Cultural Playing Field


RSC Open Stages update meeting by Robin Simpson
September 30, 2011, 11:17 am
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I was in Stratford-upon-Avon on Thursday to meet Geraldine Collinge and Ian Wainwright at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Our RSC Open Stages project is progressing well: the first of the 263 amateur productions within the project took place in February 2011 on the Isle of Skye and there will be Open Stages productions across the UK through to the end of 2012.

RSC Open Stages map

RSC Open Stages map

We have now completed the programme of skills sharing sessions across the country. The RSC Open Stages Skills Exchange team has travelled 5,047 miles this year, running sessions from Glasgow to Southampton, working with 2,320 amateurs. The learning from these sessions has been immense and, as well as the ways in which amateur theatre groups have benefited from the knowledge and experience of the professionals, it was fascinating to hear how much the RSC has learned about the nature and state of amateur theatre in the UK. On Thursday we discussed how we might use this learning to help to plan further work together after the Open Stages project finishes at the end of 2012. We also discussed details of the regional (and national) Open Stages showcase events being organised by our 10 partner theatres in Spring 2012 and the World Shakespeare Festival/Open Stages performances in July 2012. On 14, 15, 21 and 22 July 2012 at least 10 amateur productions, selected from the Open Stages programme across the UK, will perform in Stratford-upon-Avon as guests of the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of the official World Shakespeare Festival (which is part of London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad). It’s going to be a fantastic opportunity for the chosen groups and a great chance for us to demonstrate the excellent standards achieved by UK amateur theatre groups.

Robin Simpson.

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Grassroots arts research project steering group telephone meeting by Robin Simpson
September 30, 2011, 10:59 am
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On Thursday I took part in a telephone meeting of the steering group for our Connected Communities research project ‘The role of grassroots arts activities in communities’. We discussed the arrangements for our ‘Growing the Grassroots’ consultation event at Cecil Sharp House in London on Tuesday 18 October. We also agreed plans for the publication of our literature review, final report and journal articles.

Robin Simpson.



European Year of Volunteering 2011 working group meeting by Robin Simpson
September 16, 2011, 11:10 am
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On Thursday afternoon I was in the grand surroundings of the Treasury and HM Revenue and Customs building on Parliament Street in London – the new home of the Cabinet Office – for a meeting of the European Year of Volunteering 2011 working group. As well as a general update on the progress of European Year of Volunteering activities, we heard presentations from Volunteering England and Volunteer Centre Warrington on the specific strands of work focussing on employer-supported volunteering and volunteer management. We also discussed the details of the European Year of Volunteering Tour event which will take place at the Coin Street Community Centre, just off the South Bank in London, from 28 October until 3 November.

Robin Simpson.



Meeting the Scotland Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs by Robin Simpson
September 16, 2011, 11:00 am
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I was in Edinburgh on Wednesday where Fiona, David and I met the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, at the Scottish Parliament. It was a very encouraging first meeting with the Cabinet Secretary. We talked about the nature of the voluntary arts sector in Scotland and the work of Voluntary Arts Scotland. We focussed on our People Making Waves: Make a Splash! Project (which is part of The Scottish Project to create a cultural legacy from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Scotland) and discussed the possibility of extending this work through to the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. We also talked about the Year of Creative Scotland 2012, the Olympic Torch Relay in Scotland and Fiona Hyslop’s interest in supporting traditional skills, including heritage crafts.

Robin Simpson.



Building the Big Society in Wales by Robin Simpson
September 16, 2011, 10:58 am
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I was in Newport on Monday to take part in a seminar called ‘Building the Big Society in Wales’. When Aled and I met David Jones, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, in May, the Minister told us he was planning this seminar. Given the difficulty of trying to progress the UK Government’s Big Society agenda in Wales, where the Welsh Assembly Government is of a different political hue, David Jones had done a very good job of gathering together a substantial range of representatives of civil society in Wales. The event was jointly presented by the Wales Office and the Cabinet Office and the Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd, was present to speak about the Government’s vision of the Big Society. David Jones opened the seminar by stressing that Big Society is nothing new. He said “Big Society is something that has been going on for a long time, particularly in Wales. The Government isn’t claiming credit for inventing the Big Society: the Government wants more of it and to help organisations like yours to expand, to grown and to do more”. Nick Hurd added that “two very small words have triggered a hell of a debate”. He said suggestions that Big Society was cover for cuts or empty rhetoric are myths: “It’s a debate that really matters. It’s a debate about responsibility and how communities work, how public services could and should be delivered. And it is even more important in the light of the riots that shocked us all.” Nick Hurd argued that “successive governments have transferred too much power and responsibility to the state and have lost something in terms of community vitality: is that what we really want?” He said “of course there are good examples all over the country: there is nothing new about Big Society. We’re not inventing something here: we are shining a spotlight on activities we want to encourage.” Nick Hurd stressed “this is about much more than just volunteering: it is a big transfer of power to communities. Don’t underestimate the potential for change.” He said the role of charities and social enterprises was very important to this project. There are three main opportunities:

  • to do more in relation to public services
  • to give voice to people who would otherwise struggle to be heard
  • to provide opportunities for more people to volunteer

But Nick Hurd admitted this is a difficult time for the sector with much less money around.

As well as hearing from the two Ministers, the seminar included presentations by Nick O’Donohoe, the Chief Executive of Big Society Capital (a social investment bank funded from dormant bank accounts and the four major UK banks) and the winner of Welsh Social Enterprise Leader 2011, Sharon Jones, the Director of the inspiring Crest Co-operative in North Wales.

At the end of the seminar David Jones concluded that the groups around the room seemed generally well-disposed towards the Big Society concept, if not the Big Society brand or name. He announced plans to establish a Big Society Advisory Group for Wales and invited those present to suggest potential members for this group.

Robin Simpson.



Up for Arts/Celf Amdani Carmarthen by Robin Simpson
September 16, 2011, 10:37 am
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Beer mat gallery at Up for Arts/Celf Amdani Carmarthen

Beer mat gallery at Up for Arts/Celf Amdani Carmarthen

On Saturday I was in Carmarthen for our first Voluntary Arts Wales Up for Arts event. It was a great day, despite the weather. Hundreds of people stopped to take a look at the wide range of artforms and crafts being demonstrated by local amateur groups. And the occasional downpour only served to drive more people into our marquee! It was wonderful to see so many people, young and old, having a go at screen-printing, spinning, candle-making, mask-making and much more. And there were some wonderful performances in Guildhall Square throughout the day, including poetry, creative writing and lots of music. I particularly enjoyed the local teenage kora maestro – who knew that Carmarthen harboured such expertise in the West African harp-lute?

Kora player at Up for Arts/Celf Amdani Carmarthen

Kora player at Up for Arts/Celf Amdani Carmarthen

 

As always, the more you talk to enthusiasts from local arts groups about their particular artforms, and the more you get involved in trying the activity yourself, the more you understand the complexity, the fascination and the satisfaction of taking part. After a few minutes talking to a member of the screen-printing group on Saturday, I could see completely how it could become a real passion. Enthusiasm for any creative activity is truly infectious and what Up for Arts always achieves is to demonstrate the wealth of enthusiasm and expertise that exists in any local community.

 

Congratulations to Fliss and Sioned for putting together a great event in Carmarthen and good luck for the second VAW Up for Arts event in Rhyl this weekend.

Robin Simpson.

Spinning at Up for Arts/Celf Amdani Carmarthen

Spinning at Up for Arts/Celf Amdani Carmarthen



Milton Keynes Arts & Heritage Alliance meeting by Robin Simpson
September 7, 2011, 2:35 pm
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I was at Milton Keynes Museum on Wednesday to speak at a meeting of the Milton Keynes Arts & Heritage Alliance. The Alliance is a group of 26 arts and heritage organisations in Milton Keynes, including The Stables, Milton Keynes Gallery and Bletchley Park as well as representatives of small voluntary arts organisations. I had been invited to speak about ‘The Big Society – making the best of the voluntary contribution’ but we agreed to focus more specifically on the use of volunteers in arts and heritage organisations. All the organisations represented at the meeting use volunteers and many said they had concerns about recruiting, motivating and retaining volunteers. I spoke about the Volunteering in the Arts meeting I had organised at Arts Council England in November last year which had concluded that, while many arts organisations make significant use of volunteers, few have any connection with volunteering infrastructure organisations. The members of the Milton Keynes Arts & Heritage Alliance clearly recognised this general description of volunteering in arts organisations. About one third of those present were familiar with do-it.org.uk. Slightly fewer knew about the Investing in Volunteers standard and only one person had heard of the Association of Volunteer Managers. We had an interesting and wide-ranging discussion about volunteering best practice, regulations, policy and legal issues. I finished by recommending the following sources of information and support:

Robin Simpson.