Cultural Playing Field


Do Something Brilliant by Robin Simpson
June 20, 2014, 9:59 am
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On Thursday I was in London to take part in the first meeting of the advisory group for the Media Trust’s ‘Do Something Brilliant’ campaign. ‘Do Something Brilliant’ is a flagship campaign, funded by the Big Lottery Fund, which offers charities and community groups opportunities to tell their stories in different ways. See the ‘Do Something Brilliant’ TV advert at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-oTVZnvFdI. The campaign showcases stories to inspire people as well as providing training, resources, workshops, and a community newswire. ‘Do Something Brilliant’ was launched in February this year and has already broadcast a range of material online and through the Community Channel (Freeview channel 63). The campaign is working across the UK, with Outreach Managers and Advisory Boards in each nation. There are four themes to ‘Do Something Brilliant’ – active, together, green and creative. Voluntary Arts has been asked to advise on the ‘creative’ theme and to ensure that voluntary arts groups take advantage of the opportunities to raise their profile and the workshops (on digital storytelling, video skills etc) being provided by the Media Trust. See: http://www.dosomethingbrilliant.co.uk/

Robin Simpson.

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Fun Palaces by Robin Simpson
June 19, 2014, 5:46 pm
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On Tuesday afternoon I met the novelist, playwright and performer, Stella Duffy – one of the Co-Directors of the Fun Palaces campaign. In 1961 Joan Littlewood and architect Cedric Price conceived the Fun Palace as a ‘laboratory of fun’, ‘a university of the streets’. It was to be a temporary and moveable home to the arts and sciences that would welcome children and adults alike, based on Joan Littlewood’s motto of “Everyone an artist, everyone a scientist.” To celebrate Joan Littlewood’s centenary, on 4 & 5 October 2014 there will be hundreds of local, pop-up Fun Palaces across the country, each one based on the needs and wants of that community, made by that community, all part of the national network of Fun Palaces. They will be linked by a website that is a Fun Palace in itself. Stella said “we believe public participation is the key to creating great communities, growing audiences, and developing engagement”. Stella and I talked about how voluntary arts groups might get involved in – or instigate their own – fun palaces. We also discussed the potential for links between Voluntary Arts Week and an annual Fun Palaces weekend each October. For more details, see: http://funpalaces.co.uk/

Robin Simpson.



NCVO Evolve 2014 by Robin Simpson
June 19, 2014, 5:44 pm
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NCVO Evolve 2014 conference at The Brewery, London

NCVO Evolve 2014 conference at The Brewery, London

On Monday I was at The Brewery in London to attend Evolve 2014 – the annual conference of the National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). The NCVO conference is always a great event, attracting more than 400 delegates and providing a chance to hear some high-profile speakers, explore some key issues and take part in valuable networking.

Hilary Benn MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Hilary Benn MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

The first keynote speaker this year was Hilary Benn MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. He spoke about “a crisis of confidence in our politics” and said people felt a sense of powerlessness, with decisions being taken too far away from them. He criticised Russell Brand for suggesting that voting is a waste of time and said we should be encouraging the next generation to get involved. Hilary Benn confirmed that a Labour Government would repeal the Lobbying Act, saying “in a democracy you should be free to speak out”. He also stressed that we should be devolving power down in England, as has already happened in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Shadow Secretary of State said “You [the voluntary sector] are the embodiment of a contributory society”. He described plans for a task force to look at the devolution of power and funding and spoke about creating new city regions and county regions, from the bottom up – “we need to build up places as well as London”. Hilary Benn said that passing power down is essential in order to be able to address the greatest challenge of our age – dealing with an ageing population.

Dawn Austwick, Chief Executive of the Big Lottery Fund

Dawn Austwick, Chief Executive of the Big Lottery Fund

The second keynote speech was by Dawn Austwick, Chief Executive of the Big Lottery Fund (BLF). She explained that BLF was consulting on the new strategy it plans to launch next year and asked “what is the point of charity in the 21st century?”. She talked about her work with Mission Models Money, which had shown that arts organisations had become so preoccupied with money that their models had changed to align with the conditions of Arts Council funding, drifting away from their original mission. Dawn asked whether the BLF was here to set the agenda or to support the status quo. “Do we alleviate disadvantage or address the causes of disadvantage?” She said funding is an ecology and “we want to celebrate and nurture biodiversity”. It is important to look at what each funder adds to the equation. The BLF mission is to support communities and those most in need. Its scale, scope and reach – covering the whole of the UK, with a wide range of grants from tiny to huge amounts – enables it to reach the places other funders can’t reach. Dawn Austwick outlined four key areas for BLF: its management of knowledge, data and information; its access to decision makers, policymakers, as a conduit for other people’s expertise; its partnerships, using its funding to unlock other people’s funding; and how its responsive, demand-led, grant-making, gives BLF legitimacy and pays back into communities the money those communities have spent on Lottery tickets. She finished by saying “we need to be learning, enquiring and curious – marrying what we uniquely do with what you uniquely do”.

Dawn Austwick, Hilary Benn and Martyn Lewis

Dawn Austwick, Hilary Benn and Martyn Lewis

The first workshop session at the NCVO conference was interrupted by a fire alarm with the whole conference centre being evacuated while three fire engines dealt with a fire in the kitchens. Fortunately no-one was hurt and we were able to resume the conference after a long wait on the pavement outside The Brewery.

In the afternoon I attended a workshop on ‘campaigning, media and social action’ which included presentations from Emily Roberts, Project Manager for The Big Lunch, Diane Reid, Head of BBC Outreach and Corporate Responsibility and David Cohen, Campaigns Editor at the London Evening Standard. It was a very interesting exploration of the role the media can play in charity campaigning. At the end of the session I managed to speak to Diane Reid about our Up for Arts partnerships with BBC local radio stations and the potential for developing the model further.

Alex Whinnom, Chief Executive of the Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation

Alex Whinnom, Chief Executive of the Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation

In the final plenary session of the conference Alex Whinnom, the Chief Executive of the Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation (GMCVO) gave a very impressive presentation which focussed on the imbalance between London and the regions and called for devolution within England and the ability to take decisions locally. He said “devolution isn’t a zero sum game, it’s a win-win”.

There was then a very interesting debate about how charities can manage their reputation in an era of scrutiny. Bobby Duffy, the Managing Director of Ipsos MORI reported that, contrary to perceptions within the voluntary sector, the public’s trust of charities is increasing. Only three professions have declined in terms of public trust in recent years – the clergy, newsreaders and pollsters. Donald Steel, a Reputation and Crisis Consultant said that charities can prevent reputational crises in the way they run themselves and that reputation lies with leaders. Dr Beth Breeze, Director of the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent agreed there was no real evidence of a crisis of reputation in the voluntary sector. She said most charities have powerful underlying themes that make them resilient. Founding stories give charities a strong original reputation that can see off subsequent attacks. Finally the Chief Executive of NCVO, Sir Stuart Etherington, said that it was important for charities not to react to reputational attackes in a way that amplifies the issues.

Robin Simpson.



Public Services: the value of cultural commissioning by Robin Simpson
June 6, 2014, 3:20 pm
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I was back in London on Friday to chair the Arts Development UK national seminar on ‘Public Services: the value of cultural commissioning’. This was the first of two seminars which are a joint initiative between the Cultural Commissioning Programme, Arts Development UK and the National Culture & Leisure Forum, supported by The National Archives. The Cultural Commissioning Programme is a three year programme funded by Arts Council England and being delivered by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, New Philanthropy Capital and the New Economics Foundation. There was an amazing level of interest in the seminar with a sell-out audience of more than 150 delegates at the Camden Centre. We started with keynote speeches from Vikki Heywood, Chair of the RSA who gave an overview from the cultural sector, and Carole Wood, Director of Public Health at Gateshead Council who gave an overview from the public service commissioning sector. I was pleased to hear Vikki say “everyone should be a creative, literate and numerate citizen”. Carole spoke about the Five Ways to Wellbeing and quoted the song “hearts starve as well as bodies – give us bread and give us roses”. The seminar included eight breakout group sessions looking at topics including ‘delivering commissioner outcomes’, ‘high artistic and cultural quality’, ‘mental health and well-being’ and ‘place-based outcomes’. One highlight for me was the inspiring presentation about older people by Sharon Scaniglia of Nottingham City Council, who spoke about a care home project in Nottingham supported by the Arts Council England/Baring Foundation scheme. The final keynote presentation was from Sally Bagwell of New Philanthropy Capital who launched the Cultural Commissioning Programme research report, which is now available at: www.ncvo.org.uk/practical-support/public-services/cultural-commissioning-programme. The second Cultural Commissioning seminar takes place in Doncaster next week.

Robin Simpson.



Arts Council England Rural Stakeholders Meeting by Robin Simpson
June 6, 2014, 3:18 pm
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On Thursday afternoon I was at Arts Council England in London for the ACE Rural Stakeholders meeting. This was the second gathering of cultural organisations with a particular interest in rural affairs. The main focus of this meeting was a presentation by Jonathon Blackburn from Arts Council England and Stephen Hall from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about the ACE/DEFRA review of data and evidence relating to arts and culture and rural communities. A baseline exercise looking at available data and evidence has already begun, as has generic activity looking at issues relating to data and evidence relating to the economic impacts of arts and culture at a local level. The rural stakeholders group will receive another update on this work at our next meeting later this year. We also had a presentation from Rob Wells from DEFRA about European Union rural development funding.

Robin Simpson.