Dr Nick Owen MBE PLUS

Working in and on the Business of Cultural Education

…  41 .. the 26 … Big …. Up: Reimaginings

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On 26 October 2022, Arts Council England will announce the results of their long-awaited investment decisions into which arts and cultural organisations have been successful in their applications to become National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) or Investment Principles Support Organisations (IPSOs) between 2023 and 2026. The Mighty Creatives are in the same position as everyone else in the sector and are ready for the email on 26 October which will tell us about what our relationship with Arts Council England will be over the next 3 years.  

So, in the meantime, in the spirit of hoping for the best but planning for the worst, here’s another reflection which highlights some of the amazing work the charity has done for, with and by children and young people in the East Midlands over the last ten years.

Today’s reflection: Welcome to the Kingdom of Mercia

Welcome to the Kingdom of Mercia, one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. The name, Mercia, means “border people”, probably quite apt given our discussions today regarding the future direction of the regions’ Local Cultural Education Partnerships, or LCEPs as they’re fondly referred to in these parts.  

If there was ever a group of people who spent their time working on the borders of culture, education, social activism and economic development, then those people are us – Mercians through and through.

So welcome to the border people of the East Midlands, from Amber Valley and Bolsover, Chesterfield, Derby and Derbyshire, Leicester and Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Norwich, Nottingham and Mansfield and Ashfield.

Welcome to our Western counterparts, the border people of Birmingham, Cannock Chase, Coventry, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Stoke on Trent and North Staffordshire, Tamworth, Telford, Walsall, Warwickshire, Wolverhampton and Worcestershire.  

And a particular Mercian welcome goes out to our other guests for today, our cousins from one of the other six kingdoms of the Heptarchy, East Anglia: and its tribes from Cambridge and Cambridgeshire, Great Yarmouth, Ipswich, Lowestoft, Peterborough, Suffolk  and West Norfolk.

Introduction to Mercia and LCEPs

For those who are in the dark about Mercia, let me introduce you to our Kingdom.

Mercia has always been centred on the valley of the River Trent and its tributaries. It has never had a single capital although the King of Mercia  had an important royal estate in 873 AD in Repton. King Offa, however, he of Offa’s Dyke fame claimed Tamworth in the West as the region’s capital a few years before that.

You’ll be delighted to know that the reign of King Offa is sometimes known as the “Golden Age of Mercia”. Nicholas Brooks noted that “the Mercians stand out as by far the most successful of the various early Anglo-Saxon peoples until the later ninth century.”

So, we have a long and illustrious history today to live up to.  We modestly like to imagine that perhaps our LCEPS are also by far the most successful of the various Anglo Saxon peoples in this part of our century, so today is completely about how we:

•          Share successes, challenges and learning with each other

•          Use our collective expertise to explore key themes which you have said you are interested in

•          Build an understanding about the impact you are making locally in shaping cultural education

•          Celebrate the spirit of collaboration in all LCEPs.

so that in 1220 years time, people will look back at us Mercians (and East Anglians) as leading the Golden Age of LCEPs until who knows when – or at least until the next Arts Council strategic review in 10 years time.

In the absence of Royalty

Speaking of which, I am disappointed to let you know that due to the recently announced election, Richard Russell, our Royal representative  from Arts Council England is now in a state of purdah and is unable to present to us. 

He was going to tell us about the current state of ACE’s 10 year cultural strategic plan and to make the case that LCEPs would be central in their future developments for young people.

He was particularly going to provoke us about what the challenges and opportunities may be for LCEPs in the future and wanted to pose the following questions:

–           How can we – LCEPs – help more children and young people to develop their creativity?

–           How can  we help children and young people engage with the widest possible range of culture?

–           How best can we continue to reflect their local communities and help deliver ‘creative communities’ outcomes? 

–           What are the challenges and opportunities for delivering a joined-up cultural education programme locally?

Whilst it is disappointing that the Royal Richard Russell is unable to join us, this won’t stop us from connecting, networking, sharing and learning from across the Kingdom, or given that East Anglia has joined us, the Queendom.

Right Here, Right Now

Today is the result of a collaboration between the three Bridge Organisations that cover the area – Arts Connect, Festival Bridge and The Mighty Creatives.  There are 9 LCEPs in Festival Bridge area, 8 in The Mighty Creatives area and 13 in Arts Connect area: so that’s quite a gathering.

This gathering of the tribes is the first of its kind – and may well be its last, depending on what happens with the next Arts Council 10 year strategy.  We’re not taking anything for granted in that regard so want to make sure that every moment of today is spent preparing you for the next ten years – getting you LCEP ready if you like for those exciting years ahead.  

You’ll have heard about school readiness and work readiness – well this is your chance to become LCEP ready for the next decade. This means using today to prepare for change , to lift your heads from the everyday trials, tribulations and distractions, to take time to think strategically and to make new cross border connections in the way that we on the borders are so well versed in making.

By their very nature LCEPs respond to their local conditions, have adopted different models and they may be in very different stages of development. So this is an opportunity for all LCEPs present to hear about common and shared directions. 

Following my introduction, you will be given several opportunities to network and find out more about each other in what the Vikings and early Norse settlers would call ‘Things’.

Before our Parliaments, before the High Courts – there were Things.

Things is from the Old Norse word þing, meaning assembly – and were an early system of justice and administration. Things were where political decisions were made, laws upheld and disputes settled. They acted as meeting places and were often the focus for trade and religious activity. In short, an ideal place for LCEPs to gather.

So, the Things you can join today include our

•          Post it wall 

•          Open Space session which gives you a chance to further explore issues

•          8-10 young people from New College Leicester and across the Queendom will play an important role throughout the day generating reportage and feeding back their reflections at the end of the day.

•          Evaluation Survey, which we’ll send you after event

Later on today, you will also be attend one of the following five Things, known more recently as workshop choices:

•          Impact and Evaluation

•          Young People’s Voice

•          Sustainability and Investment

•          Place Making and Identity

•          Schools Engagement

Finally

We hope today will feel friendly and informal, and that it encourages rich conversations and gives you inspiration and ideas to take back to the children and young people of your locality.  Because  in the end, they’re the ones that this is all about.

(Keynote speech given to The Power of Partnerships: The Power of Partnership: Local Cultural Education Partnerships at the Heart of Cultural Education in the Midlands and East Anglia, November 2019)

The Mighty Creatives staff team took part in the Mighty (UN)Mute, a day-long vow of silence, on 5th October 2022. You can check out the campaign here or donate your support to it here.

Or if neither of these is possible (and heaven knows we’re all in tough financial times right now), then anything you can do to share and shout about the campaign would be equally welcomed and appreciated.

Author: drnicko

Awarded an MBE for services to arts-based businesses, I am passionate about generating inspiring, socially engaging, creative practice within educational contexts both nationally and internationally.

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