Wednesday, 9 July 2008

How did I end up on stage with an Undertone?

It must be conference season. After the one on social capital I wrote about recently, last week I had the pleasure of chairing ‘Our Creative Talent’, an event organised by three partners: Arts Council England, Voluntary Arts Network and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. The event marked the launch of a major piece of research into participation in the arts through voluntary and amateur groups, and through informal learning. You can download it here. There are some pretty impressive statistics about people’s involvement in the voluntary and amateur arts, although as with most ‘groundbreaking’ research, it raises as many further questions as it gives answers. (Or at least that’s what the researchers were trying to persuade me...)

Speakers ranged from Margaret Hodge to Feargal Sharkey, once an Undertone now head of British Music Rights and possibly Britain’s only strategic ex-pop star via Alan Davey and Robin Simpson (whose blogs I heartily recommend: start at Cultural Playing Field.) There were various workshops, then a panel session where I had that almost impossible task of spotting people put their hands up.

There was a really positive atmosphere throughout the day and it is clear that the voluntary arts are seen differently than was the case when I first wielded a long-arm stapler in their cause. There are lots of questions to work through though: can the sector deliver on quality consistently enough? How is the sector changing given the aging population? How do we encourage better connections with the professional and funded sectors (the right, better connections)? How do we cope with the destruction of adult education in this country? For starters.

You can read all about the conference, and listen to some of the sessions on the Voluntary Arts England site. (Follow the Flickr link there enough and you can see me on stage with Feargal Sharkey. I’m not embarrassed to say that gives me a thrill. Click here to see a seasonal Undertones classic. Or here to see him in full pre-smoking ban glory on my favourite Undertones song. )

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