Cultural Playing Field


#wellMAKING Craftivists Garden event at Toynbee Hall by Robin Simpson
January 29, 2015, 12:26 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , ,
#wellMAKING Craftivists Garden event, Toynbee Hall, London

#wellMAKING Craftivists Garden event, Toynbee Hall, London

On Tuesday evening Daniel, Cassandra and I were at Toynbee Hall in London for the #wellMAKING Craftivists Garden event. This project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities programme, set out to show how craft activities can help improve wellbeing by involving participants in the fun, connected, sensory and mindful process of making things. People across the UK were invited to join in and hand-embroider, knit or crochet a flower for the #wellMAKING Craftivists Garden, while reflecting on the importance of wellbeing and what we need in order to flourish as individuals and as a society. The #wellMAKING Craftivists Garden UK project is a partnership between the Craftivist Collective, Falmouth University, Voluntary Arts and Arts for Health Cornwall & Isles of Scilly. See: www.craftivist-collective.com/wellMAKING

Fiona Hackney from Falmouth University said that 750 flowers had been made as part of the project and the activity seemed to have proved very meaningful for people from all parts of the UK. 40 volunteer facilitators had run #wellMAKING groups to “craft, connect, reflect, challenge and grow”, realising the value of making together. The project had encouraged “quiet activism”. Daniel described how our Hand on Crafts project had demonstrated profound wellbeing benefits for those taking part and encouraged everyone to get involved in Craftbomb and Woollen Woods as part of Voluntary Arts Week 2015 (see: http://www.voluntaryartsweek.org).

#wellMAKING Craftivists Garden event, Toynbee Hall, London

#wellMAKING Craftivists Garden event, Toynbee Hall, London

Jayne Howard, Director of Arts for Health Cornwall & Isles of Scilly said something different happens when people engage in crafts. This is an under-researched area. She spoke about a programme of work with GP surgeries which had showed that crafts practice seemed to help participants bond more quickly. It generated talk, the pace was quite gentle, there were periods of silence but they never felt uncomfortable. The activity provided an opportunity to demonstrate achievement and produced something tangible to take home or give as a gift. Sarah Desmarais, AHRC Research Fellow at Falmouth University, had acted as a participant observer in two groups. She reported that the activities had allowed participants to safely access social companionship. She spoke abut the power of playfulness to give a creative state of mind. Playfulness can be relearned and craft can be very useful in this. Participants become progressively more confident.

#wellMAKING Craftivists Garden event, Toynbee Hall, London

#wellMAKING Craftivists Garden event, Toynbee Hall, London

Sarah Corbett from the Craftivist Collective, spoke about “activism through needlework”, challenging and trying to change social structures that are preventing people achieving their potential. The World Health Organisation defines wellbeing as:
* Realising our potential
* Coping with daily stress
* Contributing productively to society

Sarah said crafting helps with all three aspects of wellbeing. She said “craft slows me down and makes me think”.

The #wellMAKING Craftivists Garden was a fascinating event. It was wonderful to hear about the experiences of participants, brilliant to see the flowers displayed and lovely to be at an event at which many of the audience were actually stitching and knitting throughout the speeches.

Robin Simpson.

#wellMAKING Craftivists Garden event, Toynbee Hall, London

#wellMAKING Craftivists Garden event, Toynbee Hall, London

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The Case for Culture by Robin Simpson
January 27, 2015, 9:42 am
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On Monday I was interviewed by Sally Dixon from the Beamish Museum which is leading the development of the Case for Culture – a campaign initiated by the North East Culture Partnership (NECP) which was formed 18 months ago by the region’s 12 local authorities to provide a vision for culture for the North East of England. The Case for Culture will look forward to the year 2030. The campaign is modelled on the Case for Capital, a successful regional initiative 20 years ago, which was based on research carried out in the 1980s by Peter Stark, and led to the development of the Angel of the North, Sage Gateshead etc. The Case for Culture is being developed through an extensive consultation involving 20 sectors, from arts and heritage to to universities, healthcare etc. A number of organisations are being approached to to lead debates on the Case for Culture. They will be looking at what culture has to offer the North East – in relation to the economy, health & wellbeing, sense of place and communities etc. NECP is particularly keen to look at new ways of collaborating regionally, from the Tees Valley up to Berwick. I talked to Sally about the vision and mission of Voluntary Arts and the Our Cultural Commons initiative.
Robin Simpson.



Amatørkultur Conference, Copenhagen by Robin Simpson
January 23, 2015, 10:54 am
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On Wednesday I was at Christiansborg, the Danish Parliament in Copenhagen, to give a keynote speech in the Amatørkultur conference. This one-day event, organised by AKKS (the Danish equivalent of Voluntary Arts) and DATS (the Danish amateur theatre association) aimed to encourage the development of a new national cultural policy for the amateur arts in Denmark. I was one of three foreign speakers (the others being from Belgium and Norway) invited to open the conference. We addressed an audience of around 100 local and national politicians, civil servants and representatives of amateur arts organisations in the splendid Faellessalen room at Christiansborg. I spoke about the gradual moves towards re-integrating the amateur arts into national cultural policy in England that we have seen over the past ten years. I talked about our work on the Participation Manifesto, the Our Creative Talent research, our development of the Up for Arts model, the RSC Open Stages project, Arts Council England’s Creative People and Places programme and the current opportunities presented by the BBC Get Creative campaign.

The Amatørkultur conference in the Faellessalen room at Christiansborg, Copenhagen

The Amatørkultur conference in the Faellessalen room at Christiansborg, Copenhagen

The second conference session involved a panel of people with responsibility for culture within five local authorities from across Denmark. The panel included a mixture of officers and elected councillors. Among the opinions expressed were the thoughts that “the amateur arts is about enthusiasm – don’t think of it as a means to achieve something else, such as health” and “culture is seen as for the elite: the amateur arts can help transform this”.

Danish Culture Minister, Marianne Jelved at the Amatørkultur conference, Christiansborg, Copenhagen

Danish Culture Minister, Marianne Jelved, Michael Aastrup Jensen, Troels Ravn and Alex Ahrendsten at the Amatørkultur conference, Christiansborg, Copenhagen

The final session of the day was a discussion between the Danish Culture Minister, Marianne Jelved, and the culture spokespersons from most of the other national political parties. The Minister spoke about the use of lottery funding in Denmark, bemoaning the fact that, over the years, politicians have decided that lottery funding should be used to support the running costs of cultural institutions so there is now only 10% of this funding left for more experimental activity. She said “a national strategy has to inspire not restrict” and suggested that there is a lot of artistic talent in Denmark that is not developed. Marianne Jelved finished by saying “when you talk about the meaning of life, talk about arts. Art has a special language.”

Robin Simpson, Chief Executive of Voluntary Arts, with the Danish Culture Minister, Marianne Jelved at the Amatørkultur conference, at Christiansborg, Copenhagen

Robin Simpson, Chief Executive of Voluntary Arts, with the Danish Culture Minister, Marianne Jelved at the Amatørkultur conference, at Christiansborg, Copenhagen

Robin Simpson.



Talking about Our Cultural Commons at What Next? by Robin Simpson
January 16, 2015, 11:10 am
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On Wednesday I was in London for the What Next? meeting at the Young Vic where I gave a presentation about Our Cultural Commons. I explained the thinking behind the Our Cultural Commons initiative and described our plans to:

  • collect evidence of existing innovative local collaborative practice to sustain and develop local cultural infrastructure and then promote best practice

  • provide a space for discussion of potential solutions to the problems facing local cultural infrastructure and organisation and the debate on the nature of the cultural commons that we aspire to in the future

  • empower and support the voice of those ‘local’ ambitions in debates on future national cultural policies, structures and funding.

I talked about the initial scoping research carried out for Our Cultural Commons by Sue Isherwood and outlined a couple of the examples of existing local collaborative practice that Sue had discovered. I spoke about our appointment of Lee Corner as the Convener for a series of Our Cultural Commons national policy roundtables and our experience of the first of these roundtables which took place in Edinburgh in December. I discussed the potential links between Our Cultural Commons and the forthcoming report of the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value, the DCMS Select Committee report on the work of Arts Council England, the AHRC Cultural Value Project, the AHRC Connected Communities Understanding Everyday Participation research project and the BBC Get Creative campaign. I suggested that the next few months will provide a unique opportunity to make an argument about the real foundations of our cultural life, to move away from impossible arguments about maintaining public funding for the arts at a time when local authorities are struggling to maintain statutory services, and to push the importance of the whole cultural ecosystem.

I finished my presentation by quoting the think-piece Jane Wilson, Chair of Arts Development UK, wrote for the Our Cultural Commons website (at http://ourculturalcommons.org/2014/12/arts-culture-and-place/). Jane said:

The relationship between (what we separate out as) ‘art’ and the process of collective cultural existence appears to have been with us for as long as we have been human, but this doesn’t mean that we can simply take it for granted. Effective societies allow the room for a diversity of cultural expression, and it hardly needs saying what the alternative can look like. Except, that here, we have tended to assume that allowing room for that diversity was simply about maintaining an effective distance between professional artists and the state, so that we avoid the cultural dictatorships that so marked the twentieth century. In that laudable goal we have underplayed the importance, (as the environment in which we operate becomes both more managed and more complex) of the state in making sure that the space for cultural expression is held open, not just for those activities which have an established and recognized identity as art-forms, nor for the most commercially effective, the former the remit of Arts Council England, the latter supported by market forces, but the space needed in every community for the ground in between, where the local is created and re-created year on year. Local authorities have historically managed this territory, on a discretionary basis, nurturing and supporting ‘grass roots’ cultural activity, but their role in this area is under serious threat. Often, local authorities are not the organisations directly delivering activity, and in the short term their departure from the field might not seem to matter too much, but over time it will mean that the space for local cultural expression becomes more fragile, unless we take seriously the responsibility for developing our cultural commons.”

I asked What Next? members to:

  1. sign up for the newsletter at http://ourculturalcommons.org/signup/

  2. circulate the Our Cultural Commons proposition: http://ourculturalcommons.org/76/

  3. add their organisations to the list of Our Cutural Commons supporters

  4. ensure the issues raised by Our Cultural Commons are addressed in any debates they are organising, particularly as part of the BBC Get Creative campaign.

Robin Simpson.



Arts & Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities Programme Advisory Group meeting by Robin Simpson
January 9, 2015, 1:59 pm
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On Thursday I was in London to take part in a meeting of the Arts & Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities Programme Advisory Group. We heard from Bryony Enright and Keri Facer who have been developing, over the past twelve months, a narrative and evidence base about the Connected Communities programme’s impact. Connected Communities has, to date, funded 300 projects, involving 900 partnerships and encouraging substantial number of academics and universities to undertake collaborative research with communities. Bryony said that the community organisations involved in the Connected Communities research projects had reported a range of benefits, including new relationships, increased credibility, greater recognition for existing work, ownership and control of research projects, access to networks, opportunities for personal development, opportunities for reflection and creating new communities.

We then had presentations from two Connected Communities projects. Professor Ian Hargreaves (Professor of Digital Economy at the University of Cardiff – and a former editor of The Independent and the New Statesman) described the Creative Citizens project which addressed the question: “How does creative citizenship generate value for communities within a changing media landscape and how can pursuit of value be intensified, propagated and sustained?”. The project looked at three particular areas of practice: community journalism (‘hyperlocal’ news media); community-led design; and creative networks. Ian said “the activities of creative citizens have considerable and growing value – statisticians and politicians please note” and he stressed the importance of developing “a civic life that is more magical and wonderful to be a part of”. See: http://creativecitizens.co.uk/

We also heard from Dr Gill Windle of Bangor University about the Dementia and Imagination project. This project explored how the vision for dementia supportive communities might benefit from creative activities (particularly socially engaged visual arts practice). The project created a handbook (“interaction: engagement”) on the use of visual art with people with dementia and a legacy of professional development and increasing expertise in dementia for a range of artists and community arts organisations. See: http://dementiaandimagination.org.uk/

Robin Simpson.