This is the first version of our Manifesto for Cultural Democracy. See Version 2.0 for our new update for 2019.
A strong democracy is an inclusive democracy. It’s a society where no-one is invisible and every voice is heard.
Culture, as it has been, can be the preserve of the privileged few or instead, it can be the building block that strengthens our democracy, celebrated as a basic human right, helping to create a world where all people are free to enjoy the benefits of self-expression, access to resources and community.
Our goal is to ensure that in our time it is the latter that prevails and that this transformative value, of culture for all, by all, comes to permeate all corners of our social lives and political institutions.
1. We will launch a new National Arts Fund (NAF), funded by a transaction tax on the UK Art Market which will in turn bring in excess of £1billion of extra revenue into the treasury. The NAF will be democratically structured and administered, ensuring that cultural funding is regionally and demographically distributed, and through it, a network of local and regional elected representatives will be created with a mandate to ensure that cultural spending empowers the communities that elect those representatives. We will champion investment in people over products, process not results.
2. Working alongside and within the NAF, the Arts Council will be redirected to consolidate and build the infrastructure that will enable cultural players to connect and flourish on a local, national and international level. Part of this remit will be to ensure that Britain’s culture is truly working for the benefit of all, above and beyond the logic of commercialism. A new public publishing house, for example, will be launched as an early flagship project of this drive to build new democratic infrastructure for culture in Britain.
3. The Arts Council’s charter will be redrafted to reflect broader societal goals and a project of full-scale decolonisation that enshrines and enacts anti-racism, gender equality, disability rights, sexual freedom, freedom from poverty and ecological sustainability at the heart of Britain’s cultural institutions, working simultaneously to expose the roots of social, economic and environmental injustice.
4. The Arts Council will also be mandated to collaborate with local authorities in order to ring-fence public spaces and to put these spaces into the service of public-led forms of cultural production. At its most basic, this would mean opening idle spaces and empty buildings up to creative practitioners and community groups. It would also mean investing section 106 funding, raised from private land development, into the expansion of publicly owned assets for cultural activity – libraries, recording studios, community arts centres, performance spaces, exhibition centres, playgrounds and parks.
5. Long-term, this collaboration between the Arts Council and Local Government aims to reverse the process of gentrification whereby artists, like immigrants, revive devalued spaces, creating value that is then reflected by rising land prices which in turn price both artists and the local community out of the area they have helped to regenerate. By way of reversal, the strategy of expanding public space for culture will be extended to the provision of social housing for democratically-funded cultural producers, so that local authority effectively rewards and stabilises cultural contribution. Culture, harnessed this way, becomes something that both enriches and stabilises community, not something that is experienced as a door to dispossession.
6. This recognition of the humanising potential of the artist will also be harnessed as a means of bringing greater transparency and a greater understanding to the public of how our government institutions function. We will create autonomous creative residencies for artists and groups of citizens within all national government departments, the Bank of England, the BBC and the UK border agency, subjecting the corridors of power to non-vested public scrutiny.
7. We believe that this humanising potential of cultural exchange is universal. We therefore call for the institution of a universal basic income that will enable all people to fulfill the potential of their innate creativity.
8. We believe that the dignity of labour is sacrosanct and call for the cultural sector to set the standard in terms of workers’ rights, guaranteeing at least the UK living wage for all its employees, including artists and interns, management, technicians, cleaners and security staff. We also call on the sector to recognise the positive role played by trades unions in helping to fight for the normalisation of humane working conditions and we will lead on this by introducing trades union representation onto the independent board of every public cultural institution.
9. We will introduce lifelong arts learning, free at the point of use and embed arts education into the national curriculum so that all children in Britain, from primary school up, are able to benefit from the provision of free lessons in music, drama, creative writing, dance, painting, gardening, food and fashion. This will generate, alongside opportunities for learning, new jobs across the UK for cultural practitioners.
10. We believe that these reforms will ultimately liberate our society from the logic of pure economic gain and instead, affirm culture’s proper role as a social value that can in turn bring the benefits of creativity, community and joy into all aspects of our democratic life, from the grassroots into government, from childhood to old age. A society defined by this paradigm – of culture for all, by all – will be a stronger society and also a happier one.