Cultural Playing Field

Making Culture Work by Robin Simpson
December 13, 2013, 4:15 pm
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I was back in London on Thursday to take part in the Making Culture Work event at the RSA. This was the third of three events organised by Mandy Barnett (MB Associates), Pippa Jones (Create Gloucester) and Jocelyn Cunningham (Arts & Society), following sessions at the Manchester Museum and Bristol Watershed. The starting point for these events was the feeling that, despite years of discussion and individual pockets of high profile work there still isn’t a good enough case for the public value of arts and culture. On Thursday we discussed why we evaluate and who we evaluate for. We identified innovative examples of best practice that make new sense of evaluation in our increasingly open, networked and co-produced world. Finally we considered the potential for a broad framework (or frameworks) to explore in one place the range of value we create in organisations and in local areas – social, economic, environmental and cultural.

Robin Simpson.


Culture and Wellbeing by Robin Simpson
December 13, 2013, 4:13 pm
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On Wednesday evening I was at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster to attend a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics. This session focussed on Culture and Wellbeing with guest speakers from the museums and theatre sectors, the London School of Economics, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England. Alan Davey, Chief Executive of Arts Council England, described the work ACE is doing to develop a holistic case for investment in culture. He said they are looking at the immediate effects of cultural activity on individual citizens, the economic effects and the social effects, including wellbeing. Alan said he thought culture does have a part to play in wellbeing and this could lever in funding from other sources but he was less convinced about using wellbeing measures to help to decide the destination of cultural funding which he stressed was a complex process.

The final speaker was Dr David O’Brien from City University London (who sits on the AHRC Cultural Value Project Steering Group with me). He noted the wide range of uses of the term ‘wellbeing’ by the previous speakers. He suggested that wellbeing has an ‘apple pie quality’ – no-one wants to decrease it. We need to be careful about the definition of wellbeing. David suggested that being healthy and being employed are the key drivers of wellbeing and everything else is peripheral. He wondered whether having wellbeing as a policy agenda would merely result in the improved wellbeing of people who already have high wellbeing.

The Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics, former Arts Minister David Lammy, then invited the Shadow Culture Minister, Helen Goodman, and another former Arts Minister, Lord Howarth, to comment on the speakers. Helen Goodman said she understood that health and employment are the really big factors, but those things are intractable and difficult so she asked whether there are any quick wins from culture on wellbeing. Alan Howarth said he was hugely enthusiastic about the elevation of the concept of national wellbeing as a policy goal. He thought it was a statement of resounding banality that the arts promote well-being – of course they do – but it is hard to ascribe monetary values to emotional states. Lord Howarth thought the new Health and Wellbeing Boards ought to present an opportunity for the cultural sector as they would have significant funding.

Robin Simpson.

National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing meeting by Robin Simpson
December 13, 2013, 4:12 pm
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On Wednesday I was at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London for a meeting organised by the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing. The Alliance is made up of 9 regional arts and health associations across England, including the London Arts and Health Forum which provides the secretariat. The main focus of the Alliance is advocacy, influencing policy makers in relation to arts, health and wellbeing. The Alliance was established to be: an observatory for the sector; a research hub; a coherent voice for the sector; and to raise standards in arts, health and wellbeing practice. Wednesday’s meeting was a small gathering of national organisations involved, in various ways, with arts, health and wellbeing. Because of the regional structure of the Alliance it has not always been easy for organisations working nationally to engage with it. We agreed to try to establish a regular, informal forum for national organisations to feed into the strategic development of the Alliance. The Alliance has been developing an All Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health and Wellbeing which will hold its first meeting in January 2014. The Alliance is also developing a relationship with the UK Arts and Health Research Network, funded by AHRC, which comprises about 35 researchers. The London Arts and Health Forum runs Creativity and Wellbeing Week in June each year: from June 2014 there will also be events in other parts of the country. The 2014 Creativity and Wellbeing Week is from 4-11 June.

Robin Simpson.

AHRC Cultural Value Project Advisory Group meeting by Robin Simpson
December 6, 2013, 10:12 am
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On Wednesday I was in London to take part in a meeting of the AHRC Cultural Value Project Advisory Group. The Cultural Value Project, led by Professor Geoffrey Crossick, aims to make a major contribution to how we think about the value of arts and culture to individuals and to society. The objective of the Project is to develop a framework within which the different components of cultural value will be identified, and to establish for each of the components methodologies and appropriate types of evidence for evaluating their contribution. The second funding call for academic research projects to explore various aspects of cultural value has just closed and the Cultural Value Project Team are in the process of assessing applications. As this was my first meeting as a new member of the Advisory Group I was given the opportunity to talk to the group about the voluntary arts sector and the importance of considering cultural value in relation to the experiences of amateur arts participants. The other new member of the group, Martin Smith from Ingenious Media, also gave a presentation about cultural value in the context of the commercial entertainment industry. This broad approach to the cultural ecology – including the voluntary and amateur arts and commercial entertainment as well as the subsidised professional arts sector – is central to the Cultural Value Project’s approach. Also in Wednesday’s meeting Hasan Bakhshi, Director of Creative Economy in Policy & Research at NESTA, discussed his recent blog post on ‘Five principles for measuring the value of culture’, which you can read at:

Robin Simpson.

Art-Age meeting in Cardiff by Robin Simpson
December 3, 2013, 4:22 pm
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I was in Cardiff on Monday and Tuesday for the latest meeting of partners in our Art-Age European project. Art-Age aims to provide and put into practice new methods and approaches to document, validate and profile the qualities and outcome of amateur and voluntary culture for active ageing. It is funded by the EU Lifelong Learning Programme’s Grundtvig Learning Partnership – a framework for practical co-operation activities between organisations working in the field of adult learning in the broadest sense – formal, non-formal or informal. The Grundtvig Learning Partnership aims to broaden the participation of smaller organisations wishing to include European cooperation in their education activities. Art-Age involves six partner organisations from five European countries (Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Slovenia and the UK). Since the last partners’ meeting each organisation has been consulting groups of older people about their experiences of learning through arts participation. In the UK Voluntary Arts enlisted the help of Maxine Webster of First Framework in order to work with the Third Thought drama and arts collective. Daniel did a wonderful job of organising the Cardiff meeting which took place at Craft in the Bay, opposite the Wales Millennium Centre. On Monday we had a presentation from Emma Robinson from Age Cmyru about the Gwanwyn Festival – a month long national festival held across Wales in May celebrating creativity in older age. Gwanwyn involves about 9,000 participants a year, see: On Monday evening we gave our European colleagues the experience of a traditional Welsh Christmas dinner. For most people the highlight of our two day meeting was us happening upon a carol service in Llandaff Cathedral – a spectacular setting in which the Cathedral Choir sounded splendid. The Art-Age project will conclude with a conference in Utrecht in April 2014. For more details of the Art-Age project, see:

Robin Simpson.