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Arts funding: new challenges and opportunities
Animated, Winter 1999. Do we need a cultural policy asks Anthony Everitt?
University conference centres occupy a kind of half way house between academic austerity and the comfort of the commercial hotel. It is not exactly one thing or another, and offers a bland no-man's-land where strangers can meet, as in an Agatha Christie mystery, and engage in the sometimes murderous cut-and-thrust of specialist debate.

So it was that 20 or so senior arts administrators from every continent on the globe gathered last November to debate cultural policy. The week-long colloquy, Arts Funding: New Challenges and Opportunities, was one of the British Council's regular series of International Seminars. It took place at Birmingham University's Peter Scott House.

I found myself, dauntingly, at the centre of events, for the British Council had invited me to devise the programme of lectures and chair the ensuing discussions. I selected a distinguished roster of senior figures from the United Kingdom's arts funding community: Rod Fisher, Director of the International Arts Bureau; Kathryn McDowell, Director of Music at the Arts Council of England; Ken Robinson, Professor of Arts Education at Warwick University; Sue Robertson, Director of the London Arts Board; Dorothy Wilson, Director of the Midlands Arts Centre; Mary Allen, former Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House (and one-time Secretary-General of the Arts Council of England); Anthony Sargent, Head of Arts and Entertainment at Birmingham City Council; Sally Luton, Director of West Midlands Arts; and Gavin Jantjes, Director of the Henie Onstad Centre in Oslo. Our aim was to use British models as the starting point for international comparisons, with participants expected to offer their own experiences.

The underlying theme of our exchanges was the relationship between arts policy and cultural policy. In the introductory session the seminar examined the interconnecting meanings of the word 'culture'. If I brought a personal view to the proceedings it was that, despite my record as guardian of the 'high' (or as Raymond Williams called them, the 'old') arts during my decade at the Arts Council of Great Britain/ England, it was this: it is next to impossible to argue for the arts if one does not set them in a broader context of the cultural life of citizens.

But what does one mean by culture? The question cannot readily be answered without being clear about definitions. Culture is a concept or rather a nexus of related concepts, which, not unlike a snowball tumbling down a slope, has gathered multiple accretions of significance.

The set text at Birmingham was the Council of Europe's study of European culture and development, In from the Margins, which I wrote and edited for a task force of European experts. It offers one all-embracing definition. Culture, at its most extensive, encompasses the totality of a community's learned experience - its conventions and values - economic, legal, political, religious, moral, familial, technological, scientific and aesthetic. It is well described in the Declaration of Mondiacult (world conference on Cultural Policies, organised under the auspices of UNESCO in 1982 at Mexico City): "In its widest sense, culture may now be said to be the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features which characterise a society or social group. It includes, not only the arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and habits."(1)

In this sense, culture is a leading source of intellectual renewal and human growth, "... it is culture that gives man the ability to reflect upon himself. It is culture that makes specifically human, rational beings, endowed with a critical judgement and a sense of moral commitment. It is through culture that man expresses himself, becomes aware of himself, recognises his incompleteness, questions his own achievements, seeks untiringly for new meanings and creates works through which he transcends his limitations.' (2) This is not without its inherent problems, but, for the purposes of the present discussion, this definition could be labelled A-Culture.

There is a second usage, which embraces all kinds of creative production, especially those developed in the last century that exploit mechanical or electronic forms of reproduction and enable distribution to mass audiences or markets. It is often preceded by the clarificatory, if patronising, adjective - popular. This kind of 'culture' is synonymous with a comprehensive definition of the arts which appears in Public Law 209 of the 89th United States Congress. The term 'the arts' includes, but is not limited to, music (instrumental and vocal), dance, drama, folk art, creative writing, architecture and allied field, painting, sculpture, photography, graphic and craft arts, industrial design, costume and fashion design, motion pictures, television, radio, tape and sound recording, the arts related to the presentation, performance, execution, and exhibition of such major artforms, and the study and application of the arts to the human environment. In Birmingham we called it B-Culture.

Thirdly, in some mouths, culture is broadly equivalent to what are nicknamed in Britain the 'high arts'. That is to say it denotes, as the 19th century English critic and poet, Matthew Arnold, put it, "acquainting ourselves with the best that has been known and said in the world, and thus with the history of the human spirit."(3) This is the field of activity which was denominated as C-Culture.

These distinctions are not simply terminological, for they suggest a model of the interconnections between society and the world of imagination that may be of practical value to the policy maker. It is immediately evident that they fit inside each other like a nest of coffee tables or a set of Russian Babushka dolls of descending size. The point is that the arts are a sub-set or a particular expression of wider values. They are a source of creativity, reflection, morals and social criticism. They are not simply a rational instrument, but also a potential seedbed of contradictions, conflicts and irrationalities which more often than not characterise all reflective and creative processes. Reflection is an important concept here, for it distinguishes some cultural activities from others - namely, the arts, sciences and religion from the everyday practices of lived culture. In a word, B-Cultures and C-Cultures are perhaps the essential means of discussing A-Culture.

Whether they have explicitly acknowledged it or not, all Western democracies since the Second World War have implemented cultural strategies (in the broad anthropological definition) which have been based on certain generally shared principles. These A-Culture policies have included the provision of opportunities for all citizens to participate in social and political activity, the promotion of cultural identity, the recognition and encouragement of diversity in contemporary society and the fostering of creativity in every field of endeavour.

This message was not altogether welcome at Birmingham. Opinions varied sharply. Some took a distinctly dim view that the arts should be so closely interlinked with larger social concerns and resented any idea that arts funding systems should stray too far from C-Culture to the broad terrain of B-Culture with its rock and pop music, television shows, the community arts and amateur and voluntary creativity.

The seminar was designed, perhaps a little pretentiously, on the model of the double helix. One strand reviewed funding structures at different levels in the hierarchy of state power - international, national, regional and local. The other, spiralling round it, focused on key themes of cultural policy - creative participation, social exclusion, and cultural diversity.

The seminar also looked at some important but rather more technical issues - evaluation, accountability and peer assessment.

Some shared understandings emerged from our five days of lectures and debates. The first was the surprising conclusion that we had a great deal in common, whatever our culture of origin. Fisher made the interesting point that, however different funding structures may appear to be around the world, they have in fact been converging in recent years.

After a frank analysis by Allen, the arts council concept took quite a severe beating; but there was a general consensus that independent peer assessment in decision-making about arts grants remained essential. Robinson and other speakers reminded us forcefully that humanity was living through a period of phenomenal and unceasing change. This was as significant for creative practitioners as for educationists or economists.

Jantjes spoke movingly of the need to foster diversity in contemporary society. McDowell attacked the old divisions between the hieratic caste of professional artists and voluntary practitioners: indeed she showed convincingly that more and more artists (for instance, composers) thrive on the synergy between the two sectors.

In the open prison which was our conference centre we hammered things out session by session - only occasionally being let out for a tour around Birmingham's new civic splendours and to witness the wonderful vivacity of the Midlands Arts Centre. The seminar came to no firm conclusions. But then it was not meant to do so. It was a form of therapy that enabled us to rehabilitate our ideas.

Anthony Everitt, Writer and Journalist. He is also Visiting Professor of Visual and Performing Arts at Nottingham Trent University and was formerly Secretary-General, of the Arts Council of Great Britain, 1985-94. Email

1 Everitt, Anthony, In from the Margins, A contribution to the debate on culture and development in Europe, Council for Europe Publishing, 1997.
2 Ibid.
3 Arnold, Matthew, Literature and Dogma, 1873.

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001