apologies for cross-posting
Received a few days ago and circulated with permission, the following seems to me to pick
up very significant arguments for us in Aotearoa New Zealand: the comparisopn with
Scotland is in some ways more persuasive than the comparisons with Finland and Ireland
that are regularly evoked by ministers: two big cities, one commercial one political; a
large rural hinterland; a long struggle to secure a 21st century economic base; a
remembered history of land seizures; and a forgotten history of working class mobilisation
. . .
Beyond Social Inclusion
Towards Cultural Democracy
Scotland: Cultural Policy Collective, 2004
Cultural democracy refers to a set of political arguments addressing inequalities in
cultural provision and challenging the destructive influence of the marketplace. Although
never aligned to a particular party, it has informed grassroots arts projects and radical
approaches to cultural policy. By contrast, present government initiatives are premised on
the top-down ‘democratisation’ of culture, a process aimed at engaging members of
‘excluded’ groups in historically privileged cultural arenas. Such a policy neither
reforms the existing institutional framework of culture, nor reverses a process of
damaging privatisation. Instead, it attempts to make the arts more accessible in order to
adapt its target audiences to an increasingly deregulated labour market. Against this
questionable form of democratisation, our arguments for cultural democracy emphasise
people’s rights to public space and the public sector as domains of democratic expression.
They challenge the dominance of both the market and the state in defining the existing
avenues of cultural development.
Under the impact of globalisation, governments have identified cultural industries as
sources of urban regeneration and cultural activity as an instrument of social change. But
these policies are underpinned by neoliberal politics, promoting economic ‘flexibility’
and greater insecurity. Rather than confront growing inequality and social fragmentation,
politicians focus instead on small-scale projects that demonstrate forms of ‘inclusion’ or
‘diversity’. These may appear to be democratic, but, we argue, they are market-led and
tokenistic. For cultural policy under New Labour, various forms of co-option are the order
of the day. Alternatively, we prioritise sites within the public sector as arenas for the
development of democratic cultural expression. We discuss the reinvigoration of public
service broadcasting in the form of a democratic television network. We emphasise the
potential of an expanded network of public libraries as multi-use cultural centres,
reversing the concentration of arts venues in urban areas. And we challenge the discourse
of ‘cultural diversity’, arguing instead for a concentration on the histories and
experience of immigration as the best means of opposing racism.
Cultural democracy emphasises the importance of reflective knowledge and meaningful
communication for a healthy polity. Universal cultural provision is a right and is crucial
to any process of democratic change.