Cultural Playing Field

National Participatory Arts Summit by Robin Simpson
March 23, 2012, 10:27 am
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , ,

On Thursday I was at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London to attend ‘Because we’re worth it!’ – a national summit exploring and celebrating the value of participatory arts. The event was organised by Connected Culture and Mailout. Connected Culture is a network dedicated to adult participatory arts and Mailout is the national online resource for participatory arts. Welcoming us to the ICA, Arti Prashar of Spare Tyre and Rob Howell from Mailout said they had been overwhelmed by the positive response to the summit: they said they could have sold it out twice over and there was clearly a massive interest in participatory/community arts. Rob Howell said that Mailout has calculated that only 7.5% of Arts Council England’s core funding goes to participatory arts: he challenged the sector to work to increase this to 15% by the next round of ACE National Portfolio Organisation funding. Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the RSA, delivered the keynote ‘thought for the day’, suggesting that the arts sector “had it pretty good” under New Labour but he didn’t think the sector as a whole had exploited the opportunities as much as it should have. Too many arts organisations are too dependent on arts grant funding. Matthew Taylor asked us whether we could make a new case for the arts. He said “the arts sector should not be afraid of instrumentalism but it should be our instrumentalism” and he felt this “would lead to a shift in arts funding towards participation”. But he warned that we need to be able to distinguish between good and bad practice: “the Achilles heel of the arts is that we are all too polite to each other”. During the questions and answers at the end of the opening plenary session, Matthew Taylor used a sporting analogy, talking about his son’s involvement in football and cross-country running. When you take part in amateur football you never encounter a professional: the professional and amateur football worlds are very far apart, with most of the money heading towards the elite professional end of the spectrum. But in cross country running the beginner can find himself competing alongside someone who runs for the national team. And, even if you finish 15 minutes behind that international athlete, you all sit down together and have a cup of tea afterwards. Matthew Taylor asked us whether the arts is more like football or cross country running. He pointed to the answer by referring to a session he chaired in the ACE/RSA State of the Arts Conference in 2011 when John Hope-Hawkins from the Society for All Artists – a national voluntary arts umbrella body – spoke about the work the SAA’s amateur members were doing in old people’s homes to encourage people to paint. No-one at that massive arts industry conference seemed to take any interest.

Robin Simpson.

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