Cultural Playing Field

Talking about Our Cultural Commons at What Next? by Robin Simpson
January 16, 2015, 11:10 am
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , , ,

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 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

  2. circulate the Our Cultural Commons proposition:

  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.

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