Cultural Playing Field


Culture Guides Conference, Budapest by Robin Simpson
October 9, 2015, 1:48 pm
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On Monday and Tuesday I was in Budapest, Hungary, with Laraine and Daniel for the final conference of our EU Culture Guides project. Culture Guides was a two-year project that started in October 2013 under the Grundtvig strand of the European Commission’s Lifelong Learning Programme. Six partners from five countries aimed to investigate the possibility of a European framework to recruit, train and manage volunteers to act as mentors or guides to introduce and help marginalised social groups to participate in local art and culture activities, either as audience members or as active participants. Voluntary Arts ran pilot Culture Guides schemes in four locations – St Helens and Swale & Medway in England, and Torfaen and Wrexham in Wales.

Dora Duro, Chair of the Hungarian Parliament Committee on Culture

Dora Duro, Chair of the Hungarian Parliament Committee on Culture

The conference was opened by Dora Duro, Chair of the Hungarian Parliament Committee on Culture. I chaired the first panel session in which the six partner organisations summarised how the project had worked in each of the participating countries. The conference included a range of group sessions in which we looked at the learning from the Culture Guide pilots and shared our experiences of working with different socially marginalised end-users. There were also practical participatory sessions in which we learned some circus skills and Hungarian folk songs. The Keynote speech was given by Professor Sandor Striker from ELTE, the University of National Excellence in Hungary, who spoke about ‘Art and culture policies for the socially marginalised’. We also had a presentation from Dr Cees van den Bos, from the Netherlands, comparing volunteering in different countries. The conference brought together partner organisations, volunteers, other cultural organisations, civil society and volunteering organisations from across Europe. It was a really enjoyable couple of days and a nice way to bring this excellent project to an end.

For more details please see Daniel’s excellent Culture Guides Handbook at: http://www.cultureguides.eu/outcome-and-results/guidelines-for-the-european-handbook/

Robin Simpson.



Launch of the report of the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value by Robin Simpson
February 20, 2015, 2:08 pm
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On Tuesday evening Peter and I were at The Shard in London for the launch of ‘Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth – The 2015 Report by the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value’. The Warwick Commission report covers a wide range of issues. Its five chapters focus on the cultural ‘ecosystem’, diversity & participation, education & skills development, digital culture, and ‘making the local matter’. Active participation in creative cultural activity features prominently. In her Foreword, the Chairman of the Commission, Vikki Heywood, says “The key message from this report is that the government and the Cultural and Creative Industries need to take a united and coherent approach that guarantees equal access for everyone to a rich cultural education and the opportunity to live a creative life.”

The report goes on to say:

Traditionally, concerns over broadening participation have concentrated on tackling the social stratification of cultural and creative consumption with varying degrees of success. However, the Commission is keen to emphasise that equal attention needs to be placed on the making of culture and creative expression, whether in the context of the Cultural and Creative Industries or as amateur activity.” [3.1, p.32]

The value of everyday cultural activities needs to be more fully acknowledged and supported. The amateur and voluntary sector may be of pivotal importance in spearheading a creative participation revolution.” [3.2.4, p.37]

Voluntary Arts, 64 Million Artists and Fun Palaces published a joint response to the Warwick Commission report on Tuesday which says we “believe that the time has come to urgently reframe the discussion about the arts, artists and the role of culture in society. We have come together from our core commitment to participation and radical excellence in arts and culture – and a passion for everyone to have ‘the opportunity to live a creative life’.” You can read our joint response in full at: http://www.voluntaryarts.org/2015/02/17/response-to-the-warwick-commission-report/

To accompany this joint response we ran a social media campaign using the hashtag #EveryoneCreative, as part of which Tony produced this excellent video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JK1EvJr-fDM

The Warwick Commission report also included a formal endorsement of the Our Cultural Commons initiative:

In this context of flourishing voluntary arts, the Commission welcomes the launch of ‘Our Cultural Commons’ – an important joint initiative by Voluntary Arts and Arts Development, which will explore new ways to sustain and develop the diverse creative lives of our communities. By gathering evidence of existing local collaborative practice and offering a space for discussion of potential solutions to the problems facing local cultural infrastructure, the two organisations hope to support and develop the ‘cultural commons’ in local communities.” [3.2.3, p.36]

The Warwick Commission Chairman, Vikki Heywood, also gave me her personal endorsement of Our Cultural Commons:

I wholeheartedly welcome this important initiative that seeks to strengthen and support amateur participation in the arts at local level. Arts and cultural experiences play a vital role in shaping our communities and it is essential at a time of cuts in local government funding that the cultural sector comes together to find creative ways of sustaining and developing local cultural infrastructures. Our Cultural Commons offers a real opportunity to build upon the wealth of cultural activity across the country and develop a national policy approach to local arts participation.”

The Warwick Commission report also endorsed our Culture Guides programme, saying:

The most effective way to encourage participation among people who do not currently take part in any cultural activity is through their peers: seeing people who live next to them, or work with them doing something creative is a powerful stimulation to trying something new. Opportunities to make amateur participation more visible should be encouraged by cultural organisations, working in partnership with local government and civic organisations, and the Commission welcomes the EU-funded ‘Culture Guide’ scheme currently being piloted in four regions across the UK.” [3.3.4, p.39]

You can read the full Warwick Commission report at: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/research/warwickcommission/futureculture/finalreport/

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.



Culture Guides by Robin Simpson
July 24, 2014, 11:07 am
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Culture Guides logo

Culture Guides logo

On Wednesday I joined Daniel, Laraine and Janina in Birmingham for part of our two-day Culture Guides event. Culture Guides is our EU Grundtvig partnership project, which is engaging volunteers as “culture guides” in six European countries – to reach out and strengthen the access for social and cultural marginalised groups to arts and culture as a gateway to personal development and social inclusion. It is based on the concept of “cultural sustainability” meaning that active citizenship, social inclusion and cultural cohesion will be promoted by “citizens help citizens” in a civil society context. In the UK, Voluntary Arts is working in four areas to recruit and develop volunteer Culture Guides – Wrexham and Torfaen in Wales, and St Helens and Faversham in England. This week volunteers and representatives of our partner organisations from Wrexham and St Helens joined us in Birmingham to learn more about the project and to start to explore the details of how the volunteer Culture Guides will work in practice in each location. You can see more details of the Culture Guides project at http://www.cultureguides.eu/ and there is a Facebook group for the UK part of the project at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/533636160091364/?fref=ts

Robin Simpson.



Cultural Campaigning Network meeting by Robin Simpson
July 10, 2014, 11:07 am
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On Wednesday I chaired a meeting of the Cultural Campaigning Network. This is a forum for national organisations involved in campaigning on cultural issues which allows us to share our advocacy plans and identify opportunities for collaboration. This week we discussed the Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation funding decisions. We also heard updates on the National Campaign for the Arts ‘ 50p for Culture’ campaign (http://www.50pforculture.org/), ‘My Theatre Matters’ (http://www.mytheatrematters.com/), and Making Music’s work to secure the future of Leicester Music Library (http://www.makingmusic.org.uk/our-work/news/news/leicester-music-library-making-music). I spoke about our plans for a joint Voluntary Arts/Arts Development UK initiative to explore new models to sustain and develop local cultural infrastructure. We then had a presentation from Luca Bergamo and Clymene Christoforou about the Culture Action Europe annual conference which will take place in Newcastle-Gateshead from 9 – 11 October 2014 – the first time the conference will have been held in the UK – see: http://www.cvan.org.uk/news/2014/6/26/the-culture-action-europe-annual-conference-to-be-held-in-newcastle-gateshead. We also had a presentation, from Joseph Young of AIR Council, on the ‘Paying Artists’ campaign, developed by a-n (The Artists Information Company), which is seeking to highlight and challenge the fact that visual artists in the UK are regularly expected to develop and exhibit their work without a fee – see: http://www.payingartists.org.uk/

Robin Simpson.



Art-Age Conference, Utrecht by Robin Simpson
April 11, 2014, 1:07 pm
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From Sunday to Wednesday I was in Utrecht in the Netherlands for the Art-Age Conference. Art-Age is our European Union Grundtvig Lifelong Learning Programme partnership project looking at arts-based learning and active ageing. The partnership includes six organisations from five countries (Denmark, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden and Slovenia), including national amateur arts representative organisations, alongside others providing expertise in the field of learning and culture in a civil society context.

Delegates at the Art-Age Conference, Utrecht, Netherlands

Delegates at the Art-Age Conference, Utrecht, Netherlands

This week’s conference was the culmination of the two-year project and brought together around 45 delegates, including groups of older arts participants from each of the five countries. The UK representatives were members of the 3rd Thought Arts Collective from London (who have been working with Maxine Webster and Peter Avery at 1st Framework). They performed an interactive theatre piece during the conference and have now been invited to perform it at the Löftdalens Folk High School in Sweden.

Professor Evert Bisschop Boele speaking at the Art-Age Conference, Utrecht, Netherlands

Professor Evert Bisschop Boele speaking at the Art-Age Conference, Utrecht, Netherlands

The conference included fascinating keynote speeches from two Dutch academics. Professor Jeroen Lutters, spoke about ‘The essence of civilisation: on the value of aesthetic learning by arts participation’ and Professor Evert Bisschop Boele gave a presentation titled ‘Learning by elderly people: a contextual and biographical view on how elderly people learn in music and its consequences for arts participation’. But the most interesting parts of the conference were the group discussions which brought together elderly people from across Europe to look at why they take part in creative cultural activity, what learning results from their participation and how we might make a better case for support of arts-based learning for older people. These discussions were dynamic, thought-provoking and extremely enjoyable.

Breakout group discussion at the Art-Age Conference, Utrecht, Netherlands

Breakout group discussion at the Art-Age Conference, Utrecht, Netherlands

The conference was very well organised by our Dutch colleagues at Landelijk Kennisinstituut Cultuureducatie en Amateurkunst (LKCA) and I think it was a very succesful conclusion to the Art-Age project.

Landelijk Kennisinstituut Cultuureducatie en Amateurkunst (LKCA), Utrecht, Netherlands

Landelijk Kennisinstituut Cultuureducatie en Amateurkunst (LKCA), Utrecht, Netherlands

Robin Simpson.



Culture Guides meeting by Robin Simpson
February 7, 2014, 2:33 pm
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On Monday and Tuesday I was at BBC Radio Merseyside in Liverpool where we hosted the latest meeting of partners in our European Grundtvig project, Culture Guides. Daniel, Laraine, Helen Jones and I were joined by colleagues from Denmark, the Netherlands, Hungary and Slovenia. It was very interesting to compare the contrasting approaches to developing the pilot volunteer programmes in each country. In the UK we are planning pilots in four locations – two in Wales and two in England where one of the areas will be Merseyside. We took the opportunity this week to show our partners how Culture Guides will build on our Up for Arts project in Liverpool, linking to the BBC local radio station and the existing ‘A Team’ volunteers. Helen gave our European guests a tour of the radio station and a presentation about Up for Arts. She also arranged a guided tour of Liverpool which was a big hit with our visitors. Two of our partners even ended up on the airwaves talking about their experience of visiting Liverpool. You can hear the pieces Helen recorded with Bente from Denmark and Matjaz from Slovenia at: https://soundcloud.com/voluntary-arts/bente-and-matjaz-are-up-for

Robin Simpson.