Cultural Playing Field


Understanding Everyday Participation by Robin Simpson
March 21, 2013, 2:35 pm
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I was back in London on Wednesday for a meeting of the Understanding Everyday Participation research project steering group. The project website is now up and running at: http://www.everydayparticipation.org and it explains that “This project proposes a radical re-evaluation of the relationship between participation and cultural value. We are used to thinking about the benefits of the arts as a traditional way of understanding culture and its value but what about the meanings and stakes people attach to their hobbies and pastimes? Can we speak of supposedly mundane activities like shopping, taking the dog for a walk, or meeting up with friends as having cultural worth?” A major part of the project will be in-depth, face-to-face interviews with people in each of 6 geographical ecosystems. There will be 180 initial interviews which will be repeated later in the project to reveal any longitudinal change. On Wednesday we looked in detail at the draft interview topic guide and suggested amendments and additions to the planned interview questions. We also considered a proposal for analysis of existing quantitative data collected by the Taking Part survey in England.

Robin Simpson.



Normalising Volunteering: improving the public image by Robin Simpson
March 21, 2013, 2:34 pm
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On Tuesday I was in London in the splendid surroundings of The Museum of The Order of St John to take part in a meeting of the Volunteering Network. The museum building, a few minutes’ walk from Farringdon station, dates from 1504, and houses a fascinating exhibition about The Order of St John and some very impressive works of art (the latest addition is Caravaggio’s ‘The Cardsharps’ – worth a visit to the museum on its own). We were the guests of St John Ambulance for a meeting to look at ‘Normalising Volunteering: improving the public image’. One of the speakers, Helen Timbrell from the National Trust, suggested that to many people volunteering seems a bit dull, a bit worthy. Volunteering is something other people do. Helen had sought some professional marketing advice for the National Trust’s volunteering programme and had been told that the problem is not image or brand – it’s the product that is wrong. What we offer and how we organise it is the problem – not the image. Helen wondered whether having a brand for ‘volunteering’ would be like having a brand for ‘working’ or ‘shopping’. On the other hand, she suggested that the development of the image of ‘recycling’ which has taken us to a point where recycling is now completely normal and it is almost unacceptable not to do it – might provide a model for volunteering. It was an interesting day of discussions about the image of volunteering, the politicisation of volunteering and the real experiences of volunteers and potential volunteers.

Robin Simpson.



Reframing the Function of Governance by Robin Simpson
March 14, 2013, 5:05 pm
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On Thursday I was back in London to take part in the re.volution hack day on ‘Reframing the Function of Governance’ at the Gulbenkian Foundation. re.volution is a peer learning network designed for the leaders of micro, small and medium sized arts and cultural organisations, organised by Mission Models Money. On Thursday we looked at the governance challenges facing different types of arts organisation, the extent to which the traditional charitable organisation governance model is fit for purpose in these contexts and how to ensure boards address the higher level aspects of governance. This turned into an incredibly enjoyable day, culminating in us designing an ‘existential app’ involving apples, oranges, bananas and rhinos (you really had to be there!). Who knew governance could be such fun!

Robin Simpson.



What Next? by Robin Simpson
March 14, 2013, 8:55 am
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On Wednesday morning I was at the Young Vic in London for a meeting of What Next? – a group of mainly London based artists and arts organisations which is planning to campaign on arts funding. Those present included representatives of the Tate, the RSC, Battersea Arts Centre and King’s College London. I was one of two guest speakers on the agenda – with Munira Mirza, the London Deputy Mayor, Education and Culture. I spoke about the amateur arts sector and the potential to strengthen arguments for arts funding by involving the millions of amateur participants across the country in any campaign. I got a very warm and enthusiastic reception – David Lan, who chairs the What Next? meetings, suggested this was “the missing link” in developing their arguments for the value of the arts. We agreed to schedule a longer conversation about the amateur arts at a future What Next? meeting.

Robin Simpson.



Community Learning Trusts Workshop by Robin Simpson
March 14, 2013, 8:51 am
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On Tuesday afternoon I spoke at the Community Learning Trusts Workshop at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The 15 pilot Community Learning Trusts have been in operation across England since August 2012. They have been tasked with: creating local infrastructure with real identity; testing new partnership and collaborative models; growing and diversifying provision, participation and providers; generating additional resources for Community Learning; developing approaches to community consultation; and developing approaches to widening the provider base. On Tuesday I was part of a panel session on exploring other funding streams. Joining me on the panel was Leesa Herbert from NCVO (who spoke about the excellent Funding Central website: www.fundingcentral.org.uk), as well as representatives of the Big Lottery Fund and the Campaign for Learning. I took the opportunity to promote our Running Your Group online subscription services – both for the Community Learning Trusts themselves and the self-organised learning groups they support.

Robin Simpson.



Meeting Voice 4 Change by Robin Simpson
March 14, 2013, 8:50 am
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On Tuesday Daniel and I were in London to meet Voice 4 Change – the national infrastructure organisation for the black and minority ethnic voluntary sector in England. As part of the work Helen Thomas did for Voluntary Arts at the end of last year, looking at how we could extend the reach of our Running Your Group online information services into BME communities, Helen developed a series of proposals for how Voluntary Arts and Voice 4 Change might work together. This week we worked through the details of those proposals and agreed an ongoing partnership between our two organisations. We will work together to encourage BME voluntary arts groups to join Voice 4 Change and to sign-up to Running Your Group.

Robin Simpson.



Contributing to well-being through culture by Robin Simpson
March 11, 2013, 6:08 pm
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On Monday I was at Local Government House in London to take part in a roundtable meeting on ‘Contributing to well-being through culture’ organised by CLOA (the Chief Cultural & Leisure Officers Association). A small group of representatives of national organisations explored the contribution that culture makes towards public health outcomes. We discussed the key contributions culture makes towards creating healthier, stronger and happier communities, looked at what more cultural organisations could do to contribute to improved health and well-being in their locality and considered how cultural sector professionals could better position themselves to demonstrate the contribution and influence health and social care commissioners. In particular we focussed on how local authority cultural services could engage with Health & Wellbeing Boards. CLOA is planning to co-ordinate a framework of support and information around these issues.

Robin Simpson.