Cultural Playing Field


‘Cultural Hubs – The Arts in Libraries Conference’, St Helens by Robin Simpson
March 20, 2015, 4:25 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , ,

On Thursday I was at the magnificent Victorian Town Hall in St Helens for ‘Cultural Hubs – The Arts in Libraries Conference’. Around 100 delegates from across the North West gathered to discuss examples of libraries being used for arts activities. Sue Wilkinson, Head of Library Services for St Helens Council spoke about Cultural Hubs, a 2-year project supported by Arts Council England to increase participation in the arts in libraries in St Helens. I then gave a presentation about Our Cultural Commons and the role that libraries can play in a more collaborative approach to sustaining and developing local cultural infrastructure. I spoke about our Up for Arts projects in Merseyside, Lancashire and Cumbria, the work Voluntary Arts is doing with Heart of Glass (the St Helens Creative People and Places consortium) and our Culture Guides project in St Helens, led by the indefatigable Gary Conley who was helping to facilitate the conference on Thursday. I quoted William Sieghart’s ‘Independent Library Report for England’ (published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in December 2014: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/388989/Independent_Library_Report-_18_December.pdf) which says “Libraries are, let us not forget, a golden thread throughout our lives. Despite the growth in digital technologies, there is still a clear need and demand within communities for modern, safe, non-judgemental, flexible spaces, where citizens of all ages can mine the knowledge of the world for free, supported by the help and knowledge of the library workforce” and calls for us to “make the library a vibrant and attractive community hub”.

Later in the day, Jane McElvey from Manchester City Council spoke about the refurbishment of Manchester Central Library and the programme of Library Live events there, supported by Arts Council England. We also heard from Paul Kelly of Lancashire County Council about the strategic approach to the arts within the wider cultural offer of libraries across Lancashire. HOST is a coordinated arts programme across Lancashire County Council cultural venues and its focus is on creating new arts organisations and supporting the arts infrastructure.

It was a really interesting conference and there was both an enthusiastic interest in Our Cultural Commons and a sense that many libraries are already beginning to realise the kind of innovative local cultural collaboration that Our Cultural Commons seeks to promote.

Robin Simpson.

Advertisement


Arts Development UK Southern Regions Mass Meeting by Robin Simpson
March 20, 2015, 4:23 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , ,

On Tuesday I was at Lift in Islington for the first Arts Development UK Southern Regions Mass Meeting. This event, for ADUK members from the Southern regions of England, was intended to bridge a gap between the regular ADUK regional meetings and the annual national conference. Around 50 delegates from across the South of East of England gathered for a day of presentations, discussions and networking. I spoke about Our Cultural Commons, as part of the opening panel session, and then facilitated two discussion groups to explore Our Cultural Commons in more depth. It was good to hear some more examples of innovative local cultural collaboration, including the Cattlemarket in Skipton, the Share Network of museums in the East of England, and the Social Sustainability Group model used by cities across Sweden (and often led by the cultural sector).

Robin Simpson.



Our Cultural Commons roundtable, Cardiff by Robin Simpson
March 6, 2015, 3:34 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , , ,

On Friday I was at the beautiful setting of the Norwegian Church in Cardiff Bay for the second of the Our Cultural Commons high-level national policy roundtables. This event was co-hosted for us by Nick Capaldi, Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Wales and included representatives of the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, Literature Wales, Creu Cymru, Cadw (Welsh Government’s historic environment service), National Theatre Wales, Wrexham Borough Council, Rhondda Cynon Taff Council, Disability Arts Cymru, the Adult Learning and the Culture Sector Consultancy and others.

Nick Capaldi opened the discussion by saying he thought Our Cultural Commons “a very interesting proposition in these very challenging times – what it is to sustain and promote local arts and creativity, continuing to make things happen despite difficult circumstances”. He asked what needs to happen to create the environment for this activity to take place. Nick pointed out that if “our cutural life, first and last, is local” this presents an interesting challenge to the Arts Council of Wales as a national organisation. He said “I can think of no better organisation than Voluntary Arts to be working with on this”.

Voluntary Arts Wales Chair, Hamish Fyfe, outlined the concept of Our Cultural Commons, saying “partnership is necessary for us to carry on doing what we do”.

Lee Corner, Convener of Our Cultural Commons, then chaired the debate. It was a fascinating discussion which looked at community asset transfer, volunteering, partnerships, networking, capacity building, sharing of control and power and much more.

John McGrath from National Theatre Wales spoke about three models – the participatory arts model, the amateur arts model and the voluntary sector training volunteers to fulfil roles. I emphasised the need to develop better connections between these three models – and the difficulty of doing so. I spoke about how Voluntary Arts supports the creative citizens who run voluntary arts groups and the work we are doing (through the Putting Down Roots project funded by the Arts Council of Wales and our Spirit of 2012 project) to connect professionally-led participatory arts initiatives to local amateur arts groups, and our work (also through the Spirit of 2012 project) to connect amateur arts groups to Volunteer Centres.

In summing up the discussion I asked: 1. if everyone agrees that we need the kind of collaborative approach suggested by Our Cultural Commons, why are not doing more of this already?; 2. how do we gather together a broader range of cultural partners, beyond the people we already know?; 3. is the need to sustain and develop the local cultural infrastructure a sufficient incentive to bring people together or do we also need to look at collaborating on cultural activity?

I urged everyone to continue the conversation, by signing up to the Our Cultural Commons newsletter, joining the growing set of partner organisations listed on the Our Cultural Commons website and writing provocations or think-pieces about Our Cultural Commons for the website. Further roundtables are planned in Belfast, Dublin and London over the coming weeks. More details at: http://www.ourculturalcommons.org



Amateur dramatics: crafting communities in time and space by Robin Simpson
February 26, 2015, 9:40 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , ,

I was in London on Thursday for a meeting about AHRC research project ‘Amateur dramatics: crafting communities in time and space’ – the first academic study of amateur theatre in the UK. This project is being led by Professor Helen Nicholson (Royal Holloway, University of London) with Professor Nadine Holdsworth (University of Warwick) and Dr Jane Milling, (University of Exeter). I took part in the first advisory group meeting for this project in October 2013, so it was great this week, 18 months into the project, to hear details of the researchers’ interim findings. Helen said people from the amateur theatre scene have been overwhelmingly generous. The research team have been writing case studies about members of the Little Theatre Guild and the National Operatic and Dramatic Association. Nadine has been looking at how amateur theatre is archived and the ways in which the theatres themselves are archives. She spoke about the ‘hard economics’ of amateur theatre and the labour necessary to attract audiences, maintain turnover, keep buildings open, hire space and costumes and sell adverts in the programme. You can read the project’s interim report at: http://issuu.com/amateurdramaresearch/docs/amateur_theatre_report_1ef015e9eca65c/1

Robin Simpson.



Cultural Campaigning Network meeting by Robin Simpson
February 26, 2015, 9:06 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , ,

On Monday afternoon I was in London to take part in a meeting of the Cultural Campaigning Network. This regular gathering of national organisations engaged in campaigning in relation to culture is always a fascinating and incredibly useful forum. On Monday we talked about the BBC Get Creative campaign, the Government’s consultation on lotteries, the Warwick Commission report, the UK general election, the 2016 elections for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly and much more.

Robin Simpson.



Peterborough Presents consortium meeting by Robin Simpson
February 26, 2015, 9:04 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , ,

On Monday morning I was in Peterborough for a meeting of ‘Peterborough Presents’ – the Creative People and Places consortium. We reflected on year one of our three year programme to increase engagement in the arts in Peterborough, looking at our achievements and challenges to date. This informed our planning for year two as we identified particular areas for improvement. We also discussed the implications of substantial planned cuts in Peterborough City Council’s funding for Vivacity, which would significantly reduce the public provision of arts and culture facilities in the city.

Robin Simpson.



Launch of BBC Get Creative by Robin Simpson
February 20, 2015, 3:50 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , ,
Kinetica Bloco

Kinetica Bloco

On Thursday morning Peter and I were at Conway Hall in London for the launch of BBC Get Creative. Around 250 people, including journalists, leaders of a wide range of arts organisations, celebrities and amateur artists crammed into the hall for the main press launch of the twelve-month campaign. The event was opened by Kinetica Bloco – the fabulous samba band from Brixton who performed for us at the Amateo Conference in Cecil Sharp House in 2012.

BBC Director General, Tony Hall

BBC Director General, Tony Hall

The BBC Director General, Tony Hall, formally launched Get Creative, saying the campaign intended to “inspire everybody to make art, to do something creative”. Lord Hall said how pleased the BBC was to be working with a range of great partners, including Voluntary Arts. He said “we want to find out what art and creativity mean to everyone in the country”. David Lan and Deborah Bull spoke, on behalf of the What Next? movement and the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value, about the origins of Get Creative and how the idea of a campaign had been developed with BBC Arts. Deborah also explained that the Conway Hall event was just one of fourteen launch events happening across the UK on Thursday morning.

Alan Yentob and Johnny Vegas

Alan Yentob and Johnny Vegas

After the formal speeches BBC Creative Director, Alan Yentob, interviewed the actor Timothy Spall about his personal involvement in visual art and the role that this had played in his education and career choices. Timothy Spall was passionate, inspiring and very funny. Alan Yentob then introduced the comedian Johnny Vegas who spoke about his passion for pottery and ceramics. He said “A creative idea is a chance to redecorate your soul”. A potter’s wheel was produced and Johnny Vegas accepted the challenge to make a functioning teapot in less than a minute. He said “I want people to look at this and say ‘I can do better than that’ and get off their backsides and go to a pottery night class. You can do better than me – that isn’t a big achievement in life. But if it inspires one of you then it’s worth it.” You can see whether he succeeded at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/DLyYlfzPtp20r1v9J2QDP4/johnny-vegas-60-second-teapot-challenge 

The teapot

The teapot

Finally, Deborah Bull invited everyone to take part in a range of creative activities led by amateur artists around the room (which had been organised for us by Daniel). These included handbell ringing with Tim Willets, feltmaking with Cathy Unwin, mosaic making with Tamara Froud, Indian dance with Sita Thomas, jewellery making with Fiona Eastmond and origami with Deborah Mason and Mark Bolitho from the British Origami Society. It was great to see how many people stayed and enthusiastically took part in these activities. I will long treasure the memory of watching TV presenters Lucy Worsley and Alex Jones together with the Director of BBC Arts Online, Peter Maniura, being led in an Indian dance session by Sita. Video footage of the Conway Hall launch event was shown on BBC London News on Thursday evening – this available (but only until 7 pm Friday evening) at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b052g6t3/bbc-london-news-19022015 (it starts at 21:10)

There are photos from the London launch event at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02kc9qn/p02kc5rr

Meanwhile, across the UK Voluntary Arts staff were involved in running 11 of the other 13 Get Creative launch events. It was a phenomenal effort by the Voluntary Arts team which has reinforced our key role in BBC Get Creative. You can see a summary of all the launch events at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/3Q81xs2ScgNDtt286qzfvSx/get-out-and-get-creative

In Scotland Jemma’s first piece for BBC Radio Scotland was broadcast on Thursday and you can hear it at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b052mx86 (starts at 1:36). Jemma and Kelly will be guests on the Janice Forsyth show on BBC Radio Scotland on different days next week, along with the leaders of several voluntary arts groups and artform umbrella bodies.

Thursday was a great day for Voluntary Arts and I felt very proud to have been involved in our work on BBC Get Creative. I’m still reeling from everything that happened and trying to take it all in. For example, during the formal speeches at Conway Hall I noticed that, to my right, at a table at the side of the hall, a woman was busily engaged in some bead-making. This reminded me of the wonderful Craftivist Garden #wellmaking event at Toynbee Hall a few weeks ago when people were eagerly knitting throughout the speeches. I assumed this bead-maker was one of the amateur artists we had assembled for the launch event and I took a few photos of her engrossed in her craft activity while Timothy Spall was speaking on the stage. It was only on Thursday evening, when I was looking back through my photos at home, that I realised the enthusiastic bead-maker was Sandi Toksvig – it was one of those kind of days! 

Sandi Toksvig

Sandi Toksvig

I was quoted on the BBC News website see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-31531887 

and in Arts Professional: http://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/news/bbc-leads-campaign-get-creative 

Full details of BBC Get Creative are at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/sections/get-creative and I would urge you to watch the wonderful promotional film at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/sections/get-creative

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

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.



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.



Meeting the Crafts Council by Robin Simpson
February 6, 2015, 3:42 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , ,
The Crafts Council, Islington, London

The Crafts Council, Islington, London

On Thursday I was at the Crafts Council in London to meet Rosy Greenlees and Annie Warburton. We had an extensive conversation about the current work of the Crafts Council and Voluntary Arts and identified several areas for potential collaboration. We talked in detail about Our Cultural Commons. We also discussed ‘Our Future is in the Making: An Education Manifesto for Craft and Making’, which was launched at the House of Commons in in November 2014, see: http://www.craftscouncil.org.uk/what-we-do/education-manifesto/. I was particularly interested to hear about the work the Crafts Council has been doing with the Polish community in Liverpool as part of a research programme looking at diverse practices of making across England. We also spoke about the Craft Clubs, established by the Crafts Council in 2009 in partnership with United Kingdom Hand Knitting Association and the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, see: http://www.craftscouncil.org.uk/what-we-do/craft-club/. There are around 800 Crafts Clubs still going and we discussed how to ensure they are are all aware of the Voluntary Arts online information services.

Robin Simpson.