Cultural Playing Field


Creative People and Places: Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton by Robin Simpson
July 25, 2013, 8:55 am
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On Tuesday Jonathan and I were at The Public in West Bromwich to meet two members of the new Black Country Creative People and Places consortium. Frances Land and Steve Johnstone from Black Country Touring outlined the consortium’s plans to increase engagement in the arts across Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton. The consortium includes three local Councils for Voluntary Service and will focus on bridging the gap between the arts and voluntary sectors. We discussed their plans to map existing arts activity in the area and talked about how best to involve amateur arts groups in the programme.
Robin Simpson.

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Visiting the Rayne Foundation by Robin Simpson
July 18, 2013, 2:01 pm
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I was back in London on Tuesday to meet Tim Joss, Director of the Rayne Foundation. We talked about Arts Ventures, a social investment fund for the arts to help the arts to tap into Big Society Capital and the growth of non-grant finance in the social sector, which Tim helped to set up. We also discussed the Rayne Foundation’s focus on arts in deprived communities. I updated Tim on the development of the new Voluntary Arts Strategic Plan and asked for his views on our priorities for the next few years.
Robin Simpson.



Voluntary Arts, Voice 4 Change and BEMA by Robin Simpson
July 18, 2013, 1:59 pm
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I was in London on Monday for a meeting with Kunle Olulode and Saqib Deshmukh from Voice 4 Change and Ngoma Bishop from BEMA (Black and Ethnic Minority Arts). We discussed the details of the new partnership between Voluntary Arts, Voice 4 Change and BEMA and agreed ways in which we could help to increase each other’s membership. We also discussed a number of areas where we might work together in our lobbying and advocacy work.
Robin Simpson.



Creative People and Places: Peterborough by Robin Simpson
July 11, 2013, 9:37 am
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I was at the Key Theatre in Peterborough on Tuesday for the first meeting of the new Creative People and Places consortium. We discussed the roles that each of the consortium member organisations will play in delivering the three-year programme to increase engagement in the arts in Peterborough. We looked at the progress of the other Creative People and Places consortia around the country and identified lessons we could learn from the experiences of the round one consortia. We reviewed our planned programme and discussed how it will be implemented and we agreed the process for developing our business plan over the next few months.

Robin Simpson.



Still Below the Radar: A Celebration by Robin Simpson
July 5, 2013, 1:46 pm
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I was at the University of Birmingham on Friday to take part in ‘Still Below the Radar: A Celebration’ – the annual conference of the Thirds Sector Research Centre’s Below the Radar Reference Group.

Professor Pete Alcock, the Director of the Third Sector Research Centre, explained that TSRC’s initial five-year funding from ESRC, The Office for Civil Society (Cabinet Office) and the Barrow Cadbury Trust runs out in August 2013. It is hoped that new funding will enable the continuation of TSRC and of its Below the Radar work, looking at small community groups, but this is yet to be confirmed.

The main session of the conference was a debate titled ‘Mitigate or Oppose? Navigating the Voluntary Sector’s Response to Austerity’. This was a panel discussion on how voluntary and community organisations are navigating the cuts, public service and welfare reform.

Alex Massey from the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO) presented the optimistic argument that many organisations in receipt of substantial public funding remain the most vociferous critics of Government. Alex felt confident that the sector’s ability to represent its beneficiaries to Government can be maintained. The sector’s resources are being squeezed from a number of directions but charities are showing how resourceful they can be.

Matt Scott from the Community Sector Coalition presented the pessimistic alternative, asking when does flexibility become self preservation and how much can we compromise before we lose our purpose? Matt said scale is really important: the voluntary sector is an iceberg – most of the sector is not seen and not understood, which is why the work of the Below the Radar programme is so important. He spoke about the growth of large charities and the decline of small and medium sized charities and said the sector had become a more unequal place. In the discussion that followed one speaker made the point that ten years ago partnership with the voluntary sector was seen as nice but now it is essential, because of the extent of public sector cuts. Several people suggested that a lot of large voluntary sector organisations have become more focussed on their own self preservation than on their original purpose. It was an interesting and passionate debate.

Robin Simpson.



The Cultural Value Project by Robin Simpson
July 5, 2013, 8:54 am
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On Thursday afternoon I was at the University of London to meet Professor Geoffrey Crossick and Patrycja Kaszynska who are running the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Cultural Value Project. The Cultural Value Project was set up in the autumn of 2012 to explore the different ways in which individuals and society benefit from arts and cultural engagement, and to identify ways of evaluating them. It is a major project to fund research in this area with a view to publishing a report that will contribute significantly to moving forward the way in which we understand these issues. Geoffrey said that their aim is to broaden that understanding beyond the narrow focus on economic benefits that have dominated discussion for some time, and beyond publicly-funded arts to the full range that encompasses commercial, third-sector and participatory alongside publicly-funded. We had a really interesting discussion about the importance of the voluntary arts sector and the interdependence of the subsidised, voluntary and commercial arts. Geoffrey and Patrycja were very keen to make sure the amateur arts is properly considered as part of the project and have invited me to join the Cultural Value Project Advisory Group.

Robin Simpson.



Fuel by Robin Simpson
July 5, 2013, 8:50 am
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Later on Thursday I was at Battersea Arts Centre to meet Kate McGrath and Louise Blackwell, the Co-Directors of Fuel. Kate and Louise founded Fuel nine years ago to “produce fresh work for adventurous people by inspiring artists”. They are producers working mainly in theatre but also with dance, comedy, film and more. They work with a range of professional artists from choreographers and directors to writers and film makers. Not being a building-based organisation, their focus is on touring and they are keen to develop ways of better engaging with audiences in the various communities they are working in around the UK. We talked about how Fuel might collaborate with local amateur arts groups, building on the model we developed for the RSC Open Stages project.

Robin Simpson.