Cultural Playing Field

Creative People and Places: Blackpool and Wyre by Robin Simpson
April 26, 2013, 1:18 pm
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I was in Blackpool on Thursday to meet the Blackpool and Wyre Creative People and Places consortium. The consortium, which includes Blackpool Coastal Housing, Blackpool Council, Wyre Borough Council, the Grand Theatre and Merlin Entertainments Limited (owners of Blackpool Tower), secured £3M from Arts Council England to develop engagement in the arts in the area over 3 years. The programme, titled ‘Playground of Wonders’, will use Blackpool’s unique cultural history and facilities to look at the links between ‘entertainment’ and ‘the arts’. There are 3 strands to the programme: ‘Roll up, roll up’ – working with communities to understand their aspirations; ‘Scream if you want to go faster’ – developing local decision-making and building the local arts infrastructure; and ‘Daring Delights’ – a series of arts activities and events. There is already a strong voluntary arts sector in Wyre and an emerging voluntary arts sector in Blackpool and plans are in place to involve local amateur arts groups in the programme. My visit to Blackpool completed my meetings with all 7 consortia granted funding in round one of Creative People and Places. Without exception I have found the consortium members across the country enthusiastic, determined and creative, with a good understanding of the importance of involving existing amateur arts groups in their programmes but an appreciation of the difficulties of doing so. I have great confidence that they will deliver impressive results over the next few years and I look forward to working with them all.

Robin Simpson.

Testing Times – Fighting culture’s corner in an age of austerity by Robin Simpson
April 26, 2013, 1:16 pm
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On Wednesday morning I was at the British Museum in London to hear the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Maria Miller, speaking on ‘Testing Times – Fighting culture’s corner in an age of austerity’. The Secretary of State said “arts and culture underpin what it means to be British … culture is able to deliver things that few other sectors can … it cultivates the creativity that underpins the wider economy”. I was pleased to hear Maria Miller say that culture “develops a sense of community” and that “culture is an intricate web of activity”. She said “it is essential that the Government invests in culture and continues to do so despite these testing times”. She also stressed that the Government is committed to a mixed economy in the arts and that no-one considers philanthropy is a panacea. Her overall message was that “we should value the arts for their own sake and make the broader case”. She finished by saying “I’ll position the arts central to economic growth”. You can read the full text of Maria Miller’s speech at and a sceptical response from our old friend Catherine Rose at:

Robin Simpson.

Volunteering in the Arts webcast by Robin Simpson
April 26, 2013, 1:14 pm
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On Tuesday Daniel and I were in Rhyl in North Wales to interview Tim Day, Director of Volunteering and Policy at the Wales Council for Voluntary Action for Running Your Group LIVE. Our discussion about Volunteering in the Arts looked at a wide range of issues faced by small, local, voluntary arts groups trying to recruit and manage volunteers. When most voluntary arts groups are first set up they tend to be run by a small group of friends and acquaintances: Tim talked about how groups could take the next step and look outside of their circle for volunteers with specialist skills. He discussed the importance (and the difficulty) of turning potential volunteers away if their skills don’t match what is required. Tim also looked at the emerging new forms of volunteering, such as micro-volunteering and remote volunteering. It was a really interesting interview – one of the best Running Your Group LIVE online events we have done. You can watch the recording at (login and click on ‘Live online events’). Many thanks to everyone who joined in the live online discussion on Monday and contributed questions for Tim.

Robin Simpson.

Meeting Adam Lopardo at the Community Foundation, Tyne & Wear and Northumberland by Robin Simpson
April 26, 2013, 1:11 pm
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On Monday I met Adam Lopardo at the Community Foundation, Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, in Newcastle. The Community Foundation helps organisations and individuals to “manage their giving”, matching donors and funders with hundreds of community groups across the North East of England. Adam runs the Sponsors’ Club – a group of North East businesses established 22 years ago to collectively sponsor arts organisations in the region. We talked about how we might use the Community Foundation’s connections with arts organisations and other community groups to promote our Running Your Group online subscription services.

Robin Simpson.

Third Sector Research Centre Conference by Robin Simpson
April 19, 2013, 4:03 pm
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I was in London on Friday to attend the Third Sector Research Centre Conference at the British Library. TSRC was created in 2008 with funding from the Office for the Third Sector, the Economic and Social Research Council and the Barrow Cadbury Trust. It is now in the final year of its current funding and this conference was titled “What is the future for the third sector?” TSRC Director, Pete Alcock, suggested we needed to consider three questions: is this the worst of times?; is it no longer a ‘voluntary’ sector?; and is there a need for a strategic lead for the third sector? Dan Corry, Chief Executive of New Philanthropy Capital looked at how the third sector has changed since 2008, where it is going and why we need research on all this. He discussed ‘adjustment strategies’ (collaboration, mergers, closures, consortia, co-design and co-production) and wondered whether we were witnessing a ‘hollowing out’ of the middle of the sector. I took part in a workshop on ‘Organisations’ led by Rob Macmillan from TSRC and Karl Wilding from NCVO. Karl suggested that the new generation are ‘sector agnostic’ – they don’t care how they do social change, they just want to do it. Maybe traditional organisational structures are becoming less important. We discussed the danger of organisations focussing on perpetuating their own existence. It was an interesting and thought-provoking discussion with a group including academics, funders and representatives of third sector organisations.

Robin Simpson.

Inclusivity Symbol Scheme for amateur groups by Robin Simpson
April 18, 2013, 3:33 pm
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On Thursday I had a phone meeting with Hannah Cervenka, Arts and Leisure Development Manager at West Oxfordshire District Council. Hannah has been working with Voluntary Arts England to develop an inclusivity Symbol Scheme for amateur arts groups which is currently being piloted in West Oxfordshire. The scheme aims to create more opportunities for disabled participants of all ages to engage in the arts, by supporting local groups to be more inclusive and offering training for volunteers. Hannah updated me on progress with the scheme which has been slow but encouraging. It may some time before we are ready to make the Symbol Scheme more widely available but we talked about the possibility of a Running Your Group LIVE video webcast discussion with some of the people involved in the pilot to discuss the learning so far.

Robin Simpson.

Meeting The Audience Agency by Robin Simpson
April 18, 2013, 3:31 pm
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Also on Wednesday I had a meeting with Anne Torreggiani, Executive Director of The Audience Agency. The Audience Agency is the new national audience development agency for England, formed through the merger of Audiences London and All About Audiences (based in Manchester). As well as providing general advice and information on audience development to organisations across England, The Audience Agency is also delivering two major projects, commissioned by Arts Council England under its Audience Focus Fund – Understanding Audiences and Best Practice (the latter in partnership with the Arts Marketing Association). Audience Focus aims to create a single framework for collecting, understanding and using audience information across the arts sector in England. We talked about how amateur arts groups might get involved in this programme and how the data collected could be most helpful to them. We also discussed the possibility of sharing information and advice with our Running Your Group online information services and possible collaboration between the Audience Agency’s community engagement team and our Up for Arts projects.

Robin Simpson