Evolving Cultural Policy in England: the individual,
Communities and Well-being
Independent Cultural Analyst, Honorary Professor at City University, England
The purposes and consequences of funding for the arts are inherently controversial and frequently divisive. What kind of art or performance should be funded and who should decide? Why, in a democracy, should taxpayers support minority taste – whether in opera, the plastic arts, or any other area of performance? Should disadvantaged communities be favoured over privileged constituencies? And if so, should their tastes and desires be taken into account?
These questions, posed by the British historian, Tony Judt, highlight the some of the issues that are fundamental to debates about British cultural policy. But, we know that debates don’t necessarily influence policy. We also know that changes in cultural policy are affected by various factors, often outside the cultural sector itself.
In this keynote, I’ll be considering how developments in recent English cultural policy relate to the well-being of individuals and communities. Why them; how such policies came about; what differences it was intended to make to both individuals and communities; and whether it succeeded.
My presentation is in four sections:
Part 1 provides some background to sources of public funding for the cultural sector in England;
Part 2 describes the cultural policies of the New Labour government, 1997-2010;
Part 3 sets out the major reforms introduced by the current coalition government from 2010; and
Part 4 Offers some observations about how the well-being of individuals and communities
has been affected.
has been affected.
Part 1. Background
In terms of providing you with a background to recent cultural policy developments in England, I thought I should highlight some fundamentals:
1. That in the UK, public policy and funding are usually assumed to be mutually dependent. One is largely inconceivable, if not ineffective, without the other.
2. Since its foundation in 1946, the Arts Council has been conflicted. Its origins lay in a predecessor organisation,1) which was intended to promote the arts, as part of people’s daily lives, and to support professional artists. “But, gradually the interest of the public as audience, reader or spectator, took over that of the public as does, maker or participant2) ”.
3. Whereas the arts were previously assumed to occupy a separate realm to that of material production and economic activity, over the past 35 years they have come to be regarded as contributing to the economy. Public art, participatory arts and volunteering are all manifestations of that.
So, how does public funding for the cultural sector work in England?
The Treasury funds the Department for Culture, Media and Sports. It, in turn, funds the national museums, and supports a number of bodies, including Arts Council England and English Heritage. In turn, these fund cultural organizations. The Arts Council, for example, funds the national flagships, including the Royal Opera House and the National Theatre, as well as small, locally-based organizations3).
A major issue of contention is the extent to which these bodies operate autonomously, at “arms’ length” from government, and independently from the operations of partly politics. They used to function in what was, effectively, a “policy vacuum”.4) Their interests were predominantly those of the arts, heritage and museums, rather than those of the public. Performance measurement was considered singularly inappropriate.
The Department for Communities and Local Government funds local government Local authorities are only obliged to support libraries. All their other funding for culture is discretionary.
However, their freedoms depend on central government policy towards local government.
A third source of public funding is the Lottery. Introduced by a Conservative government in 1993, it supports a number of “good causes” through its various distributors. Current directives include involving the public in making policies; increasing access and participation; fostering initiatives that bring people together; supporting and encouraging volunteering, and reducing economic and social deprivation.
National Lottery monies derive from ticket sales. These are counter-cyclical and have increased during the recession. People on low incomes spend relatively disproportionate amounts on the Lottery, and appear to gamble more when economically threatened. There have always been questions about who benefits most from Lottery funding. Some regard it as a tax on the poor.
Individual philanthropists, charitable foundations and corporate sponsorship also support publicly-funded organizations.
A major difficulty is the extent to which money buys powers, how much private funding can determine policy or programming in public organisations.
Part 2: New Labour’s policies, 1997-2010
Before coming to power, Labour described the cultural sector as fundamental to its forthcoming government functions. It attributed culture with the capacity “to promote our sense of community and common purpose” and as “central to the task of re-establishing a sense of community, of identity and of civic pride, the undermining of which has so damaged our society”.
This vision assumed that cultural provision is instrumental and can deliver on government objectives.
The Department for Culture was expected to work with other departments (the Social Exclusion Unit, the Home Office, the Department of Education and Department of the Environment, etc) to challenge the effects of crime, poor schooling and inadequate housing. Culture was expected to make a difference. Indeed, the cornerstones of Labour’s cultural policy related to government policy more generally, being intended to promote “access for the many, not just the few”; pursue “excellence and innovation”; nurture “educational opportunity”; and foster the creative industries.
The Department for Culture’s target constituencies, or priority groups, included those identified as “hard to reach” by cultural organisations - people with a disability, those from lower socio-economic groups and ethnic minorities. Provision for children and young people was also prioritized.
This thinking emphasized what was already a schism within arts support: the split between participatory and professional arts. Whilst there was some evidence that the former could produce positive social effects, arguably "out of proportion to their cost", this came to be expected of the latter.5)
Labour typically believes that increased public expenditure results in increased effectiveness -
a principle that it applied to health, education and transport, as well as culture. During its period in office, funding for the sector rose by about 98%, quite apart from the billions of pounds that came to it from the Lottery. Funding for the Arts Council rose by 125%, and for museums, by 95%. Looking back, former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, claimed to have created “a golden age” for the arts and museums.
Those increases in funding were underpinned by the government strategically “reclaiming” responsibility for cultural policy. It wanted to ensure that money was spent on direct services, on “the public, rather than the producer”. In reforming the cultural sector, Labour issued unprecedented levels of cultural policy directives.
In practice, the Department for Culture’s programmes were delivered by over 60 so-called “non-departmental public bodies”6), which accounted for the vast majority of its annual spend. They found themselves subject to extraordinary levels of intervention and scrutiny. And they were bound to agreed targets, specified through a series of linked agreements, which cascaded down from the Treasury via the Department for Culture. Their progress towards pre-determined economic and social impacts was measured by official statistics, which were intended to contribute to the development of “evidence-based policy”. The same stringencies also applied to local authorities’ funding.
But, by the early 2000s, parts of the cultural sector were objecting vociferously to their work being treated as government tool. Some doubted that culture could improve attainment and behaviour, encourage lifelong learning, help to combat crime, create safe cohesive communities or make a substantial contribution to the economy. Such thinking seemed to
…eschew value judgements that imply a hierarchy of cultural value [and] emphasise the quantitative in the field where qualitative assessments have been regarded as central AND aspire to judge cultural organisations by their efficacy in addressing social and economic agendas that could, in some cases, be addressed more efficiently elsewhere.7)
There were also serious reservations about the robustness of the quantitative methodologies used to measure and assess cultural impacts. The intangible qualitative effects of participation were neither observable, nor measurable.8)
By 2003, various ministers and Secretaries of State of Culture were struggling with their Party’s imperative to account for the results of their investment in culture, and respond to charges of social engineering.
Not surprisingly, the notion of “cultural value”, as distinct from “instrumental value”, gained ground. The government eventually shifted its focus from “measurement” to “judgement”. But it still insisted that culture was synonymous with “transformative power”. It argued that “cultural excellence” implicitly generates a greater sense of well-being, connectedness, confidence and aspiration, and personal meaning. It still identified the inherent value of culture with the political agenda of creating more aspirant individuals, better communities and a thriving economy. This, paradoxically, revived, perceptions of the economic importance of the arts. Cultural bodies sought to prove their social impact in economic terms, using “Social Return on Investment” methodologies. Economists saw fit to produce tools that “measured” and validated the intrinsic value of art in ways that were commensurate with other measures of value being applied to other areas of spending from the public purse9).
While the cultural sector regarded “cultural value” as a triumph over “instrumentalism”, Labour’s cultural policy was still driven by prospective public benefit. This chimed very precisely with other initiatives of the time, including Public Value and Best Value.
“Public value” was a concept that the government has borrowed from the American, Mark Moore’s book, Creating Public Value (1995). The “public value” in his title referred to how the working practices of public servants could contribute to particular benefits generated by public services, intended for the public interest or the public domain.
“Best Value” was a policy introduced in the Local Government Act 1999, designed to ensure continuous improvement in local government services. It created a series of performance indicators and associated targets, intended to measure the progress of individual services and compare them with others across the country. It was central to a commitment to make services transparently accountable to local people. Subsequent legislation10) allowed councils to do anything that would contribute to the social, environmental or economic well-being of their communities, including the support of cultural provision.
Both initiatives fed into agendas of devolution, regionalism and community11). These were ultimately intended to “democratise” decision making. The Department for Culture’s national bodies, mostly based in London, had been criticised for being out of touch with grass roots culture across the country. They were now obliged to set up offices in the home nations and English regions. These were delegated to distribute Lottery and other grants in order to ensure a greater degree of geographical fairness, and distinctiveness.
Part 3: Coalition policies, 2010-
The May 2010 election marked the end of 13 years’ of Labour government. Its successor government is a coalition, formed by the right wing and liberal parties - the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats. Changes of political ideology, and cultural policy seemed inevitable.
The absolute priority of the new government was to sort out the state of the economy. It inherited a debt12) of £777.5 billion (1.4 million billion South Korean Won), equivalent to 53.2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). This has continued to rise.13) By August 2012 it had risen to 66% of GDP (August 2012).
Labour had used public funds to develop the cultural democracy. For the Conservatives, public funding is a way to “redress the balance”, where the market fails to deliver, and is intended to prompt growth in the economy14). They tend to be less interventionist. In contrast to Labour, the Coalition’s announcements on cultural policy have been few and far between.
To date, the Department for Culture’s major preoccupation has been with cuts: it abolished various non-departmental bodies, which Labour had set up; its plans to boost philanthropy and increase Lottery funding after the Olympics15). In 201, the arts and heritage shares of Lottery funding will revert to 20% of the total, representing an additional £80m, or so, per year for both good causes16) (143,600 South Korean Won).
The Coalition’s proposed public sector cuts for 2011 to 2015, were set out in the 2010 Spending Review. In terms of cultural spend, the Department for Culture is cutting is own administration by 50%. Funds to the Arts Council were cut by almost 30%. Its administration costs are also being cut by 50%, although its regularly funded organisations are to be cut by no more than 15%. Funding to museums was reduced by 15%,17) and to English Heritage (for the historic environment) by nearly 33%.18)
Local authorities have lost 28%. Discretionary services, which include the arts, museums and culture19), were the first to be effected.
Moreover, levels of private investment have been falling across the board.
Non–profit cultural organisations are having to reduce their dependency on government funding - make savings; trim operations; reduce programming; charge for services; work in partnerships and become more entrepreneurial.
Clearly, the Coalition’s cultural policies are considerably less determined than Labour’s. But, as with Labour, cultural policy is subject to the government’s wider objectives - in this case, the Big Society and National Well-Being.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has ambitions for greater citizen engagement. In his, so-called, “Big Society”, citizens will have a greater say in what and how public services are delivered. This goes way beyond the parochialism of most participatory projects and volunteering.
The cornerstones of the Big Society are trust, connectedness, and empowerment. The decline of trust between neighbors, for instance, created and has perpetuated a lack of connectedness in local areas. Moreover, people feel that they have no influence in their own communities. The Coalition’s promises to deliver radical decentralising and transparency through reforms that put citizens and councils in control of their communities20).
Its first moves were to open up people’s choices around education and healthcare. The Localism Act 2011 allows people to draw up Neighbourhood Plans; have more of a say in the development of their local area; choose where and when to build homes, shops, facilities and businesses; bid to keep valued land and buildings in community use, if and when they come onto the market; transfer the ownership, or management, of buildings or land from the public to the voluntary sector. This is already happening with sports facilities - playing fields21). There are no reasons why cultural organizations should be exempt from any of these Community Rights.
The Big Society also encourages micro-philanthropy, or crowd funding. This is broadly defined as direct interaction between individual donors, projects artists and organisations - as is said to be “a new model of cultural democracy”.22)
However, crucial GDP is, the Prime Minister acknowledges that it is an “incomplete way” of measuring the country's progress. In 2010, he charged the Office of National Statistics to develop measures around well-being and life satisfaction to inform social and economic policy. His intention was to measure the UK’s development “not just by how our economy is growing, but by how our lives are improving; not just by our standard of living, but by our quality of life”.23) The so-called well-being (or happiness) index hinges on a number of multi-dimensional, intangible factors that are thought to determine the quality of people’s lives. These include health, relationships, job satisfaction, leisure time; volunteering; home & neighbourhood; environmental conditions; economic security, education; governance.24) The project is timely. The financial crisis is detrimental to many peoples’ well-being, and may even be a factor in increased risk of metal illness.
Although the arts and culture are frequently assumed to play a significant role in well-being, they are not recognized as such in the index. Nevertheless, various cultural projects are justifying themselves in these terms, including the Happy Museum Project. Based on the notion that “Public policy can contribute to removing misery”,25) this project is rethinking the role of museums - not just as collections and educators - but also as stewards and “connectors” of people. The project is being run by the Museum of East Anglian Life, and involves over 150 volunteers who collectively contribute around 30,000 hours (averaging 5 weeks per annum). It’s described as a social enterprise,26) whose ethos is to facilitate the development of social capital.27) Volunteers give their time, but receive support, training and skills development in return. In two years, the museum helped over 60 people find jobs, provided accredited training for over 150 new learners, and provides people who have not previously been to museums with new experiences.28) Investing in such projects is arguably cheaper for the state in the long run, since individuals are more likely to find jobs and continue volunteering, and less likely to claim social security, visit the doctor, etc.
Part 4. Observations
Looking back over Labour’s achievements, the writer and journalist Polly Toynbee reflected:
Labour bequeathed a public realm that shone. They renovated, restocked and rebuilt schools, hospital and clinics, arts and sports venues, parks and museums …Public spaces no longer felt second best or the shabby poor relations of commerce. … For years to come, civic buildings will stand as monuments to the Labour era….
But schools and hospital buildings were no guarantee of learning or healing. A bigger test is what happened in the lives and minds of citizens. Here, Labour’s impact is much less obvious. The social state we are in now is not much different from 1997. The broad judgment has to be that not enough altered in the fabric of our country, given Labour’s commitments on equality and fairness. The country remains strongly defined by class, regional disparity, inequality and individual and business under-achievement.29)
The Department for Culture’s 2008 Annual Report concurred. It acknowledged that not all its targets pertaining to the take up of cultural opportunities by priority groups had been met, despite its increased investment.30) This pertained to the arts, museums and galleries and historic environment. Culture was not the only problem area. Even while Labour was still in power, it withdrew from its previously insistent approach to targets. Many of its expectations of the cultural sector fell away.
Critics have subsequently wondered whether even those institutions committed to access moved much beyond symbolic projects, which engaged small numbers of target groups in education and outreach programmes. Can an accumulation of small projects ever actually embed change?
In the event, evidence-based policy remained under-developed. The vast amount of data collected on the cultural sector either proved insufficient for the generation of evidence-based policy, or surplus to requirement. This has cast doubts on the seriousness of measuring culture at government level.
Despite those shortcomings, much English cultural policy is continuous by default. The increasingly centrist nature of British politics means that previous differences between the Left and Right are much reduced. Governments tend to pick up where their predecessors left off. Enhancing the reach and engagement of the arts and culture remains a priority for the present government, the Arts Council and other funded bodies.31)
But original intentions often evolve into something else. The present government’s interrogation of subjective well-being has taken over from economic and social impact32). Its decentralisation of power has replaced devolution, and its “localism” has replaced “regionalism”. The “Big government” is being replaced by the “Big Society”, which claims to be empowering individuals, neighbourhoods and communities as well as professionals, local councils and other local institutions.
One of the most striking policy regressions is around Labour’s policy of “access for many, not just the few”. Free admission to museums was introduced in 2001. Labour regarded museums as essential “for learning for all and lifelong learning”. “…No one should be denied access to the treasures held by national museums simply because they could not afford the admission fee”. Free admission reflected its desire to create a better society, equality of opportunity and justice. It came to be regarded as an “iconic” policy: it led to an escalation in the number of visits to museums.
Strictly speaking, the data that the Department for Culture collected is incapable of demonstrating trends in attendance by priority groups. However, consistent data generated after the mid-2000s, suggests that the percentage of visits by adults from target social groups (who were intended to benefit from it) in fact, declined.33)
The Conservatives, who had previously introduced museum charges, prefer the market to take precedence. On the 10th anniversary of free admission, the Conservative Secretary of State for Culture defended maintaining free admission. This was not because free admission had contributed to a more equitable society, but because it had helped museums to generate £1bn per year in revenue from overseas tourists34) (1,795 bn South Korean Won).
In England, the abandonment of access targets by both New Labour and the Coalition, and the reorganisation of many cultural organisations, prompted by the recession, mean that the cultural sector could start planning for the next stage in the evolution of cultural policy. What kind of relationship might be fostered between individuals, communities and well-being?
The cultural sector likes to believe that it makes a difference to peoples’ lives. This is precisely the claim that uses to advocate for increased funding. But how does it impact on individuals, and how does that play out in communities, societies and even nations?
In the UK, we’ve spent the last 25 years or so, considering the economic and social impacts of culture. We’ve singularly neglected the impact that cultural content has on people - what it means to them, how it affects them, what they get out of engaging with it. On that basis, the debate as to whether or not cultural value is instrumental or intrinsic seems superfluous.
It seems to me that quite apart from what kinds of impacts we’ve been considering, there are questions about precisely what we’ve been looking at.
Cultural policy documents tend to focus on overcoming barriers to access, particularly in terms of people’s failure to engage with cultural activities supported by public funding. They very rarely consider how cultural experiences impact on people in general, many of which are provided by the market.
There are also questions about who we’ve been asking about impacts. The Department for Culture has largely relied on peer and specialist review, drawing on small, professional networks rather than end-users.
There’s also a question of how we’ve been asking. Government data is predominantly quantitative, and often uses proxies to represent qualitative impacts.
All in all, we know very little about how people respond to cultural experiences. They’re rarely asked about how these have challenged their perceptions of the world around them.
But, in some recent research undertaken for the museums sector, I begun to explore individuals’ own descriptions of what cultural experiences prompted them to do. Their responses fell under a number of headings. They referred to gaining a wider interest in history and in the world in general; discovering empathy for, and understanding of, minority groups; understanding issues of marginalization; engaging more with their own communities; exploring and articulating issues related to sensitive subject matter; creating new associations and identities. In short, for those who voluntarily described their responses, cultural experiences opened up different attitudes; made them consider their affiliations and associations; helped them make sense of things, and find meanings. They also generated a sense of belonging and integration within local communities and society.
If we are concerned with developing cultural policy, which engenders a positive relationship between individuals, communities and well-being, understanding more about cultural impact might be a good place to start.
1) CEMA, Council for the Encouragement of Music & the Arts.
2) Everitt, 1992: 6 cited in Selwood, 1995:31.
3) These currently include Grants for the Arts, for activities carried out over a set period and which support artists and arts organizations and engage people in England in arts activities. These grants are funded by the National Lottery
Managed funds cover a number of funding initiatives which allow ACE to identify new opportunities for the arts to flourish, by developing projects that reach and engage the public. These tend to constitute major fixed-term projects delivered through ACE’s regional offices and are not normally open to application. Sustain is ACE’s response to the impact of the recession on arts organisations whose sustainability is considered important. Unlimited Commissions support the creation and production of high quality work across all artforms that places disabled and Deaf people at its centre. Commissions totalling £1.5 million will be awarded to help celebrate the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games across the UK.
4) Before New Labour came to power in May 1997, cultural policy tended to be implied, if not articulated, by the activities of government bodies. A previous Labour administration produced the white paper, A Policy for the Arts: The First Steps in 1965. This appeared to break with the government’s previous reluctance to determine cultural policy, and it contributed to the establishment of a sponsoring department other than the Treasury as well as the appointment of the first Minister for the Arts (HM Government, 1965: para 76). Cultural policy nevertheless remained something of an anathema.
5) Matarasso, cited by Merli, http://www.variant.org.uk/19texts/socinc19.html
6) NDPB is defined as “a body which has a role in the processes of national Government, but is not a Government Department or part of one, and which accordingly operates to a greater or lesser extent at arm’s length from Ministers”.
7) Ellis, 2003.
9) Bakhshi et al, 2009.
10) Local Government Act 2000.
11) Labour had intended to devolve powers to the home nations - Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales - and English regions - although it would always retain some measure of controal. It set up Regional Cultural Consortiums, charged with producing cross-cutting strategies, and informing the work of Regional Development Agencies. These coordinated regional economic development and competitiveness, and were key sources of funding for major cultural projects.
12) public sector net
13) ONS statistical bulletin, Public Sector Finances, Table PSF8 http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171778_278627.pdf
14) DCMS, 2011:1.
15) The Coalition’s ‘programme for government’ (HM Government, 2010: 14), and subsequent DCMS Structural Reform Plan (DCMS, 2010) placed an emphasis on philanthropic and corporate investment.
16) Arts Council England makes future funding decisions. Press notice 30.03.11. http://www.culture.gov.uk/news/news_stories/8000.aspx; DCMS National Lottery to be reformed http://www.culture.gov.uk/news/news_stories/7490.asp
17) Arts Council England (ACE) will receive an overall cut of 29.6%, from £387.728m in 2011 to £349.392m 2014, a total, in real terms, of nearly £350m.
18) from £114.742m in 2011 to £96.962m in 2014. http://www.museumsassociation.org/museums-journal/news/20102010-comprehensive-spending-review-museums
19) in terms of direct funding of arts organisations and events; the provision and management of arts venues; the
promotion of arts events and arts advice and support services http://www.culture.gov.uk/what_we_do/arts/4082.aspx
20) DCMG Structural Reform Plan http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/corporate/structuralreformplan
21) Relationship Manager NGB Facilities, Sports England. LONDON CULTURAL Big Society and the Cultural Sector 28 September 2011.
22) LONDON CULTURAL REFERENCE GROUP:Big Society and the Cultural Sector, 28 September 2011.
23) Cameron, 2010, up.
24) Measuring National Well-being, Summary of Proposed Domains and Measures, July 2012.
25) See Richard Layard, 2006, Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, Second Edition, 2011.
26) Defines as an organisation which employs commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being, rather than maximising profits for external shareholders.
27) Defines as the expected collective or economic benefits derived from the preferential treatment and cooperation between individuals and groups. Although different social sciences emphasize different aspects of social capital, they tend to share the core idea “that social networks have value”. Just as a screwdriver (physical capital) or a university education (cultural capital or human capital) can increase productivity (both individual and collective), so do social contacts affect the productivity of individuals and groups”.
28) London Cultural Reference Group and London Cultural Strategy Group: Culture and Wellbeing (27 June 2011). See also http://www.happymuseumproject.org/the-happy-museum-paper-and-manifesto/the-happy-museum-paper
29) Toynbee & Walker, 2010: 297.
30) The 2007 target was to increase the number of people from priority groups by 2%. Its 2008 Annual Report reported slippage across arts, museums and galleries and historic environment.
31) ACE, 2010, cited by Melville.
32) As represented for example, by MLA’s attempt to promote SORI (Social Return on Investment), following the Cabinet Office’s lead.
33) 2006/7 - 2009/10, decline 17%-11%