Cultural Playing Field

Equalities Below the Radar by Robin Simpson
September 28, 2012, 10:21 am
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I was in Birmingham on Thursday to attend a meeting of the Third Sector Research Centre’s Below the Radar reference group. This group informs the TSRC’s research into ‘Below the Radar’ small community groups. Thursday’s meeting explored the theme ‘Equalities Below the Radar’ and was attended by representatives of a wide range of voluntary and community sector organisations as well as the reference group members.

The morning session focussed on three particular areas of TSRC research: Who Supports Destitute Migrants?; Gypsy and Traveller Community Organisations – History, Issues and Futures; and Black and Minority Ethnic Voluntary Organisations – Voice and Influence. I took part in a workshop looking at BME voice and influence. There was a general feeling that one impact of the Equalities Act is that a lot of funding is now general funding for all aspects of equalities (rather than separate funding streams focussed on BME issues etc). With cuts to funding (particularly in local authorities) it is now more common for a ‘mainstream’ voluntary organisation (such as a Council for Voluntary Service) to be given a single tranche of ‘equalities’ funding where there had previously been a range of different funds going to smaller specialist representative organisations.

The afternoon session was a ‘Research Slam’ in which we heard a selection of 3-minute summaries of current TSRC research and then took part in ‘World Café’ discussions which gave us a chance to explore the issues that most interested us with the relevant academics. It was a very interesting day and great to have the chance to meet a wide range of people working specifically on equalities issues with small community groups.

Robin Simpson.

Celebrating the first year of The Guardian Culture Professionals Network by Robin Simpson
September 21, 2012, 10:52 am
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On Thursday I was at the offices of The Guardian in London for a reception to mark the first anniversary of the launch of The Guardian Culture Professionals Network – the dedicated online community for everyone working in the arts, heritage and culture sector. I’ve been on the panel for two of the Culture Professionals Network live chats – on “creative collaboration in a time of cuts” and “how can we ensure Scotland stays creative?” – and it’s been an interesting way of bringing together a wide range of people working in the sector and stimulating interesting debate. On Thursday we heard from the Editor of the Culture Professionals Network, Nancy Groves, who encouraged us to persuade more of our colleagues to join the (free) network and to contribute to the online discussion (see: Melissa Denes, Arts Editor of The Guardian, then chaired a fascinating conversation about the future of digital in the culture sector and the shared opportunities it presents. Jane Finnis, the Chief Executive of Culture24, and David Sabel, Head of Digital Media and Producer of NT Live at the National Theatre, shared their experiences and discussed the difficulty of predicting where digital technology will take us over the next 10 years. It was interesting to compare this discussion with the recent Voluntary Arts Wales open forum event on the digital revolution and its implications for voluntary arts groups (

Robin Simpson.

Storytelling in Wales by Robin Simpson
September 20, 2012, 12:45 pm
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On Wednesday I was at the University of Glamorgan in Cardiff to take part in a meeting about storytelling in Wales. This was the follow-up to the meeting I attended in April 2012 and again brought together a range of organisations involved in different aspects of storytelling. We talked about the idea of developing a Wales storytelling week or similar (and/or encouraging more activity in Wales as part of National Storytelling Week, 2 – 9 February 2013). We also considered the development of the new Learning Centre at St Fagan’s and the role this might play in promoting storytelling in Wales. And we discussed the need for training both to develop more storytellers and to teach the skills needed to elicit stories from others.

Robin Simpson.

Making Music Conference 2012 by Robin Simpson
September 20, 2012, 12:43 pm
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Last weekend I was at the Making Music conference at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff. On Saturday afternoon Daniel and I had a meeting with Nick Smith and Katherine Lane from Superact and Robin Osterley and Evan Dawson from Making Music to discuss Bandstand Marathon. We reflected on the success of the 2012 Bandstand Marathon which had included more than 300 events across the country on the previous Sunday. We also talked in detail about the plans for Bandstand Marathon 2013 which is likely to take place in July. We discussed a number of additional components we hope to add next year, including links between Voluntary Arts Week in May and Bandstand Marathon in July. On Saturday evening the Making Music conference concert included the premiere of ‘Island Race’ – a short choral piece which I wrote with Robin Osterley and Evan Dawson to celebrate London 2012. Robin conducted the Richard Williams singers, the Gentlemen Songsters and the Abergavenny Borough Band in a rousing performance at the end of the concert. It was a very exciting experience to hear my words sung by the choirs and I think the piece worked well (though I am a little biased!). The concert was recorded by BBC Radio 3 and I am looking forward to hearing the recording. If you’re interested you can see the words of ‘Island Race’ at and Making Music members who are interested in performing the piece can download scores for free from

Robin Simpson.

Luminate Festival strategy group meeting by Robin Simpson
September 14, 2012, 1:17 pm
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On Wednesday I was at Creative Scotland in Edinburgh to take part in a meeting of the Luminate Festival strategy group. Luminate is Scotland’s creative ageing festival. Creative Scotland and The Baring Foundation have committed to supporting Luminate for 3 years in partnership with Age Scotland, enabling annual festivals to take place from 2012 to 2014. There is the possibility of a further 2 years’ support beyond 2014. At Wednesday’s meeting we heard an update from Festival Director Anne Gallacher on the programme for the inaugural festival, which runs from October 1st – 31st 2012, and we took part in a workshop facilitated by BOP Consulting who are undertaking the evaluation of Luminate. For more details about the 2012 Luminate Festival see:

Robin Simpson.

Grundtvig and Leonardo Partnerships Start-up Event by Robin Simpson
September 14, 2012, 12:34 pm
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I was in Birmingham on Tuesday to take part in a Grundtvig and Leonardo Partnerships Start-up Event. Ecorys is the national agency that administers the Grundtvig and Leonardo European lifelong learning funding programmes in the UK and it had organised Tuesday’s event specifically for organisations starting their first Grundtvig or Leonardo project. Our new European project, ART-AGE, Art based learning and active ageing, is one of 147 Grundtvig partnerships approved in 2012 (a 36% success rate for applications). The Grundtvig programme places an emphasis on the process rather than the product. It is designed to encourage organisations involved in lifelong learning to visit similar organisations in other European countries to learn from each other. Unusually for European funding, there is no requirement to account for how you spend the grant. Each organisation simply has to commit to a certain number of ‘mobilities’ (return trips by one person from your organisation to a partner institution in another country) during the two years of the project. Providing you can show evidence that you have achieved your project objectives and prove that you have undertaken the necessary mobilities, you can spend the grant in whatever way you need to. It was good to get to grips with the details of how the programme works on Tuesday and great to meet so many people embarking on similar projects to ours.

Robin Simpson.

Volunteering in the Arts toolkit launch by Robin Simpson
September 14, 2012, 12:31 pm
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On Monday evening I was at the St Thomas Centre in Manchester – the Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisations – for the launch of our Volunteering in the Arts toolkit. The toolkit, for arts organisations working with volunteers, was developed by Voluntary Arts England with Volunteering England and Arts Council England. It combines best practice information, case studies and links to further resources. The toolkit is now available to download from Our launch event on Monday included speeches, discussions and musical performances. It was compered by Shari Vahl from BBC Radio 4’s  ‘You and Yours’, and one direct result of the launch was that ‘You and Yours’ dedicated its programme on Thursday to volunteering – you can listen to the programme at

Robin Simpson.