New visions based on pluralism
Cultural policies driven by nation-building objectives are being increasingly challenged by individuals and groups who may not necessarily contest this motivation, yet ask for their more immediate needs to be met first. Because of bureaucratic lags, however, the more participatory approaches that governments are ready to define are often out of phase with real needs by the time they are implemented. This is very likely to be true in the domain of cultural life, where change is rapid but policy rigid. A subtler shift in vision is the growing conviction that the state should not be seen primarily as a supplier of cultural facilities and services to the public. The reigning supply-led approach is expensive; it is also top-down and easily overlooks minority needs. Implementing a demand-led policy is more easily said than done, however. Only a handful of countries, Sweden and The Netherlands among them, have defined strategies to promote cultural participation as an important dimension of a cosmopolitan society. In its 1995 proposals regarding the direction of cultural policy in Sweden, the Governmental Cultural Committee calls for further broadening through a recognition that participation in cultural life be linked to forces generally considered outside the arts. Elements in a new participation strategy include increasing the interplay between cultural policies and other social and educational sectors. Such thinking is relatively new. Further comparative research into changing patterns of participation as well as examples of best practices are required to bolster this positive trend. Strengthening the process would help to put people, and not institutions and products, at centre stage. Such a policy would have to be permanently in phase with evolving lifestyles, interests and creative potentials. This is illustrated in Zimbabwe where crafts, dress, design, food, traditional medicine, environmental practices and religion, are all important components in that country's new cultural policy.
Integrative policy frameworks. Few governments have institutions that represent adequately both majority and minority interests. Policies rarely reflect the traditions and mores of all segments of the national or local community. In a survey conducted in the United States in 1992, for example, 127 grantees, i.e. the grassroots practitioners, ranked pluralism/cultural diversity second among the most important social or economic issues; 168 grant-makers, however, ranked it fourth. Real access to basic political and civil rights is what determines how much "space" is available for excluded groups to build their own representative organizations. Yet the world's first national multicultural legislation appeared in Canada only in 1988 when the new Multiculturalism Act gave statutory authority to a range of government policies and programmes to support cultural diversity as a fundamental feature of Canadian society. This was but a first step towards supporting the more fundamental call to "diversify the mainstream" of cultural policy and cultural life. The Commission advocates that this approach should serve as a model for other countries.
Respect for diversity is essential, but it must go hand in hand with the promotion of dialogue if the formation of new ghettos is to be avoided. We must also remember that cultural diversity is not just ethnic diversity. Women are under-represented and underrated in cultural activities, both in their creative contributions and in their managerial and organizational roles. Ground-breaking initiatives by the Arts Council of England in providing assessment and support for the creativity of disabled people is an example that more countries should follow. Both young and old people often are neglected o ignored, and effective participation programmes that directly offer them opportunities and choices should be introduced.
Considerable progress has been made in the last few decades in the promotion of cultural democracy and the protection of human rights. Many individuals and communities throughout the world, particularly those belonging to minority groups or who are socially marginalized, are still excluded from the cultural life of their societies. Cultural rights are now recognized as belonging to a more recent generation of human rights. The core cultural right is that of each person to participate fully in cultural life. All such rights still need clearer definition, however. They should naturally be incorporated into the policy framework. Their legal status at the international and national level should be strengthened through participatory negotiation between state agencies and diverse groups (indigenous peoples, minority groups, migrants) so that each group can contribute to the formulation of policies for their understanding, respect and acceptance.
Empowerment based on the principle of cultural self-determination is particularly sought after by minorities. It is also desired by the world's indigenous peoples, as they ask for greater devolution of power to their communities. Their use of the term does not imply political independence, as has been made clear in the way these claims have been brought to international attention in the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations and in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. In the latter, a Working Group for Indigenous Populations has been in existence since 1972. Its efforts have led to a Declaration on Indigenous Peoples which aims at achieving not only greater protection for them but also fuller cultural rights. The Commission supports this process.
There is the question of access to power. Formulating and carrying out concrete measures to promote access is the task of both the state and civil society. Only the broader involvement of all levels of society in cultural life assures the full democratic life. It is the state's business to ensure that public institutions are designed to encourage balanced contributions from all sections of society. From the point of view of civil society, empowerment requires access to information, as well as channels for expression, representation and redress. Programmes designed to enhance access to information and the media as vehicles of expression and representation should be further developed, especially those addressing women, the socially marginalized and members of minority groups. The creation of cultural associations and the establishment of community and alternative radio, television and new media networks, can also play a significant role in this field, just as much in inner city Los Angeles as in rural South East Asia.
From arts to creativity. As the Commission has outlined in chapter 3 it is the creative life that gives meaning to people's existence; yet most policy debates have skirted the issue of creativity. The terms creativity and creative expression are often euphemisms for support of the professional arts and artistic and heritage institutions. The professional arts and artists are of course essential contributors to the aesthetic life of any society. But a focus on them alone can result in the underdevelopment of the creative potential of the community and the benefits that can be derived from an inventive population. Often cultural policy is confined to policy for the arts, with an exclusive emphasis on the pursuit of artistic and institutional excellence. A form of policy handicap ensues, inadvertently diverting debate from the support of diversity, choice and citizen participation to tired questions of "high" versus popular art, professional versus amateur status, or whether craft, folk and other popular art forms should be eligible for support.
The sometimes glorified position of the professional artist should not lead to the neglect of humbler, often amateur, undertakings which inject a vital substance into the social fabric. A wider view of creativity would also give less weight to official designations of what art is or is not and whose art it is. In some settings more support should go to street events and public fiestas than to concerts halls and theatres. Is visual art only pieces showcased in museums and art galleries? What place should be given to murals on city walls, to inner city graffiti, or, for those with access, the Internet's World Wide Web? To promote creativity, efforts that allow both the creator and the public to participate collectively in the rebirth of a more colourful environment are required. Reggae music's Rasta roots of Jamaica, the Jagran Company street theatre in Delhi and the Bread and Puppet Theatre of New York have all been spontaneous, community creations. Good art, they have carried powerful social messages as well. Providing an enabling environment for such ventures no doubt means support that does not smother them, that is less direct and official.