Thursday, August 1, 2013


So, the Manchester International Festival might be over, but the best free exhibition in town is still on! Mortality: Death and the Imagination runs at the Holden Gallery until 16th August.

By now, I know a good number of people have had the chance to look at the full transcript of the debate in the House of Lords last Thursday and a lot of you have looked at the video too. (see last weeks blog) These are really interesting times for our field, and whilst we all know that the Government’s austerity measures have a long way to go yet and the cuts we’ve felt are only the tip of the iceberg, it doesn’t seem to be stopping our momentum - not least our belief that our work has never been more relevant.

Having only ever read the political proceedings of debates, after the events in Hansard, the opportunity to witness one in the flesh, albeit as a silent partner, was something of a revelation. Ushered up to a narrow balcony over the chamber, I had a vantage point to take in the debate and a little of the theatricality of parliament. 

The opportunity to attend a debate, whilst it wasn’t a packed chamber (the Commons being in recess and the Lords were about to be), was still deeply compelling. The pr essence of the familiar faces of Joan Bakewell and Robert Winston added something to the sense of occasion, with Bakewell a consistent advocate for the arts and recently, older people - Winston of course, a ubiquitous presence on the small screen - and arguably (alongside that ever-young professor from the boy-band), the ‘face’ of popular science. I was very curious as to their take on the debate. More of that in a moment.

I’d been advised that the way these debates are formatted, adheres to rigid rules and however many people had asked to speak, would dictate the allotted time that would be then equally divided between those people. This meant that each speaker had a nine minute allocation. For some of the speakers, this meant that whilst covering the the themes of emotional well-being in both health and education, there was an inevitable passion to frame their stories in work that they were deeply involved in. 

The commitment and passion of all the speakers was palpable and for me, it was a strange position, not to be able to offer approval, support or even the odd whoop of bravo! After all, I’ve been brought up listening to the bear-baiting fervour of the Commons. All those here-here’s, boos and growls, yet not a sound could I utter. So, in respect of my noble colleagues, I offer these modest reflections, as I too take my ‘summer recess’ of two weeks annual leave. 

First of all, the debate was introduced by Baroness Jones of Whitchurch who not only spoke with a deep understanding of the issues, but judging by her own roles and interests inside and outside of Parliament is someone we should be very interested in. Education, culture and the arts and a strong interest in homelessness, the environment and communities, mark this peer out as a committed and articulate advocate for the field, who alongside Baroness Northover - representing both the DCMS and International Development - topped and tailed this debate.

Following on the heels of Baroness Bakewell who in her recognition of the ‘awesomeness of music,’ extolled the impact of the Proms and in particular the impact of the arts on the lives of people affected by disability, Lord Winston inevitably looked at the impact of the arts in scientific terms and its affects on different parts of the brain. His description of evidence from magnetic image resonance scanning of the brain, whilst interesting, perhaps just adds fuel to the age old debate that we need this kind of scientific magic to know that music can just be wonderful, its impact varied and mysterious, and beyond any need for measurement? Lord Howarth’s suggestion that ‘stimulus to the imagination’ might be what counts, tallies with so much of  your responses to my blogging of last weeks debate.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve also been asking for examples of qualitative, or arts-based evaluation, and much intelligent deconstruction of the RCT have ensued! Thank you all for your contributions, which will provide me with much reading over the next couple of weeks. I feel there is much to discuss on this subject which ties into both the debate in the Lords, the rich variety of research being undertaken and of course, the ways in which we continue to advocate for the place of creativity, culture and the arts in wellbeing, health and education.

I’ve gone through the speakers words again in an attempt to distill something of the essence - I offer you a modest ‘anonymised’ cut and paste of the salient points.

         I want to make a different case—
                  the arts for their own sake, 
              for what they provide to our civilisation and the benefits   they impart to our well-being as a nation. This should be a sufficient reason to 
            celebrate, to defend and to invest in our arts culture.

        Celebration, insight, empathy and intellectual exchange.
    The arts lead us to see into the life of things.

   The arts are, in every possible sense, priceless. To equate them with commercial calculations is doing us all a disservice. 
                You cannot quantify it...

      One of the great things about music is that it expresses all 
         humanity. It expresses longing, sadness, anger and humour, it 
    looks at joy, it looks at sadness and at love and {...} hope as well. 
          It is a basic civilising influence on our population.

                        Lifestyles are not simply a matter of individual choice, they are a product of economic and social pressures. 

          The key thing here is the facilitation of artists, which I believe 
   is a good in itself, whatever the specific effects may be, 
                      because the artist’s work is the contribution 
           to society.

               If we slam the doors, we slam them not just on aspiration but 
                also on knowledge, confidence, communication
   and language — and we are just not prepared to see those doors slammed. 
           We are going to keep them open, and we shall have to fight to do 

             The value of that kind of experience is not measurable; it 
    is over and beyond the utilitarian calculus {…} or, all too often, of the 
         Department for Education and of the DCMS, with the Treasury lurking behind them. {…} 
               Poetry, drama and the novel offer insight into human nature, and a moral education—the best kind of moral education, 
           because it is not dogmatic. 
      Matthew Arnold was professor of poetry at the University of Oxford, and 
                 also Chief Inspector of Schools—what a good appointment that was
        by the Govt of the day. He said that the study of literature helps one to
     answer the great question: “How to live?” 
      The study of literature teaches people—to use a term that has lost too
                   many of its positive connotations—discrimination. It teaches them
                   to make moral distinctions, to recognise integrity 
  and quality.

As the House adjourned, I had the opportunity to walk with Lord Howarth along some of those corridors, mulling over what happens next. Clearly we have staunch allies in the Upper House - allies and advocates who see beyond simple reductionism and the value of culture and the arts beyond the miserablist bean-counters. Let us keep this momentum and let us keep our passion and vision. 

...and my final thoughts on that debate? Well actually, I’d like to restate one particular passage of the Earl of Clancarty who for me, hits the nail on the head: 

“The key thing here is the facilitation of artists, which I believe is a good in itself, whatever the specific effects may be, because the artist’s work is the contribution to society. The Government’s primary job in relation to the arts is—or should be—to do just that and must of course include encouraging the potential for creativity from all classes of society. {...} Indeed, in the short term, good art may not give a feeling of well-being at all but may be disturbing and highly critical of society, as much of our best post-war drama was. It is a healthy society which allows artists to have their say, encourages that criticism and, all importantly, offers spaces within which that can happen.”

My sincere thanks to Alan Howarth for his personal and unwavering committment to the arts and his belief in their impact on wellbeing, and for the time he made to share some of the hidden spaces within Westminster. 
MTV Staying Alive Foundation Grant 

The MTV Staying Alive Foundation has announced that its grants programme is currently open for applications. Through its grants programme, organisations led by young people (aged between 15 and 27) that work in HIV prevention can apply for support, which includes a small amount of funding as well as training and development, etc.  The maximum level of funding available is $12,000 per year.  The application process works in two stages. The first stage is a short online form.  If successful at this stage, applicants will be required to fill in a longer form with more details about the applicants organisation and the project for which you they are seeking funding.  The closing date for applications is the 12th August 2013. Read more at 

Clore Poetry & Literature Awards 
The Clore Duffield Foundation has announced that the sixth funding round under its £1 million programme to fund poetry and literature initiatives for children and young people across the UK is now open for applications. Through the programme, schools, FE colleges, community groups, libraries and other arts/cultural organisations can apply for grants of between £1,000 and £10,000 to support participatory learning projects and programmes focused on literature, poetry and creative writing for under 19s. Previous projects that received funding include:
·         Action Transport Theatre, which received a grant of £7,725 to develop primary school children’s appreciation of creative reading and writing through an exploration of traditional European fairy tales, using the power of live theatre performance.
·         Barnet Libraries LONDON Little Listeners: Big Readers project which received a grant of £9,761 to work with children aged 3-4 and targets 36 families where there is no regular reading habit. As well as library-led workshops in schools, volunteers will support targeted families to involve them in regular reading and library visits. 
The closing date for applications is the 7th March 2014. Read more at: 

Nominet Trust ‘Social Tech, Social Change’ Fund 
The Nominet Trust, a UK charity that invests in digital technology to improve lives, has teamed up with the Founders Forum for Good (FFFG) community of entrepreneurs to offer approximately 20 technology and digital startups the opportunity at getting a share of £1 million of funding.The funding is being made available through the ‘Social Tech, Social Change’ fund and is being made available to startups in the hope that they can be turned into profitable – and critically, scalable – businesses that use technology to tackle social challenges. This can be anything ranging from tackling child poverty to climate change. The fund is available to organisations such as Charities; Not-for-profits Community groups; Schools, PTAs, universities or other educational establishments; and Statutory bodies e.g. local authorities Commercially-run organisations that act as social enterprises; etc.  The next closing date for stage 1 applications is the 4th September 2013.  Those applicants successful at this stage will be asked to submit a fuller stage 2 application. Read more at:

Arts Council England Announce 2015 to 2018 
investment plans

A new application process for organisations wishing to apply for Arts Council National Portfolio Funding 

Thank you as ever and normal service will be resumed as soon as possible...C.P.