Think piece: 'seismographs', 'watch dogs' or 'change agents'? Artistic interventions and cultural policy in processes of social transformation.

Author:Schneider, Wolfgang
Position:Special Issue: Cultural Economies and Cultural Activism

What are the roles of art and artists in the transformation of society? What impact can cultural policy have on the structures of cultural governance or artistic production? I will not here be referring primarily to funding systems, markets, finance or economics, but to culture's social relevance and its potential for social transformation. This is not a question about representation either, but of intervention. And the concerns of contemporary cultural policy are no longer just about local arts organisations, regional support of structures for culture, or national programmes for arts education. They concern the international relationships between artists; culture as a factor in development; and concern knowledge that has been generated by a comparative analysis of cultural management. Culture is now rightly understood as a source of knowledge, creativity and strategy for the development of society. A principal task for cultural policy is therefore to create and support structures that promote the mobilisation of artistic creativity--and of the people who operationalise creativity, the artists and others, and thus ensure welfare, innovation and pluralism.

A dimension of our research enterprise at the Department of Cultural Policy, University of Hildesheim (Germany), focuses on good governance for culture, which involved examining the range of aspirations, objectives, control mechanisms and the functioning of institutions, their principles and structures. The concepts of "good governance" for Cultural Policy has hitherto been given all too little attention by researchers (and policy makers). We are thus investigating what transparency and participation, efficiency, accountability, market economy, the rule of law and justice, all mean within and for cultural political action--and crucially, what they mean within the processes of social, particularly democratic, transformation.

Within this complex bundle of subjects resides the question of the role of the arts and of individual artists in the development of society, (and also, of course, in the role of business enterprises within the framework of corporate social and cultural responsibility--though this is not my subject here). Our research enterprise is also demanding further clarification on what freedom, and what regulatory contexts, the arts and artists need within social development and what form or role arts education should take, given that these contexts can be diverse and changing. Moreover, we need to be able to discuss the connection of the role of the arts in the development of society with the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions (cf. The 2005 UNESCO Convention), which itself will entail the question on the nature of the interconnection of the arts with the broader "creative industries". How can the creative industries promote (or inhibit?) the role of the arts in social development?

It is the subject of policy debate, what cultural policy structures are required in the granting of a social role and function to the arts, and the extent to which cultural policies need to be reviewed in the light of this. In this context we need further clarification on which forms of cooperation and exchange will be needed (and between whom), and what demand currently exists for the training of artists and cultural managers in developing countries.

When we think of "good governance" as providing a new basis for society, what is required to facilitate good cultural governance? Let us use the term governance as a bridge that serves to advance interdisciplinary dialogue, interconnecting the debates and discourses of different disciplines, and bring together political science and cultural research. Governance requires the coordination and oversight of complex social systems and their semi-autonomous agents and actors; cultural governance would require this in the cause of the organization of cultural diversity and cultural participation. Cultural policy therefore needs goals that could provide a basis for governance competency. The implementation of these goals requires strategies that cross the concerns and competencies of state and society. The concept of good governance has an important role to play: how does "society" (civil society; citizens; other public sector agencies) view or comprehend cultural policy? Who should be the principal actors of good cultural governance, what infrastructure is required, and how could it be created?

The goals of cultural policy tend to be based on content (kinds of desired or valued arts and culture) rather than pure economics or values of exchange. Content, structure and processes are some of the dimensions of cultural policy, and where governance is concerned we would need to pay particular attention to structures and processes. Per se, governance is neither a goal of cultural policy, nor a sphere of activity within cultural policy, but serves to question what systems of management and control are actively involved in the attainment of cultural policy goals. Governance goes beyond the goals and competencies of cultural management itself, as it focuses strongly on how such goals are devised in the first instance, and can be constructed, deliberated upon and agreed by all actors and agencies involved. As an administrative concept, and embedded in the idea of the "activating" or empowering State, governance aims to involve civil society and its refined problem-solving skills in order to overcome broader social or public challenges. It is not a question of competition between the various competencies and activities of civil society actors, but rather of a fundamental cooperation between the governmental and non-governmental. Existing efforts and practical successes can be built upon and strengthened using the conceptual and strategic potential of governance.

The concept of governance is grounded in the need for shared responsibility and responsible partnership. The state, the market and civil society are not set against each other, but interconnected. The concept helps us focus on the cultural wellbeing of every citizen, especially in the way the arts can offer every person powers of -. Arts allows us to recognize values and make decisions in our search for meaning; arts are how people express themselves, gain self-awareness and create works that allow them to expand...

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