Cultural Playing Field

Voluntary Arts England Epic Awards 2010 winners’ reception by Robin Simpson
February 3, 2011, 6:58 pm
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On Monday evening I was in the Attlee Room at the House of Lords for the Voluntary Arts England Epic Awards winners’ reception where the awards were presented by two Government Ministers, John Hayes MP, the Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, and Ed Vaizey MP, the Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries. The Epic Awards were devised by Mary Lowe in response to the challenge issued to Voluntary Arts by Arts Council England Chief Executive, Alan Davey, at the Our Creative Talent conference at The Barbican in July 2008. Alan challenged us to develop a scheme to showcase and encourage excellence and innovation in the amateur arts. I was particularly pleased, therefore, that Alan Davey was able to join us on Monday to meet the four award-winning groups. The reception, hosted by the President of Voluntary Arts, Lord Luce, was attended by representatives of each of the winning groups, MPs from the winners’ constituencies and representatives of the Epic Awards sponsors. In welcoming everyone to the reception, Lord Luce talked about the origins of Voluntary Arts:

“Almost my last act as a Minister, in 1990, was to say that I think the amateur arts ought to have something that will give them inspiration and encouragement in the work that they do and that needed some kind of a parent body who could provide them with advocacy, support, information and advice. My budget was very small but I managed to find a very small sum of money as a kind of seedcorn fund which I said should be used for the creation of support for amateur arts. When I left the Government of my own volition in 1990 after 5 years as a Minister … I then joined a small group that helped to set up what has now emerged as a highly successful organisation. I am very proud of it and very proud to be the President of Voluntary Arts.”

Engagement and Partnership Award winners

John Hayes presents the Engagement and Partnership Awards to Apsara Arts and Milton Keynes Islamic Arts Heritage and Culture Organisation

The Further Education Minister, John Hayes, who presented the Engagement and Partnerships Awards, said:

“I believe in all of the virtues that art brings – the way that it can inspire, the way it can ignite, the passions that it can engender, the things it can communicate, the touch of the sublime brought to lives of people in all kinds of ways and all kinds of forms, through artistic endeavour … I celebrate what you’re doing in these Epic Awards. I celebrate the joy of all those people associated with amateur arts across the country and I am just pleased and proud to be a very small part of that joy.”

Innovation and Creativity Award winners

Ed Vaizey presents the Innovation and Creativity Awards to the Cobweb Orchestra and UC Crew

Ed Vaizey, the Culture Minister, who presented the Innovation and Creativity Awards, said:

“It’s delightful to be here for a number of reasons. First of all to be reminded again how important voluntary arts are to the arts world … I will work with Arts Council England to make sure we continue to remind the world that the world of the arts extends far beyond those organisations that simply receive funding from the Arts Council. I’m glad to see these awards are supported by Arts Council England and I will continue to work with the Arts Council to make sure that the message goes out that the Arts Council is there for everyone … Just as we talk about innovation coming from some of our leading arts organisations, those arts organisations that regard themselves, as it were, at the top of the pyramid could certainly learn from many of the voluntary arts organisations who are also pushing to innovate.”

The representatives of the award-winning groups were great – lovely people with inspiring stories to tell. Apsara Arts from Croydon won the Engagement Award for their Story of London project which explored the history of Asians in London. Milton Keynes Islamic Arts, Heritage and Culture Organisation received the Partnerships award for their Islamic Art Banner – a project that enabled local students to explore Islamic culture through contemporary and traditional art. The Innovation award was won by the Cobweb Orchestra for their Undercover Orchestra Bolero – a flash-mob rendition of Ravel’s Bolero at Newcastle’s Eldon Square bus station that became a YouTube sensation. Breakdance group UC Crew from St Helens took the Creativity Award for their anti-smoking project. In their brief acceptance speeches, several of the winners warned about the damage being inflicted on the arts by public funding cuts, making their case firmly but politely. Andy Jackson from the Cobweb Orchestra said:

“With all the cutbacks, everybody knows that the professional arts are in for a really tough time, but this is our moment people. This is when us voluntary artists are really going to make the big difference.”

It was a wonderful evening, at which the excellence and innovation of the amateur arts was recognised at the highest level. The presence of two Government Ministers was an indication of the way amateur arts activity contributes to a range of agendas and recognition of the current high profile our sector has achieved in England. Many congratulations to Mary Lowe and the Voluntary Arts England team and our considerable thanks to Lord Luce.

We plan to run the Epic Awards again in 2011 and to expand the scheme to be UK-wide. You can read case studies of the winning groups and other entrants at:

Robin Simpson.