We will be featuring some short ideas about what cultural democracy means to some of our members here.
"I started my professional theatre career working in Theatre-In-Education and Community Theatre in the 1980s. I was part of a permanent actors’ ensemble, in collective organisational structures, where each staff member enjoyed equal pay, was a trade unionist and a board member and had an equal say from day one. Our schools work was radical in form and content, and fiercely child-centred. Our community theatre performances were democratic; designed so there was never a ‘fourth wall’ separating us from our audience. We were fearless in choosing what we wanted to say and how we wanted to say it. I worked with some of the most skilled actors I ever came across – who could hold the attention of an individual child as though for that moment they were all that mattered in the world, or could wade into an audience in a pub or club and hold them enthralled like the best yarn-spinner they had ever heard. That for me was cultural democracy in action. A revolutionary act. It’s not about nostalgia, it’s about making sure that artistic freedom and autonomy I tasted can be savoured anew by a new generation of artists and audiences."
Hassan Mahamdallie, writer, researcher and theatre-maker.
"PCS Culture Group welcomes the Manifesto for Cultural Democracy initiative, at a time when budget cuts and austerity policies are deeply undermining our cultural institutions and when corporate power is increasingly encroaching on the fundamental aims of our museums and art centres.
The PCS Culture Group, working with other unions in the creative & cultural sector, has developed its own programme, under the banner of the Show Culture Some Love, and we look forward to taking part in this initiative, building the Manifesto by consulting our members, and helping develop an alternative political programme to the Tories' profit-making agenda."
PCS Culture Group.
"The art world has never been such a powerful force in the UK as it is now, but the question is, is it a force for good? In spite of this apparent abundance of artistic self-expression, the rise of nationalism and the right reveals that many people are feeling disenfranchised and voiceless. These are battles about culture and cultural identity. If culture is part of what is at stake then surely cultural policy has a role to play in countering the divisiveness of the narratives that underpin these groups? So the question is what can culture do?
In times of austerity cuts to the arts are the first to come. As things stand politicians don’t care about culture because their constituents don’t care about culture. And why should they? They don’t care about it because they don’t have a stake in it - it’s not their culture, its the culture of the elite. We need to make culture matter, not just to a small group of highly invested individuals but to everyone.
We need to hold cultural policies to account. Currently art spaces make claims to work with their local communities, but they are not the product of those communities. They are effectively using those communities to secure arts council funding. In this scenario artists are paid for a transitory engagement with those communities, producing what the elite thinks culture looks like, and in turn ameliorating any real responsibility to fund the culture of those they claim to serve.
Real cultural democracy would hold such practices to account, push artists and art spaces to interrogate their work, demand self-reflection and critical analysis and thus strengthen the integrity of the discourse and practice within the art sphere. Real cultural democracy would recognise that culture is being produced all the time and encompasses a whole panoply of human endeavours and it is these that we will need to support from the grass roots up, if we really want culture to count for anything. It is in this way that culture could start to be taken seriously as a form of inclusion, as a means to empower and give expression to the marginalised.
As an artist I want to work in an environment with ethics and integrity. I want to work in an environment where people are honest about what they are doing and who is served by their practices. I want to work in an environment where people can be clear about where they fall short and in which ways and on what terms they succeed. I am tired of the grandiose claims of artists and art spaces and want the art sphere to be honest and humble about its limitations, to see beyond its own bubble, to recognise that no amount of political messages will politicise elite art institutions. I want arts council funding to reflect the fact that nurturing and supporting creative self-expression from the grass-roots up is just about the most powerful political action possible."
Rose Gibbs, artist and activist.
"Culture is ordinary, and culture is everything, as Raymond Williams said. We deliberately use a wide definition of culture to ensure discussion and policy making is not just limited to the arts. Culture for us means all those cultural activities which express our beliefs, values, and interests and which we practise and appreciate collectively for our entertainment, exercise, and enlightenment. It includes all of the arts but also sport, the media, religion and other cultural activities.
Culture is essential to our well-being, health and happiness, and our personal and social development. Yet all around us it is being privatised, enclosed, and commercialised by a profit-seeking capitalist system which seeks to stifle its potential for nourishing and liberating us. In a class-divided society such as ours, the arts and other cultural activities often reflect and serve the needs of the dominant class to maintain and legitimise their power. But culture can also provide space for dissent. It can help us cope with and resist political domination and economic exploitation, imaginatively rekindle a sense of utopian possibility, and help transform the world.
The cultural struggle is linked to democratic and participatory economic and political struggles against an unequal, class-divided society and against the capitalist system which generates and sustains class divisions. We believe that a radical new socialist approach to policy making is needed across all areas of our culture to defend, democratise and renew our artistic, intellectual, physical and spiritual commons.
We believe the Movement for Cultural Democracy itself exemplifies an open, democratic and participatory approach to politics. We hope it provides the opportunity to develop, in both creative and critical ways, a comprehensive package of culture polices which will envision better, fairer ways of organising society and which will work for the many, not the few."
Culture Matters Co-Operative.
"Cultural democracy is needed more now than ever before to help strengthen and give voice to civil society’s response to the many urgent crises facing humanity.
Culture IS a common good and we need to reclaim the means to cultural production at a grassroots level, enabling people of all ages and ethnicities, from all walks of life, to access resources (including spaces, materials, equipment and time) to explore through the arts, local, national and global issues, and to share individual and collective creative responses.
Culture is not fixed or static but ever-evolving, reflecting old traditions and new identities. In times of uncertainty culture is a battle-ground prone to historical distortion, and appropriation by the establishment. Yet the fostering of an open, inclusive and truly democratic society requires creative thinking. Engagement in the arts offers the possibility to construct new narratives and explore better ways of living together.
We must be open to new hybrid forms of creative expression, particularly as young people and emerging artists experiment with cross-over styles, digital technology and outside art such as street art.
We must build an ethical, sustainable arts economy with strong links to the trade union movement and avoidance of dodgy philanthropy or sponsorship, such as that derived from fossil fuels, arms trade, hedge-funds, private health companies, big-pharma, and so on.
We must fight for the rights of all children and young people to have free arts education and for proper funding for libraries, youth arts organisations and creative well-being programmes. We must remove the barriers to participation, particularly for people with disabilities, BAME communities, LGBTIQ+, refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, homeless and otherwise disenfranchised or dispossessed.
We must learn from best-practice models such as the Reggio Emilia artist in residence programmes for early years and the Finnish education system that promotes child-centred learning and minimal testing. We must embed the habit of life-long learning through the arts.
We must place greater value on arts and humanities in further and higher education and support arts-based degree and post-graduate courses, whilst promoting STEAM not STEM - A=Arts. We must advocate for free university education for all.
And we must fight for Freedom of Movement across the EU in order to continue working closely with our nearest neighbours whilst challenging the old colonialism that still pervades our relationship with Commonwealth countries. We must promote the importance of culture in the delivery mechanisms of the SDGs, and stand in solidarity with artists at risk around the world."
Julie Ward MEP.
"It has never been so necessary to challenge how our art & culture is currently run: budget cuts, privatisations, closures, commercialisation have become the priorities. Access to Art & Culture is a human right and we must reclaim it. The Manifesto for Cultural Democracy comes at a perfect time when we need to develop a strong agenda on Art & Culture for the future Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn. It is paramount that solutions come from the many, not the few and this can be achieve by linking up all cultural workers, culture campaigners, art lovers and society in general. I am looking forward to take part in this project and will encourage all members of PCS union Culture Group (that represent up to 4,000 museums & heritage workers) to engage with the process."
Clara Paillard, President of PCS Culture Group.
Cultural democracy is not new, but rather an idea that has found a newly conducive context. This is much to do with the growing belief amongst younger generations that change is necessary and that they can and will make it happen. It is also perhaps a confluence between a budding socialist agenda for the UK and the dissatisfaction of so many cultural practitioners over a longstanding retrenchment in public funding for the arts that has sought to control rather than nurture. We should not underestimate what cultural democracy is up against regarding the debilitating effect that increasing privatisation of the arts has been making on this sector. Its ongoing corporate capture indeed seems to be going from bad to worse with the recent appointment of a member of the Murdoch family to Arts Council England’s National Council. It will be up to those who understand that a society stands or falls on the creativity employed by all its citizens to turn this around and enable the democratic values held so dear in societal terms to also enter the sphere of creativity and culture.
Loraine Leeson, Artist, academic, Arts for Labour.