At the end of November those busy in the realms of Arts Development were indulged in an exciting conference hosted by Birmingham Council and delivered by AD UK. An interesting and diverse programme of talks and discussions were delivered at the New Library of Birmingham an eye-catching building embellished and embroidered with steel and wire. The stitching completed by the roaming giants of the Black Country, or so I’ve heard. The interior is as impressive as the exterior with 9 floors to explore, quiet space, noisy space, engaging space, inspiring space it really ticks all the boxes. I was drawn to the top with a spectacular view of the City and the relocated Shakespeare Library, lovingly rebuilt for the second time, seems very happy within its modern setting and clearly well loved. There is a Secret Garden, a rotating programme of art installations, oh yes, and loads of books. My conference lunchtimes were filled with exploration, what a lively sociable venue. Situated in Centenary square and surrounded by a wealth of other cultural venues, including the Ikon Gallery, Ikon Slow Boat, The Museum and Art Gallery, a wealth of opportunity for discovery and cultural indulgence, a truly great place for the creatively minded to convene. The Christmas craft market was already in full swing, the atmosphere was warm and friendly, Birmingham is well worth a visit if you get the chance.
The conference itself did not disappoint, managing to compete with the excellence of the surroundings. Great to hear some positivity amongst the talk of further cuts, lack of support for arts projects and cut in rates for practitioners. Interesting to discover from the Arts Council that almost 50% of core government funding has been replaced by support from Lottery Funds. The implication being that there are better things to allocate money to than the cultural sector. I fear the holistic, cohesive, transformative power of the arts and the support it offers to the third sector could be being somewhat overlooked!
Great to have the opportunity to hear about grass root projects being delivered in the face of adversity and in-spite of austerity, across communities countrywide. There were great examples presented at the conference of how arts out-reach projects really can help to support many walks of life. How arts development and Artists can bridge the gap between health, education and service users. In the provision of quality projects to targeted, at risk groups art offers an opportunity for engagement that must not be overlooked. We heard about successful youth out reach programmes inspiring through drama and performance, empowering and engaging creative activities working with elderly dementia patients offering short term release from symptoms, memory benefits and providing well needed fun and support for carers. I presented observations and evidence from our Trim Tots Healthy Lifestyle Programme and was well received, even supported through a bout of wobbly nerves by a fully interactive audience. Without Arts Development and opportunity to learn from each other’s practice a whole area of community engagement and conversation could be lost. We hope to see Arts Development represented in local Government, as Artists, we need this support. When working with Arts Development Officers and other larger Organizations able to deliver programming and other project aspects we are enabled to create in the purest fashion, this artistic freedom allows project content to evolve to its highest, ensuring successful project delivery and positive outcomes for the health and well-being of our audience. Without Arts Development and the support offered by this sector we as Artists are in trouble, we can’t do it all. The AD UK conference was truly inspiring and to use the words of a colleague, collaborator and Arts Development Officer, ‘This Conference has reminded me why I do what I do.’
The conference provided a great networking opportunity and even included a moment of Artistic engagement, delivered by the alternative chefs at SSoCial, we were guided thought the creation of our own flavoured sauces, cooking up recipes for change in the arts! Thank you to all at ADUK not only for delivering a diverse and interesting programme but also for supporting and championing the work of the sector.