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Good on the Creative Industries Federation and BBC Arts for getting some high profile spokespeople from the main political parties (from UKIP to Green, and the others in-between) into the Royal Opera House to debate their respective policies on arts and creative industries in front of an audience from those sectors. It’s clearly important that there is a forum for this kind of cross-party public debate as we head towards an election, the result of which will be significant for cultural policy over the next few years.
However it wasn’t a very dramatic affair in the end, despite the surroundings. There was almost too much consensus among the panel members about the usual issues, such as the future of arts funding (‘mixed’), diversity (‘good and we should have more of it’), and access (‘everyone should see great art and anyone should be able to ‘make it’ with the right opportunities’).
On the one hand, this made for a pretty dull 90 minutes, but on the other hand, it was rather alarming. There have been huge shifts in the role and function of creativity and the arts in the last 50 years (since Jennie Lee’s 1965 White Paper in fact, as raised by Deborah Bull of Kings College). But no one on the panel reflected this in their arguments, nor referenced or seemed to have read the recent Warwick Commission findings.
Ed Vaizey mentioned in the closing minutes that there is a huge population of artists, creatives and makers who are producing and consuming art in the digital sphere, and are quite oblivious to the political wrangling taking place around cultural funding and policy. It’s a shame this didn’t come up sooner, as it highlights how the issues identified 50 years ago regarding preservation and ‘access’ are still central to funding imperatives (which some have argued is a good thing), but bear little relevance to the policy needs of existing and emerging creative industry practitioners or the broader UK population in 2015.
There is an inherent contradiction between arts and education policy seeking to preserve and increase access to ‘great’ art, and the real need to support innovation, incubation and development across multiple, complex and diverse ‘cultural and creative industries ecosystems’. This is nothing new, but it was striking that no one seemed to pick up on it.
Indeed, no one on the panel seemed open to a more democratic concept of culture in policy, or a more nuanced understanding of creativity and why it’s important for children (and everyone else), or the potential for a more inclusive concept of ‘excellence’ across the hugely diverse disciplines and domains that make up the contemporary creative industries (many of which didn’t exist 50 years ago).
So in summary, if there is this much consensus and lack of new thinking among the culture spokespeople of the main parties a month before the election, sadly we may be further than we hoped from getting the creative and cultural policy we need after it.
Catch up on the twitter conversation on #CultureDebate
Consensus and regressive chatter at the #CultureDebate
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Douglas is an Associate at BOP Consulting, leading on major multi-stakeholder research and evaluation projects in the UK and internationally.
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