Cultural Playing Field


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.



Community Ownership Support Service by Robin Simpson
November 21, 2014, 4:06 pm
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On Thursday I was in Edinburgh to meet Linda Gillespie at the Development Trusts Association Scotland. Linda told me about the Community Ownership Support Service, which is funded by the Scottish Government to support both communities and public bodies in the sustainable transfer of assets into community ownership. It is an adviser-led service providing support and advice through the various stages of asset transfer. Over the past three years the service has supported communities interesting in taking ownership of assets ranging from former town halls, schools, piers, harbours and marinas to theatres. Where communities are interested in taking on large civic space, arts often forms a key element of their business plan. Linda is therefore looking at developing a guide on organising performances – from the asset owner’s perspective. We talked about how Voluntary Arts might be able to help her create this guide – and how it could signpost people to the Voluntary Arts information services. We also talked about Our Cultural Commons and the effect of community asset transfer on local cultural infrastructure.

Robin Simpson.



Arts Development UK annual conference, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff by Robin Simpson
October 17, 2014, 10:50 am
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Peter Stark giving the keynote speech at the Arts Development UK Conference in Cardiff

Peter Stark giving the keynote speech at the Arts Development UK Conference in Cardiff


On Thursday I was at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff to attend the Arts Development UK annual conference where Voluntary Arts Chair, Peter Stark, gave the opening keynote speech. Peter spoke about his formative cultural experiences with the People’s Theatre youth theatre in Newcastle, saying that the work of Arts Development UK and Voluntary Arts is in his ‘structural DNA’. The fact that other people did not have the advantages he had has been his driving force. He described his career in the UK and his work in South Africa. On returning to England in 2012, he felt the country and the arts sector had changed in some fundamental way. Referring to the recent reports he has published with Christopher Gordon and David Powell (GPS Culture), Peter said:

“I realised that we had become, in a way that was far more true than I had ever experienced before, not one nation but two, geographically and by wealth and by class and by investment. So I had a set of numbers on the one hand, and a growing sense of disjunction with the structure that was dealing with culture and the arts on the other. That’s why we started doing our work. We started doing it out of a feeling that things were wrong.”

Peter emphasised the importance of valuing the creation of artistic value as much as we value the creation of instrumental effects. And he said that the key to wellbeing in the arts is participation.

Looking at the current challenges facing local cultural infrastructure, Peter said “I don’t see any way other than to start again from the bottom”. He quoted Jack Dixon saying “Noah was an amateur. The Titanic was built by professionals.”

He said the heart of how local government works is changing and “if ever there was a challenge to national bodies in our country, it is to ensure culture becomes a competence of combined authorities.”

Peter quoted Sue Isherwood’s first piece of research for the Our Cultural Commons initiative in which she says: “I have read the words and listened to the voices of committed, passionate and thoughtful people, none of whom are nationally known names; all of whom deserve to be heard in the courts of the cultural elite.”

Peter finished by launching Our Cultural Commons – a joint initiative of Voluntary Arts and Arts Development UK which will:
– 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.

You can read the full description of Our Cultural Commons and join the debate at: http://ourculturalcommons.org/



Arts Development UK Professional Development Working Party meeting by Robin Simpson
September 5, 2014, 4:17 pm
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On Friday I was in Birmingham for a meeting of the Arts Development UK (ADUK) Professional Development Working Party. We were joined by Jessica Harris from NCVO to discuss the Cultural Commissioning Programme (CCP) and the potential for links between the CCP learning programme and the ADUK professional fellowship programme. We also considered the possibility of further ADUK national events to share learning and research from the CCP, following the success of the initial national seminars on cultural commissioning in June 2014. We then discussed the ADUK Conference which will take place at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff on 16/17 October, where the keynote speaker will be the Chair of Voluntary Arts, Peter Stark. You can book your conference place at: http://artsdevelopmentuk.org/2014/08/arts-development-uk-conference-arts-for-life/. We were delighted to learn that the 2016 ADUK Conference will be hosted by Hull, UK City of Culture 2016. We also looked at the programme for the next ADUK national seminar which will focus on Arts & Health and will take place at the Catrin Finch Centre at Wrexham University in February or March 2015. The ADUK Professional Development Working Party then discussed ‘Our Cultural Commons’ – which is a partnership between Voluntary Arts and ADUK. We looked in particular at the scoping research currently being undertaken by the C3 Consultancy, led by Sue Isherwood, and talked about how best to publicise Sue’s call for existing examples of innovative, collaborative approaches to local cultural infrastructure. We also considered how the proposed Our Cultural Commons national event in June or July 2015 would fit into ADUK’s wider events programme. Finally we reviewed the ADUK Professional Fellowship Programme, which has now been running for three years, and discussed how to encourage more ADUK members to take part and the potential for further progression beyond the level of Senior Fellow. The fellowship programme is a really interesting way of encouraging and enabling continuing professional development for people working in local arts development and it is good to see how well the scheme has been taken up so far.

Robin Simpson.


Meeting the Connection Culture Programme Manager by Robin Simpson
August 8, 2014, 12:42 pm
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I was in Peterborough on Monday to meet Josie Hickin, the new Creative People and Places Programme Manager for Connection Culture. The Peterborough Creative People and Places consortium (of which Voluntary Arts is a member) has employed Josie to lead its programme to increase engagement in the arts in Peterborough. We talked about the various strands of the Connection Culture programme (focussing on young people, diverse communities and the voluntary arts sector – supported by the ‘Chamber of Culture’ which is providing training and mentoring). We discussed some of the particular challenges we are likely to face and the role each of the consortium partners will play in the delivery of the programme strands. It’s great to have Josie in post and I hope the Connection Culture programme will now really start to take shape.

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.



Peterborough Connection Culture meeting by Robin Simpson
July 18, 2014, 3:23 pm
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On Monday I chaired a meeting of Connection Culture, the Peterborough Creative People and Places consortium, at the Key Theatre in Peterborough. Connection Culture is a three-year programme, funded by Arts Council England, to achieve a step-change in arts engagement in Peterborough. We plan to do this through three main strands of activity – focussing on young people, diverse communities and voluntary arts groups – linked by a ‘Chamber of Culture’ which will provide training, mentoring and networking to each of the three strands. On Monday we were joined by Jan Kofi-Tsekpo from Arts Council England. We updated Jan on our progress and discussed issues relating to the programme budget and risk assessment. We also talked about learning points from the recent national peer learning meeting of Creative People and Places consortia in Doncaster.

Robin Simpson.



Cultural Commissioning Programme Advisory Group meeting by Robin Simpson
July 4, 2014, 2:41 pm
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Later on Tuesday I was at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) in London for a meeting of the Cultural Commissioning Programme Advisory Group. The Cultural Commissioning Programme is a three year programme funded by Arts Council England and being delivered by NCVO, New Philanthropy Capital and the New Economics Foundation. On Tuesday we had a presentation from Hazel Summers, Head of Commissioning at Manchester City Council, about how Manchester has adopted a broader system approach to place-based commissioning. It was particularly interesting to hear from Hazel and Advisory Group member Jo Johnstone, who is the Cultural Partnership Team Leader at Manchester City Council, about how their two teams are working more closely together. We also reflected on the two recent Arts Development UK national seminars on cultural commissioning. We were updated on other components of the Cultural Commissioning Programme including the two commissioning partner pilots, in Gloucestershire and Kent, and the learning programme which starts with a first set of events in Newcastle which will help cultural organisations put themselves in the shoes of commissioners. We also heard about the Cultural Commissioning Programme online peer learning community and the development of web based resources.

Robin Simpson.



Public Services: the value of cultural commissioning by Robin Simpson
June 6, 2014, 3:20 pm
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I was back in London on Friday to chair the Arts Development UK national seminar on ‘Public Services: the value of cultural commissioning’. This was the first of two seminars which are a joint initiative between the Cultural Commissioning Programme, Arts Development UK and the National Culture & Leisure Forum, supported by The National Archives. The Cultural Commissioning Programme is a three year programme funded by Arts Council England and being delivered by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, New Philanthropy Capital and the New Economics Foundation. There was an amazing level of interest in the seminar with a sell-out audience of more than 150 delegates at the Camden Centre. We started with keynote speeches from Vikki Heywood, Chair of the RSA who gave an overview from the cultural sector, and Carole Wood, Director of Public Health at Gateshead Council who gave an overview from the public service commissioning sector. I was pleased to hear Vikki say “everyone should be a creative, literate and numerate citizen”. Carole spoke about the Five Ways to Wellbeing and quoted the song “hearts starve as well as bodies – give us bread and give us roses”. The seminar included eight breakout group sessions looking at topics including ‘delivering commissioner outcomes’, ‘high artistic and cultural quality’, ‘mental health and well-being’ and ‘place-based outcomes’. One highlight for me was the inspiring presentation about older people by Sharon Scaniglia of Nottingham City Council, who spoke about a care home project in Nottingham supported by the Arts Council England/Baring Foundation scheme. The final keynote presentation was from Sally Bagwell of New Philanthropy Capital who launched the Cultural Commissioning Programme research report, which is now available at: www.ncvo.org.uk/practical-support/public-services/cultural-commissioning-programme. The second Cultural Commissioning seminar takes place in Doncaster next week.

Robin Simpson.