Cultural Playing Field

Meeting the Political Adviser to the Shadow Culture Secretary by Robin Simpson
May 24, 2013, 2:56 pm
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On Friday afternoon I was at Portcullis House in Westminster to meet Gavin Freeguard, Political Adviser to the Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Harriet Harman. We discussed the development of the Labour Party Manifesto for the next general election, Labour’s Creative Councillors Network, ways to increase participation in the arts and remove barriers to involvement and current regulatory pressures on amateur arts groups. It was an interesting and wide-ranging conversation and we agreed to try to set up a meeting with Harriet Harman to discuss the voluntary arts sector.

Robin Simpson.


Advocacy, communications and Arts Council England by Robin Simpson
May 24, 2013, 2:49 pm
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Also on Friday I met Mags Patten, Director Advocacy & Communications at Arts Council England. We talked about the need to consider the whole arts ecology, including the amateur and commercial as well as the subsidised, in order to make an effective case for the arts. We agreed to look more closely at the interdependence of the amateur and subsidised arts. We discussed ACE’s current strategic programmes, including Creative People and Places and I encouraged ACE to engage more with voluntary sector agencies such as NCVO.

Robin Simpson.

Arts, older people and the Baring Foundation by Robin Simpson
May 24, 2013, 2:44 pm
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I was in London on Friday to meet David Cutler, Director of the Baring Foundation. We talked about the Foundation’s interest in arts and older people – particularly in residential and day-care settings. We discussed the need to explore the future potential of amateur arts activity with older people, across the UK. We identified some ways to encourage thinking on this issue and agreed to explore this further over the coming months.

Robin Simpson.

NCVO Members’ Assembly meeting by Robin Simpson
May 23, 2013, 1:55 pm
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On Thursday I was in Leeds to take part in the NVCO Members’ Assembly meeting. The focus of the meeting was on preparing for the next general election. NCVO Deputy Chief Executive Ben Kernighan explained that NCVO would be consulting its members between June and December 2013, asking what they would want the voluntary sector to be in 2020. Ben spoke about the likelihood of another coalition government after the next election and said this showed the importance of trying to influence all the political parties.

NCVO Chair Martyn Lewis said Prime Ministers love to put their stamp on the voluntary sector by creating some new initiative or agency but he would rather they did something about helping the structures that are there already. NCVO Director of Policy Karl Wilding spoke about the rise of the smaller parties as the vehicle for people’s protest and disaffection with the political system. At the next general election the electorate will be older than it has ever been. This will also be a social media election. It is probably going to be a messy election: the chances of a hung parliament are high.

Judy Robinson, Chief Executive of Involve Yorkshire & Humber, proposed three issues to try to get into the party manifestos: economic policy for the regions; poverty and welfare; and prevention. She suggested that, at this election, the only agenda for the political parties will be the economy and jobs (“it’s the economy, stupid”). Judy also exploded some popular myths about the voluntary sector relating to contracting and procurement, loans, volunteering and IT solutions. She stressed that place matters and spoke about the disproportionate hit on the North, the urban and the poor and the resulting effect on the voluntary sector.

The new NCVO President, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson spoke inspiringly and practically about how to influence the political process. She said it is really important to understand how the smaller parties work and explained the effective role that the House of Lords can play. She also agreed that social media has become very important and explained how jokes fail to come across well in Hansard!

Robin Simpson.

Discussing the National Funding Scheme by Robin Simpson
May 23, 2013, 1:54 pm
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On Wednesday afternoon I met William Makower, founder of the National Funding Scheme which is working to encourage individual giving to arts and heritage organisations across the UK. A new system, called ‘Donate’, which provides a wide range of payment options including mobile apps and near field technology (like that used in Oyster cards) is currently being piloted with eleven cultural institutions. The idea is to encourage and enable people to support organisations through casual gifts at the point at which they experience the artistic or cultural activity – eg while looking at a painting in the National Portrait Gallery. The scheme will be formally launched in November 2013 and will be available to up to 7,000 arts and heritage organisations. William is keen to promote the system to voluntary arts groups and we agreed to develop a Voluntary Arts Briefing to outline the uses and benefits of ‘Donate’ and to explain how groups can register.

Robin Simpson.

RSC Open Stages: Act 2 by Robin Simpson
May 23, 2013, 1:52 pm
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Also on Wednesday I was at the Royal Shakespeare Company offices in Covent Garden to meet Ian Wainwright to talk about our new Open Stages project. Funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the new project involves 7 regional partner theatres and will provide opportunities for 100 amateur theatre groups across the UK to develop their own Shakespeare (or Shakespeare-related) productions to be performed between April 2014 and April 2015. Groups will take part in a series of regional skills-sharing events with professional theatre companies between September 2013 and April 2014. The best productions will be featured in regional showcase events hosted by the partner theatres. The deadline for applications from amateur theatre groups has been extended to 15 August 2013. Full details at:

Robin Simpson.

Visiting the King’s Cultural Institute by Robin Simpson
May 23, 2013, 1:50 pm
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On Wednesday I was in London to meet Deborah Bull and Katherine Bond at the King’s Cultural Institute. Situated within King’s College, the King’s Cultural Institute focuses on knowledge exchange and innovation, providing a neutral space for the arts and cultural sector to address key questions. The Institute takes an interdisciplinary approach to research, working with academics from across the King’s College faculties. We discussed the potential for a major new study to look at how the voluntary arts sector might develop over the next 20 years.

Robin Simpson.