Cultural Playing Field


‘Charting a course for the voluntary arts’ by Robin Simpson
March 25, 2011, 9:57 am
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Last Friday I was at the Theatr Powys Drama Centre in Llandrindod Wells for the Voluntary Arts Wales consultation meeting ‘Charting a course for the voluntary arts’. This was the third meeting we have organised to look at the state of the sector in Wales since the changes to Arts Council of Wales core funding were announced in June 2010. In September ‘A Piece of Your Mind’ at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea looked at the national voluntary arts umbrella bodies and support organisations. Our meeting at Chapter Arts in Cardiff in February focussed on the future of Voluntary Arts Wales itself. Last week’s meeting concentrated on the effects of changes in funding and the financial climate on local, grassroots, voluntary arts activity across the country. Although most local voluntary arts groups receive little or no public funding, reductions in funding to the bodies that support and advise them, and to the venues and facilities they use, will clearly have an effect on their activities. We wanted to build a clear picture of the nature, scale and scope of these effects in order to be able to provide the best possible support for the sector over the coming years and to be able to build a strong case for funding for this support. In advance of the meeting we had asked people to complete a short questionnaire about the state of the sector at grassroots level and we used the questionnaire responses as the starting point for our discussions. The meeting was attended by a good mix of people including local authority arts officers, representatives of voluntary arts umbrella bodies, the organisers of local grassroots voluntary arts groups and officers from WCVA and the Wales Assembly Government Heritage Department, Arts Branch. Interestingly, we concluded that the numbers of participants and audiences for local voluntary arts groups are still very healthy, with some showing distinct increases over the last 24 months. The effect of cuts to the facilities or venues used by voluntary arts groups and cuts to the organisations they turn to for support (eg umbrella bodies, local authorities) have yet to be really felt at the grassroots, though there is much concern about what will happen over the coming years. There is even more concern, however, about how local voluntary arts groups are being affected by changes to regulations and legislation and this seems to be increasing the support needs of local groups at a time when the organisations they turn to for support are losing capacity. The meeting heard some passionate and inspiring defence of the importance of voluntary and participatory arts. It was a fascinating day characterised by intelligent and thoughtful conversation and people really listening to each other’s points of view. By the end of the day we had identified a number of ways in which we might all be able to work more closely together to alleviate the problems we had identified. I think we all came away from Llandrindod Wells feeling encouraged and inspired.

Robin Simpson.

 



England Volunteering Development Council meeting by Robin Simpson
March 17, 2011, 4:59 pm
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On Thursday I will be in London to attend a meeting of the England Volunteering Development Council where we heard from Paul Twivy, the Chief Executive of Your Square Mile – a major Big Society initiative. Paul told us there are 93,000 square miles in the UK but 62 million of us live in 8,000 of these square miles. He asked us to imagine 8,000 thriving local democracies, which would typically be defined by a 15-minutes walk in any direction from your home. Paul called this “a central nervous system for civic society”. Your Square Mile will be a mutual – a “union for citizens” – with the aim of increasing the proportion of citizens involved in civic action by a factor of 10 and achieving a membership of 15 million individuals. Your Square Mile is initially operating in 16 pilot areas across the UK. A workshop is being run in each pilot area in order to generate 5 ideas in each case which can be taken on as projects over the next 6 months. The EVDC meeting was also given an update on the impact of the cuts in public expenditure by Sam Mars from Volunteering England. The budget of the Department for Communities and Local Government has been reduced by 62% and the impact of this has generally been cuts of about 28% to local authority budgets. Some local authorities have still to confirm their budgets to start on 1 April. Volunteering England was involved in developing the Voluntary Sector Cuts website: http://voluntarysectorcuts.org.uk. To date details of 398 cuts have been posted on the website, amounting to almost £65 million. Local authorities have made cuts of up to 66% in voluntary sector budgets. Volunteering England also gave a plug to Volunteers Week which is taking place from 1 – 7 June this year, details at: http://www.volunteersweek.org.uk.

Robin Simpson.



Community Media Association arts project steering group meeting by Robin Simpson
March 17, 2011, 4:58 pm
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I was in Sheffield on Wednesday for a meeting of the Community Media Association Arts Project steering group. We reflected on the recent roadshows in the East Midlands, West Midlands and Yorkshire. We also started to look at how to continue to encourage arts groups and community media organisations to collaborate after this current project ends in August.

Robin Simpson.

 



ACEVO Arts, Culture & Heritage Special Interest Group meeting by Robin Simpson
March 11, 2011, 5:13 pm
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On Friday afternoon I took part in a meeting of the ACEVO Arts, Culture & Heritage Special Interest Group. This gathering of Chief Executives of a range of arts and heritage organisations provides a valuable opportunity for peer support. In this week’s meeting we also discussed the work of the NCA/A&B Culture Forum, the forthcoming meeting representatives of the Special Interest Group are to have with the Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey, and the need to champion the importance of local authorities in relation to the arts and heritage.

Robin Simpson.

 



Informal Adult and Community Learning and the Big Society by Robin Simpson
March 11, 2011, 5:12 pm
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I was back in London on Friday for a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) roundtable consultation about The Big Society as part of the programme to reform and refresh informal adult and community learning (IACL). This was the second of a series of roundtable events. We looked in detail at how BIS-funded IACL provision currently supports the development of the Big Society vision and what more BIS-funded IACL could do to help build a Big Society. We also talked about how self-organised groups, including the tens of thousands of voluntary arts groups, could support the Big Society. I was interested to hear that the new Cabinet Office definition of Big Society now includes 5 ‘themes’: 1. empowering communities, 2. encouraging and enabling people to play a more active part in society, 3. transferring power from central Government, 4. supporting co-operatives, mutuals, charities and social enterprises and 5. publishing Government data.

Robin Simpson.

 



Connected Culture by Robin Simpson
March 11, 2011, 4:59 pm
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On Thursday I also met Bonnie Mitchell and Arti Prashar from Connected Culture – the network celebrating adult participatory arts (http://connectedculture.ning.com/). We talked about developing better links between professional community artists and companies working in the area of adult participatory arts and the amateur arts sector and agreed to involve Connected Culture in the Arts Participation Manifesto development group.

Robin Simpson.

 



Arts Participation Manifesto development group meeting by Robin Simpson
March 11, 2011, 4:58 pm
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Also on Thursday I chaired a meeting of the Arts Participation Manifesto development group. This group, which includes representatives of the National Campaign for the Arts, Audiences UK, the National Culture Forum, Mencap, the Foundation for Community Dance and NALGAO, is proving to be a very fertile forum for debating all aspects of arts participation and updating each other on relevant current issues. At this week’s meeting we talked about the Taking Part questionnaire refresh being undertaken by DCMS (deadline 23 March), the I Value the Arts campaign, the legacy of Arts Council England’s abandoned Arts Nation campaign and encouraging the development of local cultural strategies.

Robin Simpson.