The Movement for Cultural Democracy recognises that 2020 is marking a turning point in how culture, in its broadest sense, across the UK, is understood, supported and governed.
The current crisis, sparked by the outbreak of Covid19 and which is now moving into a significant economic depression, has shaken the foundations of the established ‘cultural sector’ in the UK, and needs to spark a fundamental re-alignment of how culture – in its most expansive sense – is valued and cultivated in our society for years to come.
Whilst the UK government’s announcement of a £1.57 billion ‘rescue package’ will help some arts and cultural institutions ., there is not even much here about whether artists or cultural workers, many of whom are precarious freelance workers, let alone about how cultural support workers, non-funded cultural groups and communities more generally will directly benefit from this money and there is no clarity about how funds will be allocated.
The Movement for Cultural Democracy is concerned that this funding will reinforce the already inequitable and (to most people) inaccessible arts and cultural sector, securing ‘flagship’ buildings and management first, artists and cultural support workers livelihoods and cultural production within communities last. This sector is already built on unsustainable and fragile commercial business models that have been (like public funding across the UK) eroded by years of cuts by successive Conservative governments and compounded by austerity cuts in local authorities
The COVID-19 lockdown has left these unsustainable institutions with little option but to call for a rescue from the very people who have been directly responsible for sinking the arts and culture industries ship. The result will be a partial rescue at sea for more of the same old, same old and, with the usual platitudes about turning back to save diversity, equity, sustainability, outreach and engagement as a commitment that never happens.
The Movement for Cultural Democracy calls for our cultural sector and cultural lives to be better connected to the urgent social, environmental, democratic and cultural reforms this country desperately needs. Communities won’t emerge from this crisis stronger, more resilient and democratic unless those communities play the central role in imagining, creating and building the changes that are urgently needed.
This funding will reinforce the pre-crisis status quo. While it’s undeniably good that that this financial commitment will help save some jobs, it’s regressive inasmuch as it leaves the dysfunctionally governed, elitist and financialised cultural sector infrastructure unchallenged and indeed disconnected from the majority of people’s everyday lives.
WHAT WE NEED NOW
For those who have long recognised the unsustainability of dominant cultural models, it is unsurprising that, in the context of the current crisis, there is a genuine lack of public support for ‘saving’ the publicly funded cultural sector. The overwhelming majority of the population (approximately 92%) do not access publicly supported cultural institutions, cultural funding streams or publicly funded cultural ‘products’. The established cultural sector does not represent most communities, the public does not have a strong voice in our cultural institutions, and it cannot generally access public funding for self-organised forms of culture.
Cultural Democracy describes a democratic approach to culture that commits to actively engaging everyone in deciding what counts as culture, where it happens and who is involved in creating culture. Cultural democracy also describes the need to take a democratic approach to how the resources needed to create culture are distributed, which implies fair representation in cultural institutions, a democratic and community centred approach to cultural funding and universal access to the means of cultural production. A culturally democratic approach is therefore anti-elitist, questions dominant and hierarchical ways of understanding and governing culture, is anti-racist and anti-classist and so advocates for a society where everyone, including people and groups who are currently most marginalised from dominant forms of culture, have a much more equal say and active and productive role when it comes to producing (and reproducing) culture.
To regenerate and rebuild society over the next few years, at community and cross-community levels, means mobilising the creativity, ingenuity and collective power of everyone, right across the UK. At a time of economic crisis, when Brexit will also be reconfiguring our culture, what better time is there to support people to be much more socially, economically, culturally and politically creative – enabling people to draw on their lived experience, the power of communication, cultural difference and the unprecedented access people now have to archives, learning and technologies to create, rethink and rebuild together for a more sustainable, democratic, equal and community based future.
Realising a culturally democratic approach to cultural renewal needs to be an integral part of what it will take to address the current crisis. And the good news is that there are five basic and immediate steps that can be taken to realise #CulturalDemocracyNow. These are steps that every local authority, cultural institution and cultural funder can take immediately to help constructively respond to the crisis the UK now faces and which is about to get more severe.
5 STEPS TOWARDS CULTURAL DEMOCRACY NOW
The Movement for Cultural Democracy has set out five immediate steps to realise #CulturalDemocracyNow:
Step 1 – #CulturalDemocracyNow means an immediate drive to democratise our cultural institutions
Step 2 – #CulturalDemocracyNow means the immediate democratisation of cultural funding streams
Step 3 – #CulturalDemocracyNow means the immediate expansion of dominant/orthodox institutional criteria and/or definitions of culture
Step 4 – #CulturalDemocracyNow means actively supporting community ownership of public spaces & unused private spaces and reintroducing public support for free and universal access to the basic means of cultural production and reproduction (prioritising young people, low-income & unemployed people and other marginalised groups)
Step 5 – #CulturalDemocracyNow means immediate support for insecure and precarious arts and cultural workers, including a rebalancing of wage structures in our cultural institutions so the differences between the lowest and highest paid becomes much less extreme.
These steps require everyone’s support in the sector and across borders. They require us to listen to what communities and artists and arts workers want and need. They require us to reshape our future practices and structures around communities, not buildings. This is what the world needs right now.
ABOUT THE MOVEMENT FOR CULTURAL DEMOCRACY
Founded in 2016, MCD emerged from a series of meetings and events organised by a group of people who shared a set of concerns about the inequities of contemporary culture and about how these inequities connect with our existing dysfunctional forms of democracy, politics
and cultural production. Version 1.0 of the ‘Manifesto for Cultural Democracy’ was the result of these initial meetings. Since 2016, MCD members have continued to meet on an ad hoc basis to further refine the manifesto (see version 2.0), discuss aspects of the campaign in more detail and to produce proposals for change. We have already successfully influenced Arts Council England’s thinking in terms of rebalancing cultural funding and its Creative People and Places programme.