On Friday afternoon I was at the University of Glamorgan in Cardiff for the Voluntary Arts Wales open forum, ‘Digital creativity and the new amateur’. VAW Chair, Hamish Fyfe, chaired a fascinating discussion about the effect new digital technology is having on the nature of ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’. Hamish suggested that the process of production in which culture was created by a small group of professionals for a large group of consumers is over, and asked us to consider the implications for the support we provide for voluntary arts groups in Wales. A packed room of representatives from across Wales (and from as far afield as Chesterfield in Derbyshire!) took part in a wide-ranging and fascinating discussion. The event was broadcast live on our website with people across the UK watching the live video and contributing to the text chat. There was considerable interaction between the debate in the room and questions and comments from those joining us online. I suspect we probably ended up with more questions than answers but it was an excellent start to what will probably become an ongoing debate. If you missed the open forum please do take a look at the recording of the event at http://www.vaw.org.uk/openforum.
I was in London on Thursday to take part in a meeting at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations to discuss the future of the Value of Infrastructure Programme (VIP). VIP was a three-year project, funded by the Big Lottery Fund, which finished in May. The Big Lottery Fund has now provided some ‘change funding’ to enable NCVO to develop a surer footing for the programme. The intention is to try to make the impact measurement tools for infrastructure organisations into a self-financing programme. On Thursday a small group, including people who had developed the tools and representatives of organisations who are using them, looked at how we might encourage more infrastructure organisations to get involved. I emphasised the importance of VIP continuing to have an advocacy role to promote and explain the role of infrastructure organisations in the voluntary sector.
On Monday afternoon Mary and I met Dr Lisanne Gibson from the University of Leicester. Lisanne is working on the Understanding Everyday Participation research project (being led by Dr Andrew Miles at the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) at the University of Manchester). Voluntary Arts is a partner in this five-year research study funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The project is looking at the sorts of cultural participation that are not captured by conventional approaches such as the Taking Part survey. It will also investigate the link between participation in culture and social and economic outcomes. There are five work packages within the overall research project and Lisanne is involved in the package looking at the ‘cultural ecosystem’ by conducting intensive research in particular locations. Lisanne wanted to talk to us specifically about the research that is to be undertaken in Gateshead and Peterborough, which will start in 2014. We discussed how Voluntary Arts England might be able to help identify existing amateur arts and crafts groups in these areas.