Culture 2025 – I wouldn’t start from here at all!

What should an effective Cultural Policy look like?

It would accept and work with the UNESCO definition of Culture (as the new Dublin City Cultural Policy does for example)
It would understand the critical importance of every citizen’s individual creativity throughout all of life and every strata and section of society.
It would explicitly state it’s understanding of the relationship between Creativity, Culture, Arts and Heritage, and point out that arts and heritage are the result of the culture.
It would grasp the opportunity to replace the current outdated, patronising and divisive legislation with laws that enshrine, protect and celebrate all of the above,  and all the people earning a living from the culture industries.
It would understand the impact of a vibrant culture on health, welfare, community, citizenship, creative industries and the wider economy.
It would understand that Culture works through every agency and department of government.
It would understand that culture cannot be controlled by a central agency and that culture constantly changes.
It would understand that policy and strategy must respond to culture not attempt to direct it.
It would state actions that would free creativity not constrain it.
Actions that would free creativity not constrain it
Culture2025 will do none of these things and here’s why.

 There is no existing legislation that deals directly with Culture.
Why is this importnat?
We have the Arts Act.  Consequently,  bureaucrats and politicians think that a conversation about Culture is a conversation about the Arts because that’s the only piece of relevant legislation that they can refer to  to guide their decision making.
So, what will happen with Culture2025 is:
In the first few pages it will acknowledge the UNESCO definition because it kinda has to,  and then it will say that this cultural policy will just focus on the arts, cultural heritage and the Creative Industries.  Why will it say that? Because these are the easiest things to attach a monetary value to.  “Arts” is  good for tourism. Cultural Heritage is visitor centres and the “Historic East” (also good for tourism)  and Creative Industries is obviously about money and its a cool new term and there’s loadsa money sloshing around Europe for it – oh, and it “creates jobs”.
It will focus on these things because – from a bureaucratic point of view – they can be seen, they can be measured, they can be controlled and they can be funded – which is what bureaucrats and politicians think policy is about these days.
So, from the get go (I would guess about page two) Culture 2025 will not be a cultural policy, it will be an Arts (Tourism), Heritage (Tourism) and Creative Industries policy. (Department of Tourism and Creative Industries?)

The Policy will be framed at the other end by listing all the relevant legislation (Broadcasting Act  2009, The Arts Act 2003 , Official Languages Act, Local Government Act 2001, Heritage Fund Act 2001, Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000, Intellectual Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1998, National Cultural Institutions Act 1997, Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 (particularly sections 195, 481, 848a, 1003), The Heritage Act 1995, National Archives Act 1986).

This cocktail of legislation – and the agencies that have been brought into existence by it – have failed dismally to create a thriving culture, failed to achieve any of the outcomes associated with cultural development, and failed to create any wealth, respect or security for the many people – artists and others – who struggle to protect and preserve this culture that countless politicians say is so important.

This is the legislation that has established and validated the current dysfunctional system that creates dependency on single sources of funding, which in turn creates the poverty experienced by so many artists; that elevates one definition of high art above all others; that uses the divisive concept of “excellence” to justify exclusion and inequaity, that downgrades and depresses the idea of creativity and community; that separates artists from their copyright; that divides artist and general public;  and that has failed to create a sustainable, thriving sector.

Anything between the definition at the start of the document and the legislation and agencies at the end of the document will be   unactionable and irrelevant.

The single greatest opportunity in the development of a first National Cultural Policy is to understand and celebrate culture and creativity  in the widest possible way, and then design appropriate legislation, agencies and tools to support that culture, and to free the imagination and creativity of the entire population. Anything less is a waste of time

What Culture 2025 will do is ignore this opportunity. It will decide to talk about a tiny part of Culture – the bit that gets the tourists, wins a few awards and provides some photo ops – and miss the enormous personal, social and economic opportunity inherent in freeing the culture and creativity of the entire nation.

It will continue to support a web of legislation and agencies that have conspired – unintentionally – to create an “arts sector” deformed by dependency, riddled with inequality and entitlement,  characterised by poverty and more than a little despair, and of little perceived value to the vast majority of the public (as was pointed out at the NCFA What Next Meeting in Project June 9th)

The whole discussion on a National Cultural Policy needs to go back to the starting point. Because if Culture 2025 is allowed to bed down without the UNESCO definition of Culture and without a complete review and replacement of all relevant legislation and agencies then all we will have is more of the same. Of course you can’t really do what needs to be done if you don’t have an Adequately Resourced Department of Arts, Culture and Heritage, “… a department with the the right people, the right expertise, the right knowledge. People who understand the connection, the flow from community to creativity to culture to art; people who understand that Art is fleeting and creativity continuous; people who understand the value of culture and creative practice to health, welfare. diversity, inclusion, and innovation; people who understand that failure is inevitable and necessary, and people who like it – who like to dance and read, and see plays, and listen to all kinds of music, and appreciate the value of graffitti as well as Goya….a department that understands the changing social and technological environment, who can see that the centralised funding model is an outdated 19th Century version of royal patronage, and that the 21st century needs something more fit for purpose, just as it needs an updated legislation to deal with the shifting parameters of practice.”

Any vague government promises of possible funding increases is a distraction; any talk of all party groups endlessly discussing the irrelevant bits in the middle of Culture2025 is irrelevant. Any discussion of culture that does not take the widest possible definition and is prepared to review and replace all existing legislation and agencies is irrelevant.

This is why an Adequately resourced department now is the only sensible way forward.

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