The under-articulated and the over-articulated

By Adrian Ellis

I am picking up Marian's point that we should not just leave the non profit institutional sector to flounder for a generation while we address the wider policy issues that Bill is rightly flagging, and Russell's last post. Here goes...

The institutionalized non profit cultural sector needs serious, disinterested (i.e. objective) attention by intelligent policy analysts. Its administrators' antics and self-importance may rile Bill but this sector is tasked with, as it should be, stewardship of the highest expressions of humanity, with its transmission to the next generation intact if not enhanced, and with ensuring the widest enjoyment and appreciation of these defining achievements by as many people as it can engage -  this mandate crosses material, visual, dramatic, literary and musical culture - voice and heritage.

There is much to criticize about how we are going about that task basic, and I suspect history will judge my generation harshly - we have probably been grabby and overbearing  in the dispatch of our duties -  just we will probably be judged harshly in many other respects, in our fiscal habits, our public morals and our civic passivity.  But these tasks of stewardship, transmission and illumination are vital and legitimate objects of public policy. 

The tragedy of so much cultural policy however is that it is, formally, bullshit  (c.f. Eleonora Belfiore's elegant analysis of Bullshit in Cultural Policy). Like bullshit in other areas of public discourse, rather than working through in good faith how these modest but vital responsibilities are best dispatched, cultural policy in the United States and Europe has tended to focus on how to stake a claim to more of the public agenda than these responsibilities, important though they are, can reasonably command, both for both the fun of it and for the funding of it. This tends to undermine the disinterested nature of the analysis.  Any serious attempt at policy, expressive or cultural, has to be re-grounded in a more objective ethos of policy analysis, if it's not simply to be lobby-fodder. Advocacy is essential but it is not policy analysis.

I am interested in the extent to which Bill's framework can help to ensure a closer congruence between the institutional structure of the cultural sector as conventionally conceived (which is a mess) and the efficient and sustainable execution of the voice- and heritage-related responsibilities that  are the sector's core responsibilities.  It may be that the mess is just what it is and, like democracy, better than the alternatives. But we seem to be at a cusp and a convergence of both acute fiscal mayhem  and chronic secular demographic, technological and other drivers. Together they have created a real (albeit slightly desperate) appetite amongst cultural decision makers and opinion formers to address the fundamental issue of the inadequate fit between the institutional infrastructure of the arts and sustainable aspirations for various (and as Andras, has emphasized, fluid)  art forms. 

I think there's a conference in Chicago at the moment on the future of symphony orchestras. Russell, you are there? I bet they are talking about this.  The AAMD met two weeks ago - I be they were talking about this too... The language may vary but it's THE issue for the expressive responsibilities that  the non profit institutional sector shoulders in return for for all the fiscal love it gets.

Addressing the mature execution of these responsibilities will take political will and collective action - neither of which are common in the cultural sector. But I would hope that the agenda that Bill is articulating can embrace and address this critical dimension of expressive life, simply because it's a big part of the totality. I feel this has to be said in a way that does not diminish other aspects of expressive life that he is rightly high-lighting as neglected. Here's a stab at encapsulating it: the ecology is unbalanced in part because many expressive social interests are under-articulated, and Bill has highlighted them and has suggested an agenda around them. It's an agenda that it is intellectually compelling but it is difficult to see how and by whom it will be pursued.  Meanwhile other agendas  are over-articulated: a move toward a balanced ecology requires us to address both issues.

Whoa! That was way too long. Sorry, Doug.



January 27, 2010 9:16 PM | |


This Conversation Are the terms "Art" and "Culture" tough enough to frame a public policy carve-out for the 21st century? Are the old familiar words, weighted with multiple meanings and unhelpful preconceptions, simply no longer useful in analysis or advocacy? In his book, Arts, Inc., Bill Ivey advances "Expressive Life" as a new, expanded policy arena - a frame sufficiently robust to stand proudly beside "Work Life," "Family Life," "Education," and "The Environment." Is Ivey on the right track, or more

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