Cultural Playing Field


Meeting the Shadow Culture Minister, Chris Bryant by Robin Simpson
February 20, 2015, 2:06 pm
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On Monday afternoon I was at Portcullis House in Westminster to meet the Labour Shadow Culture Minister, Chris Bryant MP. In a wide-ranging conversation we talked about Our Cultural Commons, the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value, the BBC Get Creative campaign, the Arts Council England Creative People and Places scheme, the final GPS Culture report ‘A New Destination for the Arts’ and the DCMS Select Committee report on the work of Arts Council England. We discussed the policies of Arts Council England and the Arts Council of Wales in relation to participation and the voluntary arts. We also talked about the speech given by the Welsh Deputy Minister for Culture and Sport, Ken Skates AM, to the Arts Council of Wales conference last week. Chris spoke about the development of the Labour Party’s election manifesto and speeches on the arts to be given next week by Ed Miliband (on Monday 23rd February in London) and Chris himself (on Wednesday 25th February in Birmingham). Chris is also going to be addressing the All Party Parliamentary Group on crafts in the next few weeks. It was an interesting first meeting with the new Shadow Culture Minister. He understands the importance of the voluntary arts sector – and spoke about several examples of voluntary arts groups in his own constituency – but his focus is, naturally, on the forthcoming general election.

Robin Simpson.



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: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/dec/08/arts-council-england-make-progress-diversity-funding-axed-bazalgette

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.



Creative Industries Federation launch by Robin Simpson
November 28, 2014, 2:08 pm
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On Monday evening I was at the University of the Arts/Central St Martins in London to attend the launch of the Creative Industries Federation. The Federation was the idea of Sir John Sorrell who felt there was an urgent need for the UK’s creative community to speak with a strong, independent voice, bringing together the public arts, creative industries and cultural education. The Creative Industries Federation will be independent of government, representing all sectors, bridging public and private and spanning the whole UK.

Monday’s launch event impressively demonstrated the level of connections the Federation, and its Director John Kampfner, have achieved already. Among the 200 people at the reception I spotted Tony Hall, Sir Peter Bazalgette, Sir John Tusa. Sandy Nairne, Sir Nicholas Serota, Alan Yentob, Professor Geoffrey Crossick, Alan Davey and Will Gompertz. I understand the assembled audience also included Elisabeth Murdoch, Ray Davies, Tamara Rojo and Jane Bonham-Carter.

The initial presentation involved brief speeches from Josh Berger (UK Head of Warner Brothers), Sir Anish Kapoor, the film director Paul Greengrass, Martha Lane Fox, a young games developer from Portsmouth, Mitu Khandaker, and the head of a growing Manchester TV business, Cat Lewis.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne MP, giving the keynote speech at the launch of the Creative Industries Federation at the University of the Arts London

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne MP, giving the keynote speech at the launch of the Creative Industries Federation at the University of the Arts London

The keynote speech was then delivered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. George Osborne was keen to emphasise that his interest in the creative industries was not simply because of its economic impact. He said “ultimately what you do is express who we are as a society and give voice to the people of this country … it’s a human endeavour worthy of support in its own right, regardless of its contribution to GDP”. The Chancellor finished by saying “the arts and creative industries needs a single voice and now it has one”.

Deborah Bull then chaired a panel discussion with representatives of the three main political parties. For Labour, the Shadow Culture Secretary, Harriet Harman, talked about the importance of “universality”, saying “arts and culture is not just for some”. She also questioned how Ofsted can say a school is outstanding if it doesn’t have an outstanding cultural offer. For the Liberal Democrats, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, said “we should listen to this fantastic new organisation” and felt there is a need for much more focus on skills. Finally the Conservative Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey, said the Creative Industries Federation “is a win win for everyone here”.

Ed Vaizey, Harriet, Harman, Danny Alexander and Deborah Bull at the launch of te Creative Industries Federation at the University of the Arts London

Ed Vaizey, Harriet, Harman, Danny Alexander and Deborah Bull at the launch of te Creative Industries Federation at the University of the Arts London

The Creative Industries Federation could become a significant new voice in lobbying Government. By involving the big commercial companies of the creative industries, its messages about the importance of arts and culture might gain much more prominence – Monday’s impressive event being a demonstration of this. But there must also be a danger of those powerful commercial voices drowning out smaller, less-resourced arts organisations. And while the Federation’s promise to “insist that anyone, no matter who they are or where they come from, has an equal opportunity to fulfil their creative potential” is very welcome, another of its promises “we will bring together the public and private halves of the creative sector” suggests that the third, voluntary, part of the cultural spectrum is not yet fully part of its thinking. In my initial discussions with John Kampfner in October, he was keen to include the voluntary arts in the Federation’s work but I there is clearly still some thinking to be done in this area.

Robin Simpson.



Arts Council England State of the Arts debate by Robin Simpson
November 21, 2014, 4:05 pm
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On Tuesday evening I was at the Southbank Centre in London for the Arts Council England ‘State of the Arts’ debate. This event was used to launch ACE’s new publication: ‘Create: A journal of perspectives on the value of art and culture’ – see: http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/what-we-do/value-arts-and-culture/state-arts/create/.

The State of the Arts debate consisted of two panel discussions, very effectively chaired by Victoria Derbyshire from BBC Radio Five Live. The first discussion looked at ‘Culture and the city: what is the role of arts and culture in the growth of our major metropolitan centres?’ The panel consisted of Doreen Stephenson (the Leader of East Lindsey District Council), Lord Adonis, the journalist Simon Jenkins (who is Chair of the National Trust) and Lord Heseltine. Michael Heseltine suggested that the process of human ingenuity and creativity is unstoppable and called it “a spontaneous eruption of natural human instinct”. The discussion soon became focussed on the ‘rebalancing’ issue (raised through the reports of GPS Culture) with Simon Jenkins saying that, when it comes to how we subsidise the arts “London just eats it”. He went on to suggest that “the real trouble is at local government level where it really has been quite savage. And if you want to know my view about London funding there ought to be a massive cross-subsidy from London to the provinces. London can look after itself, more or less.”

The second panel discussion was on ‘Education: how can every child benefit from arts and culture?’. The panel comprised the Shadow Schools Minister Kevin Brennan, Dave Moutrey (Director and Chief Executive of Home, the new arts centre in Manchester), Professor John Coyne (Vice-Chancellor of the University of Derby) and the scientist and novelist, Professor Sunetra Gupta. On the education system, Sunetra Gupta said “the main return we want from our investment is creativity” and Dave Moutrey spoke about the importance of “learning the joy of reading, not just learning reading”. Kevin Brennan felt that “education should be about producing a well rounded individual” and John Coyne worried that he was from the generation that was “educated” whereas his daughters were “assessed”. I liked Suneptra Gupta’s plea for a “system in which you can study things you’re not good at” and Dave Moutrey agreed that “education shouldn’t just be about passing exams.” This discussion became dominated by the recent warning from the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, that studying arts subjects could hold young people back in the job market. John Coyne very politely suggested that the Minister “was well-meaning misunderstood and badly briefed”. Kevin Brennan simply pointed out that, in educational terms, “politicians are a mixed ability group”.

Robin Simpson.



Arts Council England Research Grants Programme by Robin Simpson
October 31, 2014, 1:59 pm
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On Tuesday I was at Arts Council England in London for a meeting about ACE’s new research grants. From April 2015, ACE will be launching a £2.5M three-year research grants programme to build and improve the evidence base around the impacts of arts and culture. ACE will invite arts and cultural organisations, higher education institutions, consultants, think tanks, foundations and trusts, and consortia/partnerships of these bodies, to develop fundable research proposals that will improve the evidence base. On Tuesday Andrew Mowlah, ACE’s Senior Manager, Policy & Research, led a roundtable discussion to get feedback on the overall delivery of the programme and to influence and help shape how ACE will manage the fund. Andrew’s presentation outlined the aims of the programme which include furthering knowledge, increasing capacity, working in partnership, influencing and making the case. The programme will open in April 2015 and all projects will need to report by March 2018. ACE anticipates making 10-15 awards per year with a typical grant being between £50k and £100k. Research projects must be a collaboration between an arts or cultural organisation and a research partner – with the arts or cultural organisation being the lead partner. There will be one funding round each year with decisions being announced in June. The funding can only be used for research, not to support artistic activity. Applications will be judged on the originality and importance of the research, the strengths of the partnership, research methods and quality, outputs, dissemination, knowledge transfer and impact. In our discussions there was a general consensus that the allocated funds were relatively small and that it might be important for ACE to identify particular themes or areas of research it wishes to encourage rather than relying on an open call. We also talked about the need to be clear exactly what the funding can be spent on: there was concern that, if most of the grant is used in fees for the research partner there may be little incentive for arts organisations to lead projects. There was also a feeling that larger arts organisations might find it easier to connect to potential research partners and we discussed the possibility of a matching to process to bring together arts organisations and research partners. Andrew and his team listened carefully to our feedback and promised to consider these points before the programme is launched next year.

Robin Simpson.



53 Million Artists update by Robin Simpson
October 22, 2014, 12:58 pm
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On Tuesday I was in London to meet David Micklem to discuss the ’53 Million Artists’ campaign. Since I last met David, and Jo Hunter, at the beginning of August, they have refined the language they are using to explain the four stages of the 53 Million Artists process (Make time; Do stuff; Think about it: Share it). David said they are aware that their work to date has been very London-focussed and focussed on their friends in the arts. They are now keen to make 53 Million Artists a genuinely national campaign. 53 Million Artists has secured further funding from Arts Council England for a second stage of research and development. David wants the 53 Million Artists website to be an aggregator of other similar sites rather than a competitor, with more of a ‘magazine’ feel to it. The most important part of the process for 53 Million Artists is getting people to reflect on their creative experiences. We agreed to continue speaking regularly about the campaign and the potential for 53 Million Artists and Voluntary Arts to work together.

Robin Simpson.