoke to Jane Bryant, the new Chief Executive of Artswork (which manages the England National Youth Arts Network). Jane has been in post for two and a half months, having previously worked for Southern Arts and Arts Council England South East and as Chief Executive of the Coda Music Trust. As the conductor of two choirs, she is very familiar with the voluntary arts. Artswork has been going for nearly 24 years. It runs a nationally available professional development programme (‘Artsplan’) for artists, arts organisations and youth practitioners using the arts to work with young people. ENYAN is a network of 5500 organisations and individuals including youth arts practitioners, youth practitioners, artists and arts organisations. It has 9 regional advisory panels and a national panel which includes representatives from Arts Award, CCE, ACE and the Youth Justice Board. We talked about how Artswork and Voluntary Arts might work more closely together to build progression routes for young people from youth arts to adult amateur arts groups and to build the capacity of the amateur arts sector to develop arts practice and arts opportunities with for and by young people.

Robin Simpson.

Making Music’s new Wales Development Manager by Robin Simpson
December 17, 2010, 3:04 pm
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Before I left Cardiff on Tuesday I had a brief meeting with Making Music’s new Wales Development Manager, Craig Roberts. Craig is a brass band conductor and a long-time board member of Ty Cerdd (formerly the Welsh Amateur Music Federation). He is keen to work closely with Voluntary Arts Wales and we discussed a number of ways in which we might work together.

Robin Simpson.


Meeting Audiences Wales by Robin Simpson
December 17, 2010, 2:56 pm
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I was in Cardiff on Tuesday to meet Nick Beasley, Chief Executive of Audiences Wales. We discussed a variety of ways in which we might be able to work together: to help voluntary arts organisations develop their audiences; to provide support with the business of running a voluntary arts group; and to increase arts participation. We talked about the two highly successful audience development training sessions that took place in the summer, jointly run by Voluntary Arts Wales and Audiences Wales, and agreed that we would develop a series of similar events across Wales next year.

Robin Simpson.


Participation, the arts and social change by Robin Simpson
December 17, 2010, 2:48 pm
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On Monday I was at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) in London to meet Véronique Jochum, NCVO Research Manager and Tom Andrews, Chief Executive of People United, to discuss the session on ‘Participation, the arts and social change’ that we are preparing for the NCVO Annual Conference 2011 at The Brewery in London on Tuesday 1 March. This session will explore how the arts can be a catalyst for wider community engagement drawing in people who may otherwise not engage, which is particularly relevant in the context of the Big Society. It will also look at how the arts can contribute to social change and help address complex social problems creatively. Speakers will share perspectives and reflect on their experience by looking at exemplar projects that illustrate the potential of the arts within civil society and beyond. It is aimed at any organisation interested in thinking about how the arts could help them be more inclusive and innovative. Tom and I will be joined by Sam McLean, Director of Public Participation at the RSA and the session will be chaired by Tim Joss, Director of the Rayne Foundation. More details at:

Robin Simpson.


Community Media Association Arts Project steering group meeting by Robin Simpson
December 10, 2010, 1:25 pm
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I was in Sheffield on Friday to chair a meeting of the steering group for the Community Media Association’s Arts Project. We reflected on the second of our regional roadshows to bring together arts organisations and community media groups which took place in Sunderland earlier this week and looked at the plans for the remaining seven events. We also heard about the four winners of the ‘Connect’ exemplar collaborations between community media organisations and arts organisations.

Robin Simpson.


NALGAO Conference 2010 by Robin Simpson
December 10, 2010, 1:20 pm
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On Monday and Tuesday Mary, Daniel, Helen and I were at the annual conference of the National Association of Local Government Arts Officers in Hove. The NALGAO conference is always a very enjoyable and well-run event. Inevitably, this year, the mood was fairly downbeat, with news of some major cuts to local authority arts funding having emerged over recent weeks and the likelihood of much more to come. Nevertheless it was good to see many old and new friends and to hear so much talk about the importance of the voluntary arts.

The Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey, addressed the NALGAO conference on Monday afternoon. On the decisions of some local authorities to make major cuts in arts funding he said “while I might raise the odd eyebrow at the decisions of some councils on arts funding I absolutely defend the right of those councils to take those decisions”. He also said to this audience of local authority arts officers that “we shouldn’t let ourselves be consumed by talk of cuts”. The main focus of the Minister’s speech was ‘The Big Society’. Ed Vaizey said “The arts already are the embodiment of the Big Society. There are over 50,000 well-organised voluntary groups across the country, not to mention the groups associated with professional venues that bring together people with shared interests – whether it’s book clubs, drama clubs or pottery courses.” The Minister cited voluntary arts umbrella body The British Decoy Wildfowl Carvers Association as an example of the range and diversity of arts activity in the UK. He said “Our Creative Talent calculated that almost 6 million people were involved in community arts groups and a further 3.5 million volunteered as extras or helpers. This is the Big Society in action. I don’t think the arts sector needs to desperately adapt in the hope of bringing itself in line with central government thinking. It just needs to shout a little louder about what it already does and help bring government thinking along with it.”

The NALGAO AGM on Monday evening agreed to change the name of the organisation to ‘Arts Development UK’ and to open up membership beyond to local government arts officers. On Tuesday I gave a presentation on ‘The Big Society’, urging local authority arts officer to work with Voluntary Arts to help local voluntary arts groups to connect more effectively to their communities.

Robin Simpson.


Meeting National Theatre Wales by Robin Simpson
December 3, 2010, 2:06 pm
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On Friday morning Jacquy and I met Devinda De Silva, TEAM Co-ordinator at National Theatre Wales. Devinda and I were both involved in the Points of Contact exchange programme with Brazil and we wanted to talk about how to take forward the learning from this programme in Wales. We also discussed the work of National Theatre Wales in local communities across Wales and how Voluntary Arts Wales might be able to help broker effective relationships with local voluntary arts groups.

Robin Simpson.