Cultural Playing Field

The future vision for the Creative Case for Diversity by Robin Simpson
December 9, 2014, 2:48 pm
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On Monday I was in London to attend the Arts Council England event ‘The future vision for the Creative Case for Diversity’ at Sadler’s Wells. Giving the keynote speech, ACE Chair Sir Peter Bazalgette called it “one of the most important speeches I’ll make as Chair of the Arts Council”. In terms of delivering on diversity, he suggested that “so far, we’ve failed”. He admitted that ACE had expected improvements in diverse leadership within the arts, without sufficiently resourcing leadership programmes. He also felt that it had been a mistake for ACE to concentrate its work in this area on black and minority ethnic-led arts organisations. Baz quoted Jenny Sealey, the Artistic Director of Graeae, who called the arts “male, pale and stale”. He said the doorway into the arts can be hard to find and spoke about the “white cliff face of the arts establishment”. Baz said “From now on responsibility for promoting diversity within the leadership, workforce, programming and audiences, must belong to all our funded arts organisations”. From 2015 measured action on diversity “goes mainstream” as all ACE’s National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) have signed up to ‘The Creative Case for Diversity’. Sir Peter said “we will be monitoring ourselves and publishing the results”. ACE will publish workforce diversity data for NPOs and National Partner Museums from 2015. Baz said “when we invest public money in arts and culture, it must be for thhe benefit of all the public” and finished by saying in 10 years’ time “diversity will no longer be an aspiration, it will be a reality … the arts will simply be the case [for diversity]”. See:

Sir Peter Bazalgette’s speech was followed by a panel discussion, chaired by the journalist and broadcaster Kirsty Lang. Dawn Walton, Artistic Director of Eclipse Theatre Company, talked about the “missing black story not being told on British stages”. Tamara Rojo, Artistic Director of English National Ballet, said diversity should be about “everyday decisions not just special projects”. Skinder Hundal, Chief Executive of New Art Exchange, said “my entry point [into the arts] was as a volunteer” and talked about the importance of “refreshing and rethinking how the arts ecology works”. Maria Oshodi, Artistic Director and CEO of Extant, pointed out that “disability is non discriminating, affecting all classes and ages”. Finally Rufus Norris, Director Designate of the National Theatre, said “theatre is an opportunity to stand in other people’s shoes”.

The outgoing ACE Chief Executive, Alan Davey, closed the event by referring back to the McMaster report of 2008 which said that if you want good art you have to reflect the diversity of this nation. Alan’s message to his successor was that “diversity is one of your challenges in the next period”.

My impression of the ACE Creative Case for Diversity event was that it demonstrated how important diversity is to ACE’s agenda but I was disappointed ACE had not gone further. I was also frustrated, unsurprisingly, that amid the focus on diversity in relation to leadership, workforce, programming and audiences, there was no mention of participation. Surely developing the diversity of grassroots participation in creative cultural activity should form the base on which many other aspects of diversity could be built.

Robin Simpson.


What Next? – Local Government and Culture Working Together by Robin Simpson
December 5, 2014, 3:53 pm
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Later on Wednesday afternoon I was back at Somerset House in London for a meeting organised by What Next? about local government and culture working together. The discussion was very effectively chaired by John Newbiggin from Creative England. Jane Wilson (Chair of Arts Development UK), Sue Isherwood and I spoke at length about Our Cultural Commons. The meeting included representatives of the Chief Cultural & Leisure Officers Association (CLOA), the Core Cities Group, the New Local Government Network, the New Economics Foundation (NEF), the Cultural Commissioning Project, the National Campaign for the Arts, the Creative Industries Federation and Arts Council England. We had a really good discussion, agreed absolutely not to formalise this into a new group or network but to keep in touch, cross-promote our work in relation to local authorities and work jointly towards some kind of event at the main Local Government Association (LGA) conference next June.

Robin Simpson.

Peterborough Presents consortium meeting by Robin Simpson
December 5, 2014, 2:29 pm
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On Wednesday I was in Peterborough for a meeting of the Peterborough Presents Creative People and Places consortium. We were joined for the first time by Ferzana Kusair, our new Community Engagement Officer, who has now recruited the first Community Bridgebuilders from a range of diverse communities across Peterborough. Alice Johnson from Ignite reported on the recruitment of the first four trainee Young Producers who will be starting their placements with arts organisations shortly. We were also joined by Mark Prescott from Spark Culture who is producing a marketing and promotion plan for Peterborough Presents. Mark gave us a presentation on his progress to date and reported back from the national Creative People and Places marketing and audience development meeting. Finally we discussed the first round of our Development Fund. The deadline for applications is the end of this week and the panel will be meeting next week. It was great to see each of the strands of the Peterborough Presents programme beginning to get going at last.

Robin Simpson.

Fuel by Robin Simpson
December 5, 2014, 2:26 pm
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On Tuesday afternoon I was at Somerset House in London to meet Louise Blackwell and Bridget Floyer at Fuel. Fuel is a producing arts organisation working in partnership with a range of artists to develop, create and present new work across the UK. I first met Louise, and her Co-Director Kate McGrath, in July 2013 and we have kept in touch since, considering ways in which Fuel and Voluntary Arts might be able to collaborate. Fuel’s New Theatre in Your Neighbourhood research project is exploring ways in which the company can improve the way it tours shows, “building stronger relationships with partners, connecting artists and the communities we visit in inspiring and meaningful ways, and developing audiences”. The project has been working in six areas in England since 2013. Two of these areas are geographically close to some of the locations for our Spirit of 2012 and Culture Guides projects and we discussed the potential for developing connections between these projects.

Robin SImpson.

Understanding Everyday Participation research project partners’ meeting by Robin Simpson
December 5, 2014, 2:25 pm
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I was in London on Monday for a meeting of the partners in the Understanding Everyday Participation research project. This 5-year project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities programme and by Creative Scotland. Understanding Everyday Participation is being run by a consortium of 7 academics at 4 universities with 2 professional researchers and a wide range of partner organisations, including Voluntary Arts. The project is looking at the relationship between participation and cultural value. Orthodox models of culture and the creative economy are based on a narrow definition of participation: one that captures engagement with traditional institutions such as museums and galleries but overlooks more informal activities such as community festivals and hobbies. This project is painting a broader picture of how people make their lives through culture and in particular how communities are formed and connected through participation. The project is undertaking detailed studies of 6 contrasting cultural ecosystems (in Manchester/Salford, Gateshead, Dartmoor, Peterborough, Eilean Siar/Stornoway and Aberdeen). Since we last met, the first round of resident interviews in Salford has been completed and the Aberdeen interviews have been started. We looked at some of the evidence gathered in Aberdeen and discussed the patterns demonstrated by mapping the membership of local clubs. The ethnographic study in Gateshead has also been completed and we had a fascinating presentation about the ‘facilitated participation’ of young people in care in Gateshead. We also looked at the mapping of cultural assets in Gateshead, including places of worship, playgrounds and pubs. This generated an interesting discussion around the question ‘does a place have a cultural signature?’. The Understanding Everyday Participation research project seems to grow more fascinating each time we meet. It still has quite a long way to go but I suspect the outcomes of this project are going to have a very significant impact for the work of Voluntary Arts.

Robin Simpson.