Cultural Playing Field


Arts Development UK Conference by Robin Simpson
October 14, 2011, 3:38 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve been in Blackpool on Thursday and Friday attending the Arts Development UK Conference. This is the first conference since the National Association of Local Government Arts Officers rebranded itself as Arts Development UK and it was good to see the slightly broader range of people now involved in the organisation but disappointing that numbers attending the conference seemed significantly lower than in previous years. This was a practical demonstration of the extent of cuts to local government arts services over the past 12 months. We were encouraged by the staunch support for the arts and culture expressed by Simon Blackburn, the Leader of Blackpool Council. The conference saw the election of Jane Wilson as the new Chair of Arts Development UK, succeeding Lorna Brown who has seen NALGAO/AD:uk through its major transition and rebranding.

The conference keynote speaker was Shona McCarthy, Chief Executive of Derry/Londonderry UK City of Culture 2013. Shona arrived in Blackpool on Wednesday, then on Wednesday night a pipe bomb detonated outside the City of Culture offices in Derry. No-one was hurt and there was very little physical damage. In an emotional and inspiring speech Shona said the City of Culture offices had been targeted “because we are a positive force for change and forward thinking. City of Culture is the highest profile initiative in the island of Ireland at the moment. This action was taken by an ever decreasing minority with no mandate and no support.” Shona reported that all her staff had been back at their desks on Thursday morning. They had received support and a renewed commitment from people across Derry and across the UK. She said that a local joiner had written to her on Thursday offering to fix the damage for free and she suggested that the Big Society is alive and well in Derry. Derry is the first UK City of Culture and Shona told us to “be in absolutely no doubt that we will set a wonderful precedent and a high benchmark for those cities that follow”. Derry City of Culture is an incredible alliance between all the strategic agencies across Derry and Northern Ireland: it represents a single major strategy for the development of the city. Shona said there has already been a huge demand to be involved with more than a thousand proposals received so far, even before any formal call for ideas has been issued. It was wonderful to hear Shona’s determination and passion and she got a rousing reception from the conference.

Robin Simpson.

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