care enough to be the very best
Littering the living room floor is the residue, some truly detritus, of
the processes of ongoing 'service reviews', 'consultations'
and 'research' of the Arts Councils, Local government and associated
arts agencies in what has become an endless game of central government
'Cultural Policy' deployment, validation and marketing.
While ingratiating programmes of 'Cultural Policy' advocacy
escalated as part of the build up to the Scottish Parliament, given its
new custodial mantle of cultural overseer, the phenomenon has to be seen
as an effect of a broader intensification of an imposing of market philosophy
across the public sector as a whole. Within this the specific focus on
the arts is becoming increasingly technocratic, that is the arts are being
seen exclusively in terms of their 'use value', having a 'cultural
purpose' in regard to 'social inclusion', 'education'
and 'regional development' criteria as defined by government.
To synopsise a few recent documents:
The Scottish Arts Council's Scottish Arts in the 21st Century is
an attempt at a promotional/lobbying life belt for the SAC in the face
of calls in Scottish parliamentary manifestoes for a euphemistic overhaul
of the SAC. Hiring the 'out-of-house' 'celebrity'
services of Ruth Wishart (see Variant, vol. 2, issue 7 editorial) it attempts
to position the SAC as both a free-market advocate as well as an integral
part of the public-service-sector accountable to 'the people'.
Defending itself as committed to the demands of 'consumer access'
is undoubtably also an offensive against ceremonial accusations of elitism
and media inspired controversy, real or otherwise, of where and how the
public purse is being spent.
The Creative Scotland: The Case for a National Cultural Strategy circular,
produced by an amalgam of agencies including COSLA, SAC, Scottish Screen,
Scottish Museums Council, and the Scottish Library Association, is designed
to buoy their position regarding the focus already on the 'Cultural
Sector' as a driving force for a talent driven society and the much
vaunted entrepreneurial spirit, calling for a dedicated Ministry of Culture
within the new parliament and a National Strategy for the arts. Once again
a restrictive view of "cultural action", experimentation and
innovation assures the arts are resigned to stimulating market growth.
Similarly there is the Towards the New Enlightenment: A Cultural Policy
for the City of Edinburgh 1999, an Edinburgh City Council coffee-table
brochure couched in the rhetoric of relieving the vulnerable whilst soliciting
industrial partners. This is a sepia toned cheerleader for the instrumentalisation
of the arts as an acceptable face of commerce within the city.
Best Value Service review: Museums, Heritage and Visual Arts, is Glasgow
City Council's first stage report in an obligatory exercise for all
Local Authorities as stipulated by government. Far from exploratory the
document in verbiage of efficiency succeeds in drowning the scope of activity
blanketed by the construct 'Culture and Leisure Services' within
the cadre of market enterprise and regional (business) development. 'The
arts' are to be sequestered to play promotional fiddle to the city's
business community and 'Band-Aid' to an ailing social services
- to be technocraticaly utilised for deterministic social, educational
and economic purposes, confining funding to the ends of 'strategic
The SAC Lottery's Summary or Responses to New Directions Consultations
[sic] is a marvel of efficiency. Its lack of substance as to how the priorities
for the Lottery's New Directions were arrived at is simply awe inspiring
given their repeated bulwark of an extensive consultation procedure. This
has to be contrasted with the roving, full technicolor press launches
of its funds*: funds and schemes available from SAC in 1998/99 pack. Of
course, it is stressed that the numerous suggestions within the guidelines
of the kinds of projects that might be eligible for funding are merely
illustrative. What this does underscore however is that 'cultural
activity' is to be 'on message', that the agenda for funding
is not 'discursive' but 'prescriptive'. As such, 'equal
opportunities' and 'equality of access' are enunciated
in terms of consumer development, the arts rather than a catalyst for
social change appropriated as a constituent of job 'training'.
Open Access Provision and Facilities for Artists in Scotland: The Review
is a SAC commissioned "investigation" into artists' workshop
provision within Scotland by Peter Davies of the Arts Council of Wales.
His responsibility was to assess current needs and provisions and recommend
possible change, however these changes were principled as having to be
done within the euphemistic "present financial climate". While
the report acknowledges the necessity of workshop provision and the work
done to date, it also concedes a lack of international standards and substantial
gaps within areas of provision. The fetter of the "present financial
climate" instructs the scope and thrust of the document and the resulting
suggestions are predictably for an extension of market principles professed
as a cure-all.
Such documents claim to make the process of discourse central to either
their construction, as in the transparent and benign representation of
the results of consultation, or as documents whose function it is to stimulate
comment and feed-back, asserting consultation as an integral agent to
policy outcomes. It could be stated that since bodies such as the SAC
are courted for funding, the relationship between them and those they
establish to consult is often illusory, i.e. by the nature of consultancy
those consulted ultimately have a vested interest and as such may be reluctant
to openly criticise. These can then become ritualised performances, purely
formal exercises, leaving the real processes of decision making as being
open and transparent questionable. Such knowledge produced for official
use and funded accordingly rarely questions the fundamental aims and objectives
of the client organisation and any such research is by definition subject
to pre-existing agenda of policy and policy implementing bodies. A synchronous
action in this process is the exposing of the public sector to marketing
rhetoric where manipulation of 'market imperatives' as 'cultural
imperatives' is a pedestrian constituent.
An initial argument for public subsidy of 'the arts' with the
creation of the Arts Council of Great Britain in 1946 was to protect 'the
arts' from the ravages and tarnishes of the commercial market - "not
to teach or to censor, but to give courage, confidence and opportunity"1.
The understanding that 'the arts' (initially consisting of the
arts of drama, music and painting, broadened out in 1967 to encompass
a wider remit of activity) could not exist without subsidy was of course
never a sole reason for such support, other prime elements being the 'cultivation
of the masses' - the political objective of social control through
cultural discourse - and the use of public money to build institutions
of national and international prestige - a cultural player on a world
stage. The Arts Council's position was thus intended as an 'intermediary'
body between the state and civil society, avoiding the view of direct
government control over day-to-day practice as well as the perceived insidious
pressures of an otherwise exclusive commercial arena.
In this sense 'Culture' was determined as consisting of a particular
field of government, a broader sense of government than just governing
the state, encompassing the mechanisms of social management - 'Culture'
here referring specifically to the practices and institutions that make
meaning. The very operation of policing 'Culture' through 'Cultural
policy', aside from the etymology, raises questions of regulation,
control and censorship, the tendency being to treat culture as though
it were either a dangerous law breaker or a lost child.
In Culture and the Public Sphere (1996) Jim McGuigan traces the move from
'state' to 'market' within the public sector as a
'discursive shift' to "an administrative philosophy as
a set of ideas for managing all institutions in the public sector, involving
devices such as internal markets, contracting out, tendering and financial
incentives... [which] coincided with the incessant promotion of a loud
yet diffuse rhetoric of 'enterprise culture' which was not only
about organisational change in both the private and public sectors but
also about the cultivation of an 'enterprising self', a personal
way of being contrasted with bureaucratic time-serving and vested professional
interests in maintaining the status quo of public service."
He describes the fostering of 'market strategies' as a 'discursive
shift' within bodies such as the Arts Councils as 'the arts'
have not actually been abandoned to the ravages of the commercial sector,
instead there is still a persistence of state intervention in the cultural
field and public subsidy of 'the arts'. However he sees it not
by chance that the total abolition of state-sponsored culture has not
yet occurred, instead he sees a "continuing use of the public sector
in the construction of a new common sense, the 'social-welfare-state'
swept aside and replaced by a pervasive 'market reasoning'."
Whereby "[t]he effect of certain discourses is to make it virtually
impossible to think outside of them. In a society of discourse there are
control procedures for what can be legitimately thought and enunciated:
exclusion procedures that mark the boundaries of a discourse, defining
that which is permissible and impermissible to say; internal procedures
that regulate the distinctive operations of a discourse; and access procedures
that regulate entry to a discursive field. Where once was 'the state'
there is now 'the market' in discussion of cultural policy."
It is then no small matter that such attempts to dictate the parameters
of discourse through a pervasive managerialization of 'culture'
threatens the outright commodification and privatisation of information
through the total commercialisation of the public sphere.
The traditional discourse of 'quality' as a determinant of public
subsidy was primarily the consummation of class 'taste' by naturalised
arbitrators of cultural competence and aesthetic disposition2.
Capitalising on not unfounded aspersions of elitism, these capricious
'qualitative values' have now been re-inscribed within a seemingly
objective 'common sense' discourse of 'value'. That
value and worth, as well as having monetary implications in the sense
of 'value for money' have been equated as 'the right of
access to cultural consumption', and that consumption has itself
become evidence of 'cultural action'. The language of the market
is deployed as the residually good intention of a 'constructive advance'
towards a more 'cultured' nation, that being a nation with equitable
consumer access to cultural goods - so much for cultural critique
as an instrument for changing consciousness. Ultimately concepts of 'quality'
and 'value' are utilised to function as qualification for encouraging
and (willingly or unconsciously) suppressing cultural activity. Within
the states' feigning of indifference, these are employed as mechanisms
in the veiling of an imposition of a distinct market ideology.
The arts are currently 'marketised' to such an extent that their
circulation now resembles that of the non-state sector, the 'private'
market of cultural commodities. However, McGuigan makes clear that 'marketisation',
as he uses it, "is not strictly to be subsumed under the concept
of commodification since the important point is to do with the resemblance
to the market rather than a direct identity with it... insofar as the
state continues to hold some responsibility for cultural provision through
the collection and disbursement of tax revenue." There is of course
a contradiction between the promotional ideology of individualism and
choice, and the evidence of actual conditions. that this endless propaganda
vastly exaggerates the power the 'consumer' has over their daily
lives. As McGuigan asks regarding Pierre Bourdieu's writings on the
field of cultural production: "How far is the real problem for Bourdieu
the unequal social distribution of cultural dispositions and competencies
or how far is it the power of those with cultural capital to impose a
system of cultural value which fits in with their own tastes?"
"The most profound accomplishment of the New Right in Britain may
be not that it literally rolled back the state in order to release the
full blast of market forces but, rather that it inserted the 'new
managerialism and market reasoning' into the state-related agencies
of the public sector, in effect calling upon organisations that are not
themselves private businesses to think and function as though they were....
The public sector has been required to function pseudo-capitalistically,
which is not only an organisational phenomenon but a deeply imbibed ideological
phenomenon and one which has enormous impact on cultural agencies and
the network of arts-subsidising bodies."3
The Left and Right have coalesced in imbuing 'the arts' with
the rhetoric of the market. However, in spite of this deployment oligopoly,
the rule by a few, rather than 'free-market competition' is
ultimately the driving force in order to operate a governmental pedagogy
organised by the technology of moral supervision underscoring the promotion
of 'market values'. In so doing the dissemination of critical
ideas is suppressed. The implications for democratic debate and diverse
cultural experimentation in the face of the censorial criterion of pan-promotionalism
hardly needs spelling out...
1. John Maynard Keynes, The Listener, 12 July 1945; Raymond Williams,
The Arts Council: Politics and Policies, An Arts Council Lecture, 1981.
2. Described as "timeservers in the turgid little canister of Scottish
arts" - Norman Lebrecht, Daily Telegraph
3. Jim McGuigan, Culture and the Public Sphere, (1996), Routledge