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‘There are no votes in culture’ is a well-worn axiom in UK politics: and, judging by the party manifestos issued last week, it holds as true as ever.
Although all contain dutiful references to culture and creative industries (usually somewhere after page 50), to read them is to form an impression of a small, marginal set of activities, albeit ones we are rather good at.
Most striking is how culture and creative industries are presented: in their own self-contained sections, separate from other major policy concerns. Now this is partly just the way in which manifestos are written. But it is also a sign of how little the culture and creative industries still actually figure in the political imagination. A manifesto for the UK which truly understood and embraced culture and creative industries would look rather different.
First, it would be underpinned by a simple core philosophy, such as the following from Robert Hewison:
‘Culture is a mutual creation that uses the resources of shared traditions and the collective imagination to generate a public good.’
Second, its structuring principles might not have to shadow the traditional spectrum of political thinking, but instead be led by concepts such as beauty, justice and progress:
The experience of beauty is critical to our understanding of the potential of our capacities. It can also shed light on our failings: the self-inflicted ills and injuries which mar our common existence. From such understanding flows action and the capacity to change.
As with material wealth, the opportunities to contribute to and benefit from culture are unevenly distributed at present. This is unjust, as well as a waste of human potential. Greater effort should be directed to redressing this state of affairs.
All too often culture reinforces the status quo, serving the interests of a select few. But culture can be both an instrument of change, and help us to cope with change that is beyond our control. The institutions that foster and promote culture urgently need to change themselves – to adapt to the huge structural shifts that threaten to overtake them, and to open out to the society around them.
Finally, this creativity-and-culture-first approach has much to say about the more traditional silos of government thinking:
An increasing number of future jobs will come from the creative and cultural sector: highly skilled, well paid and fulfilling jobs, and ones that are relatively difficult to ‘lose’ to other places. This is a sector where there are currently untapped trade opportunities: there are huge export markets emerging across the world hungry for UK products and services. Future innovation, especially in information and communication based technologies, will be driven by consumers’ desire to interact with each other and to have life enriching experiences – in other words, culture.
Knowing who you are and where you come from engenders confidence and self-esteem. This is the start of a prosperous and fulfilled individual life. Understanding other cultures breeds tolerance and open-mindedness. This is the start of a cohesive and adaptable society. Engaging in creative learning enhances critical and problem-solving skills. Combining this with science, maths, technology and coding will produce the enquiring and agile minds of the future.
The only effective way to deal with climate change is to change attitudes and behaviours in relation to the environment. This is a cultural project; a collective re-imagining of how we use the earth’s finite resources.
Cities, Growth and Regeneration
Culture is an important organising principle for the future sustainable city: local distinctiveness, high quality design, civic expression and engagement, real jobs, dynamic businesses, resilience and adaptability.
Not just bricks and mortar, but affordable well designed homes in safe neighbourhoods, well served by cultural and recreational amenities so that people can live fulfilled and healthy lives – in cohesive communities. In our increasingly diverse society culture is the way we build tolerance and shared values.
Health and wellbeing
Engagement with culture and creative activity increases wellbeing at all stages of life. This decreases the chance of illness and disease, which in turn takes pressure off the health service. Engagement with culture can have remedial and palliative effects for certain physical and mental conditions.
Our future security in an increasingly complex and multi-polar world depends on building mutual trust and understanding. Culture or ‘soft power’ of brings about peace and prosperity though the transmission of ideas and values.
So to challenge the dictum we began with, perhaps if culture and creativity were positioned in this way, they would be vote-winners. And to take another common political axiom – ‘no-one ever reads manifestos’ - perhaps they would if they were more like this.
If there were votes in culture
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By BOP Consulting
Co-Founder and Director
Paul is a leading international advisor and practitioner in cultural policy and creative economy. He is Co-Founder of BOP, and alongside his fellow directors he has pioneered now well-established methods to measure the impact of cultural policy.
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