The UK is a time of “terrifying” change – in culture, technology, identity and more – putting pressure onto cultural institutions to reflect and react on their engagement strategies. The idea of Cultural Democracy has become a new focus of attention for both policymakers and practitioners – and promises to radically re-invent how we understand the role of the cultural institution.
So can we call the museum a democratic institution? No. The better question is ‘Can the museum be a democratic institution?’ And if so, how?
Crisis in the arts is both perpetual and endlessly new. Why hasn’t this changed?
Most likely because the people deciding aren’t changing – the UK’s government subsidised cultural sector involves mostly white, middle class, university educated actors in decision making.
Few are asking who is not in the room, few are looking outside the established colonial norm of the sector – those who do can find themselves punished by the institutional status quo.
Governments in democratic liberal societies cannot force people to engage with subsidised culture, but they can work.
- To widen access to existing culture (the democratisation of culture)
- To enable a more democratic culture base (cultural democracy)
A challenge for future cultural democracy will be characterised by ahyperinstrumentalism model in which funding structures will favour social outcomes before “good” art. That is to say that artistic value will no be a derterminant policy of direction.
Let’s be clear!
The democratisation of culture is a top-down process in which the “official” culture, typically represented by large and well-funded institutions, is made “accessible” to non- participating communities, often in the belief that it will do them good.
Meanwhile, Cultural democracy is a bottom-up process presenting the public’s chosen forms of cultural expression and engagement as valid, rather than promoting a prescribed definition of “the arts”. It involves many shifts away from the top-down model:
- seeking a genuine cultural pluralism
- giving rights to access outputs and the means to give inputs
- not opposing the high arts, nor focusing on production of the “right” art
- producing the right conditions for communities to have their creative voices
- recognised and the space to develop
- inciting an inversion of our current cultural institutions