Think Piece: "Seismographs", "Watch Dogs" or "Change Agents"? Artistic Interventions and Cultural Policy in Processes of Social Transformation

By Schneider, Wolfgang | Law, Social Justice and Global Development Journal, Annual 2016 | Go to article overview

Think Piece: "Seismographs", "Watch Dogs" or "Change Agents"? Artistic Interventions and Cultural Policy in Processes of Social Transformation


Schneider, Wolfgang, Law, Social Justice and Global Development Journal


What are the roles of art and artists in the transformation of society? What impact can cultural policy have on the structures of cultural governance or artistic production? I will not here be referring primarily to funding systems, markets, finance or economics, but to culture's social relevance and its potential for social transformation. This is not a question about representation either, but of intervention. And the concerns of contemporary cultural policy are no longer just about local arts organisations, regional support of structures for culture, or national programmes for arts education. They concern the international relationships between artists; culture as a factor in development; and concern knowledge that has been generated by a comparative analysis of cultural management. Culture is now rightly understood as a source of knowledge, creativity and strategy for the development of society. A principal task for cultural policy is therefore to create and support structures that promote the mobilisation of artistic creativity--and of the people who operationalise creativity, the artists and others, and thus ensure welfare, innovation and pluralism.

A dimension of our research enterprise at the Department of Cultural Policy, University of Hildesheim (Germany), focuses on good governance for culture, which involved examining the range of aspirations, objectives, control mechanisms and the functioning of institutions, their principles and structures. The concepts of "good governance" for Cultural Policy has hitherto been given all too little attention by researchers (and policy makers). We are thus investigating what transparency and participation, efficiency, accountability, market economy, the rule of law and justice, all mean within and for cultural political action--and crucially, what they mean within the processes of social, particularly democratic, transformation.

Within this complex bundle of subjects resides the question of the role of the arts and of individual artists in the development of society, (and also, of course, in the role of business enterprises within the framework of corporate social and cultural responsibility--though this is not my subject here). Our research enterprise is also demanding further clarification on what freedom, and what regulatory contexts, the arts and artists need within social development and what form or role arts education should take, given that these contexts can be diverse and changing. Moreover, we need to be able to discuss the connection of the role of the arts in the development of society with the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions (cf. The 2005 UNESCO Convention), which itself will entail the question on the nature of the interconnection of the arts with the broader "creative industries". How can the creative industries promote (or inhibit?) the role of the arts in social development?

It is the subject of policy debate, what cultural policy structures are required in the granting of a social role and function to the arts, and the extent to which cultural policies need to be reviewed in the light of this. In this context we need further clarification on which forms of cooperation and exchange will be needed (and between whom), and what demand currently exists for the training of artists and cultural managers in developing countries.

When we think of "good governance" as providing a new basis for society, what is required to facilitate good cultural governance? Let us use the term governance as a bridge that serves to advance interdisciplinary dialogue, interconnecting the debates and discourses of different disciplines, and bring together political science and cultural research. Governance requires the coordination and oversight of complex social systems and their semi-autonomous agents and actors; cultural governance would require this in the cause of the organization of cultural diversity and cultural participation. …

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