Government ministers should show their support for British culture by publicly embracing artistic pursuits, according to a new report by the think-tank Demos. Cultural Value and the Crisis of Legitimacy says that politicians are too timid about showing their passion for culture. It also argues that the cultural sector has become too focused on fulfilling the objectives of funding bodies at the expense of satisfying audiences.
The report will be launched on 29th March 2006 by the Culture Minister David Lammy MP.
Demos compares British politicians unfavourably with their counterparts in other countries. The report points to the active support of politicians for the cultural sector in France, where the Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin is a serious, published poet. It suggests that the cultural sector in the UK would benefit if the British Prime Minister followed suit. In New Zealand, the Prime Minister Helen Clark also serves as Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage to ensure that the cultural sector has a high degree of political support.
"Politicians must show more leadership in their engagement and enjoyment of culture", says John Holden, author of the report and head of culture at Demos. "They should be seen at performances, express their preferences, and talk to the media about their enthusiasms."
"If the Prime Minister was to write poetry or paint, or at the very least show his face in galleries and concert halls, it would send a powerful message of support for the cultural sector in the UK. For too long, British politicians have failed to be explicit about their interest in and support for culture. The public are far ahead of both politicians and the media in their active support for culture."
Too many senior politicians, fearful of tabloid negativity, avoid public association with culture at a time when the evidence points to increasing public engagement with and enthusiasm for the arts. One in four people think that public spending on the arts in their local area is too low, while cultural institutions such as museums and galleries demonstrate 95 percent satisfaction ratings, higher than any other public services.
The report also argues that culture policy focuses too much on tackling other government priorities, such as social exclusion, and fails to take into account the interests of the viewing public. Arts professionals need to gain greater legitimacy and support for what they do by finding new ways to engage with the public.
"Culture needs a democratic mandate," says John Holden. "The answer to the question ‘why fund culture?’ should be ‘because the public wants it’. Until politicians understand what the public values about culture - and until cultural professionals articulate that demand - culture will remain vulnerable to indifference or attack."
Notes to editors
- Cultural Value and the Crisis of Legitimacy: Why culture needs a democratic mandate by John Holden is published by Demos, with the support of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, on 29th March 2006. Copies can be downloaded from www.demos.co.uk/publications/culturallegitimacy or ordered from Central Books on 020 8986 5488.
- Cultural Value and the Crisis of Legitimacy will be launched by the Culture Minister David Lammy MP on Wednesday 29th March, 5:30-7:30 pm. The launch event will take place at The Unicorn Theatre, 147 Tooley Street, London (directly opposite Demos’ offices). Please register for the event by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
- John Holden is head of culture at Demos.
- Demos is the think tank for everyday democracy. It has a long-running interest in culture and public engagement in arts policy-making.
- The UK Branch of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is responsible for grant aid in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The UK Branch supports funding programmes in arts, social welfare and education, and Anglo-Portuguese cultural relations. The programme directors also initiate projects and commission reports and publications in connection with their funding programmes, which reflect and promote current priorities, concerns and areas of interest.
- To coincide with the publication of Cultural Value and the Crisis of Legitimacy, Demos is holding an exhibition with Kingston University and the Design Museum, celebrating ‘everyday democracy’. The Everyday Democracy Exhibition will run from 15th March to 8th April 2006 at the Stanley Picker Gallery, Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture, Kingston University, Kingston, KT1.