Cultural Playing Field


Evolve 2015 – the NCVO annual conference by Robin Simpson
June 18, 2015, 1:33 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , ,
David Moorcroft speaking at Evolve 2015

David Moorcroft speaking at Evolve 2015

On Monday Kat and I were at The Brewery in London for Evolve 2015 – the annual conference of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). The conference opened with a session on volunteering in sport. NCVO President, Tanni Grey-Thompson, was joined by David Moorcroft, Director of Sport at Join In (and still the proud holder of the 3000m world record he set in 1982) and Daisy Robinson – a Join In local leader. David Moorcroft said every successful athlete at London 2012 could trace their success back to volunteers. He said volunteering is part of the fabric of this country, but almost always doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Join In has used the latest valuation techniques in the economics of wellbeing to reveal that one volunteer in sport creates wellbeing worth £16,032, for themselves and for those they help play sport, see: https://www.joininuk.org/hidden-diamonds-true-value-of-sport-volunteers/

I then attended three breakout sessions:

  • NCVO analysis of the 2015 election: The implications for your organisation, with Alexandra Kelso, Associate Professor of Politics, University of Southampton, and Andrew O’Brien, Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Charity Finance Group
  • Influencing and Campaigning, Post Election, with Emily Robinson, Deputy Chief Executive, Alcohol Concern, and Jonathan Ellis, Head of Policy, Research and Advocacy, British Red Cross
  • Measuring impact is a waste of time: discuss, with Fazilet Hadi, Group Director Inclusive Society RNIB, Sally Cupitt, Head of NCVO Charities Evaluation Services, and Sarah Mistry, Director of Effectiveness and Learning, Bond.

The conference concluded with an entertaining discussion about the likely political landscape for the next five years, with Andrew Pierce, Consultant Editor of The Daily Mail and Kevin Maguire, Associate Editor of The Daily Mirror, chaired by NCVO Chair, Martyn Lewis.

NCVO CHair, Martyn Lewis, at Evolve 2015

NCVO CHair, Martyn Lewis, at Evolve 2015



What Works Centre for Wellbeing panel meeting by Robin Simpson
February 26, 2015, 9:38 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , , , ,

On Wednesday I was in London to take part in the What Works Centre for Wellbeing panel meeting. We assessed applications made by research teams from across the country to run the four evidence programmes that will form the bulk of the work of the new What Works Centre. The What Works Centre for Wellbeing will be one of a number of What Works Centres which have been established to synthesise evidence to improve public and policy decisions. The Wellbeing Centre will build on the Office for National Statistics (ONS) national measurement programme. The Centre has initial funding of £4.3 million over three years. The Centre will comprise a central hub and four evidence synthesis programmes. The primary customers for the outputs of the Centre will be service commissioners, decision makers, practitioners and policymakers working both locally and nationally using evidence to ensure the best results for their localities. The four evidence programmes will look at wellbeing in relation to: work & learning; culture & sport; community; and cross-cutting themes. I was asked to assess applications for both the culture & sport and the community programmes. On Wednesday we agreed which applicants will now be called to interview. It was a really interesting day and it was great to have the chance to make the point that the Centre should be looking at wellbeing in relation to grassroots participation in creative, cultural activities.

Robin Simpson.



Ed Miliband by Robin Simpson
February 26, 2015, 9:36 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , ,
Ed Miliband speaking about the arts and culture at Battersea Arts Centre
Ed Miliband speaking about the arts and culture at Battersea Arts Centre

On Monday evening I was at Battersea Arts Centre in South London to hear a speech about arts, culture and creativity by the leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband MP. This event was organised by the new Creative Industries Federation and the Federation’s Director, John Kampfner, introduced Ed Miliband, saying “[The arts] is our superpower. We need to nurture it through innovation, entrepreneurialism and joined up working. We need to do far better, as the Warwick Commission reported, in making the arts accessible to all and yes, we need a body politic that is proud to invest in what makes this country great.”

Ed Miliband started by saying: “I care about you and your success because I think the arts, culture and creativity define who we are as a nation, because you make an incredible contribution to our economic success and because I think government policy has to make a difference and help you succeed as an industry and a sector. And I’m conscious that by making a speech [about the arts] I’m venturing into relatively uncharted, not to say risky, territory.”

He said all of us will have our first memories of what moved us as children. Publicly funded art and culture is vital to our dynamism. Access to the arts and culture is not an optional extra, it is essential. He thought the findings of the Warwick Commission should worry us all.

Ed Miliband outlined three parts to Labour’s plan in relation to the arts and culture: increasing creativity in schools; improving access to culture; and encouraging people to work in the arts and creative industries. While it was wonderful to hear a party leader speaking so enthusiastically about the arts so close to a general election, I was disappointed that he did not say anything about the importance of participation in creative cultural activities – particularly as this was such a significant theme of the Warwick Commission report.

Ed Miliband said “I come with an offer, a different offer to put policy for the arts, culture and creativity at the heart of the next Labour Government mission. Of course we should keep the Department of Culture: it says something about our country that that should even be a question. But I want to go further. I don’t believe culture belongs just to one Department, because what you do matters across our whole society and we can only achieve the vision of a society that I believe in, based on equality and social justice, if we recognise the value of the arts and culture across every part of Government.”

He said he would make a permanent change to how the arts and culture are represented in Westminster, creating a Prime Minister’s Committee. There would be a focus on equality of access across the country and further devolution of resources. He spoke about the significance of the 50th anniversary of Jennie Lee’s 1965 White Paper on Wednesday and said “tonight I rededicate myself to making that mission our own” and we should “hold my feet to the fire over this”.

Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband

Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband

In the questions that followed the speech, Stella Duffy, Co-Director of Fun Palaces, asked Ed Miliband: “If we only look at funnelling people into education, into buildings and into institutions, we are forgetting those people in community who need our support around the arts and culture too.”

Ed Miliband replied: “Stella, where does that take you to in particular?” and Stella responded: “It takes us to Voluntary Arts, it takes us to 64 Million Artists, it takes us to Fun Palaces, it takes us to the Cultural Learning Alliance. There are hundreds of organisations, many of us quite small, quite new, who are looking at the arts in a completely different way. We are saying there are millions of people in the country who are scared to go into the buildings, even in the very beginning. They haven’t had it in schools for the past 5 years, they haven’t had what Jennie Lee promised, and what we are saying is we need to be asking those people in their communities. Stop flying in experts and as the community what they want.”

Ed Miliband said “I think it’s important what you’re saying but isn’t the key to this (and there are a lot of people in the room who would know more about this than me) what we said about education. The reason I talked a lot about education is it is so crucial, because if you don’t necessarily have it in your family background where else are you going to discover culture creativity and the arts?”

Stella replied: “Totally – I am that girl. I didn’t have it in my family either. But it’s also in community. Unfortunately we have an attitude of behaving as if the arts only belong in big buildings at the moment, and there are hundreds of thousands of arts centres that also need our support just now.”

Ed didn’t seem to fully understand the point Stella was making and spoke again about the importance of cultural education in schools.

David Jubb, Artistic Director of Battersea Arts Centre, summing up at the end of the evening, said: “Last Thursday the BBC and What Next launched the Get Creative campaign across the country, and to Stella’s point about how more people become involved in art and culture, if everyone in this room can go out and get involved in that Get Creative campaign, with your organization, your resources, that would be terrific.”

Robin Simpson.



Meeting the Shadow Culture Minister, Chris Bryant by Robin Simpson
February 20, 2015, 2:06 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , ,

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 Case for Culture by Robin Simpson
January 27, 2015, 9:42 am
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , ,

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
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , ,

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
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 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.



What Next? – Local Government and Culture Working Together by Robin Simpson
December 5, 2014, 3:53 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , , ,

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.



Creative Industries Federation launch by Robin Simpson
November 28, 2014, 2:08 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , ,

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
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , ,

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.