Broadening Cultural Policy
As culture becomes the basis for development, it is essential that the concept of cultural policy is broadened. Traditionally, this policy has been limited to the promotion of art and cultural life, as well as the protection of the nations cultural heritage. But if culture is to play a major role in development, cultural and development policies should not be considered separate.
In countries like Indonesia and Kenya culture and development have been linked for years. After independence, culture was an important channel through which to express the nations autonomy. And this could only be achieved through development.
The richer countries have only recently discovered this broad view of cultural life. The Australian government produced A Creative Nation in 1994, a document that argued for a far more comprehensive definition of culture. In other countries, like the United Kingdom and Canada, this changing perception formed part of a series of government savings. Ministries were merged, coupling culture with other social activities such as sport and tourism.
From theory to practice
Most governments have their work cut out turning these promises into practical measures. Often, old policy models are in place that not longer suffice. While the kind of vision needed for this new approach is totally lacking. In Central and Eastern Europe much of culture once formed part of the resistance to the oppressive regimes that existed there. Now that these regimes have disappeared, the demand for culture has diminished and financial support has evaporated.
A significant factor in the production and proliferation of culture is the market. The economic value of culture is increasingly recognised, so that more funds are made available. In the United States, the entertainment industry is the largest export sector after air and space travel. One danger here is that culture is reduced to a commercial product, at the cost of its dignity and significance.
Because of the growing importance of the market, governments will be confronted increasingly by the tension between commercial and public interests, between the need to reduce costs and attempts to serve everyones interests. These tensions will be particularly evident in the media and publishing sectors. Here the role of government will have to be limited to cushioning negative market influences, supporting producers and distributers, as well and as helping establish an international legal infrastructure.
In the year 2000, 3.2 billion people - half the worlds population - will be living in cities. To ensure that retain a habitable environment a cultural policy is required to give cities a human dimension and to reduce social tensions. Cultural policies in American and Western European cities have to date invariably involved a significant economic ingredient. So that a major focus has been the renovation of old city centres and the realisation of a cultural infrastructure.
However, this approach has proved inadequate in the face of problems such as youth violence and alienation. For this a more profound approach is needed, such as the American HIP-HOP project (Highways into the Past: History, Organizing and Power) in which school pupils are taken to historical sites relating to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. This introduces them to the power of nonviolence.
New visions, based on pluralism
The policy model in which government provides cultural activities and services, is outdated. Not only is it expensive, policies imposed from above often fail to take account of the needs of minority groups. Yet it is not easy to replace a supply-oriented policy with one focused on the demand. In some countries, including Sweden and the Netherlands, strategies have been developed to promote cultural participation in society. Part of the strategy involves promoting the interplay between cultural policy and other social sectors. Another country that chose this path is Zimbabwe. Here crafts, clothing, design, food, traditional medicines, environment and religion are all significant aspects of the new cultural policy.
One of the problems associated with this form of cultural policy is that not all social groups have the same access to culture. Few countries have institutions that represent the interests of minorities in culture. To protect cultural rights, appropriate measures must be taken, such as multicultural legislation. Another essential aspect is that minorities be able to obtain access to information channels and channels to express their views.
Naturally, this cultural policy cannot remain limited to art. Focusing exclusively on professional artists and cultural heritage leads to an underdeveloped creative potential in society as a whole. Of course the artist plays an important role in society, but so do pop musicians and graffiti artists. Creative imagination is one of the foundations of economic and human development. This requires coordination between cultural activities and aspects such as town planning, recreation and education.
Another important task of cultural policy is the protection of artists rights. The new media (Internet, video) have made it easier to break the copyright laws. It is therefore incumbent on governments to negotiate and establish commercial pacts, like the GATT accords, containing Trade Related Intellectual Property agreements.
In practice, cultural policy does not have a high priority. Culture is often dredged up by politicians at election time, and this can result in short-term projects. But there are countries, like Canada, in which cultural policy forms one of the branches of foreign policy. Here culture is employed to improve relations with other countries and to encourage trade. In fact, its effectiveness is diminishing, due to the increase in exchange programmes organised by private institutions and individuals.
Despite the ability of art to encourage exports, governments spend less money on this sector today than they did in the 1980s. The reason for this is the perception that art is a luxury which burdens the economy. Only a few countries, one being the Netherlands, have a policy in which art finance is guaranteed on a long-term basis.
Globally, there is tendency to diversify finance sources - government, private funding and commerce. But sponsoring has also raised false hopes. In countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, the cultural sector has been left entirely to the free market. To achieve a broader approach to the cultural sector, other government measures are needed, such as incentive premiums and tax inducements. Even lotteries can be used for this, although in practice these measures are never ideal.
To improve support for the cultural sector in the regional and global economy, a more flexible cooperation is required within and between governments, the free market and society. A redistribution of functions between national, regional and local authorities may solve this dilemma. Cooperation between government and volunteer organisations is also cited in the report as a way of achieving a broader base.
Discussions between organs in different sectors may prove to be one of the most important functions of ministries of culture. Only then will it be possible to succeed in constructing new policy frameworks.