The Cultural World Has Fundamentally Changed

About John Holden

John Holden has written 1 posts in this blog. #

John Holden is a Visiting Professor at City University, London and an Associate at the think-tank Demos. His publications include Democratic Culture, Culture and Class, Cultural Diplomacy, and Cultural Value and the Crisis of Legitimacy. John is a member of the Advisory Boards of the Clore Leadership Programme and the U.K.’s Arts and Humanities Research Council. #



  1. Thanks for the opportunity to join this discussion.

    I’m an arts administrator who has been working in an increasingly difficult environment to secure adequate resources for arts organizations and artists. It’s in that spirit that I submit to you that if you are going to make such sweeping generalizations about the inadequacies of arts organizations, your arguments should be subject to close scrutiny.

    *There are many styles of leadership*

    The range of leadership models you evoke strikes me as unnecessarily limited. There are leadership models in the arts which expand the spectrum beyond the extreme of your Scottish rabble-rousing chieftain – specifically, those in which leadership responsibilities shift from person to person according to the demands of the prevailing circumstances. Examples include visual arts collectives, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Blast Theory, and Radiohead.

    *The leaders of the avant-garde and the scholarly tradition… both wanted to use their exclusive cultural knowledge to affirm their social status and distinguish themselves from the mainstream*

    I’ve always thought that what makes the more adventurous artist-leaders special is not because they achieve what you say they want to, but because they find the most compelling ways of pursuing their calling. I know less about scholars, but I suspect the same may be true there. So I would suggest that the “false battle” you refer to is indeed false, but not in the way you intended.

    *It is obvious that no part of the cultural world can any longer lay claim to being of intrinsically superior quality to any other*

    Are you really claiming what I think you are? That there is some purpose in, for example, telling an avid opera lover that he or she (or an apparent he pretending to be a she – see La Cieca) should no longer be allowed to say that opera is the peak of worldly experience?

    *The role of the expert is to place their expertise at the service of their community – not to use their expertise to impose their own views on others. Paradoxically, this means that in order to lead better, arts organizations need to follow more.*

    You seem to be suggesting that this is not happening in the arts. In my experience, this has been happening for years.

    I’ll close with a suggestion that it might be useful to turn the tables a bit on your argument. In the early days of the AHRC – for which I see you are an adviser – the organization I worked for struggled to convince AHRC that exhibitions (rather than academic conferences or scholarly articles) were the REAL research outputs, and therefore that’s where the funding should go. There was a real sense of surprise on the part of the arts organizations that this need, which was an essential and deep one, had not been clear to AHRC from the start. As things stood, by preventing its funding from going towards what the arts organizations felt was the real, practice-oriented research, AHRC funding was actually preventing curatorial researchers from pursuing – if you like – their calling.

    I gather AHRC was persuaded to do a course correction – I don’t know the details, by that time I had left the country. But I believe this episode is still valid as an explanation of why I’d like to counter with an alternative version of your closing statement:

    In order to lead better, arts funders need to follow more.

  2. Joseph Newland says:

    John Holden, in an interesting description of current state vs. Lord Clark’s state, makes the comment
    “But the role of arts organizations is to assist the democratic process.”
    Which I would find very puzzling were he not in a think tank called Demos. I’ve worked in a few and been to many arts organizations, events, programs, etc. and I can’t think of a single one whose role is to “assist the democratic process” in the arts even, much less so baldly stated.

    Arts presenters have generally (I hesitate to assert always) been filters, of whatever their source material–whether avant-garde or mainstream in his dichotomy–in that they choose things to present. Their focus and range might be tiny or broad, but the point is to NOT present everything. One walks outside for that. The greater monopolization of “traditional” arts organizations’ or publishing venues’ ability to filter and adjudicate may have been reduced, but I would suggest it’s just this reducing valve on what I guess John would call the democratic output that is of value.