Provocation from Deborah Bull, Assistant Principal (London), King’s College London
Towards Cultural Democracy (a report from King’s College London) sets out a bold vision for a world in which opportunities to create are open to all, regardless of background, social circumstances, age or geography. We know that this is not, at present, the case: there are significant disparities to levels of engagement between different communities and geographic areas, with socio-economic background and educational attainment the biggest factors influencing participation. We also know (from the Warwick Commission) that there is a mismatch between the public’s appetite to take part in culture and the publicly-funded offer. Across the UK and the Republic of Ireland there are around 63,000 voluntary arts groups, involving more than ten million people.
So what is the relationship of the publicly-funded arts organisations to this broader ecology of singers, dancers, makers and writers – these millions of everyday participants who make and create on a voluntary basis?
If they are all part of a cultural ecology, how does one element relate to and interact with the other? What is the role of the funded organisations in promoting and encouraging the cultural capabilities of everyone – in enabling all parts of the ecology to flourish in ways that are more empowering, more equitable and, in the end, more creative?
Arts organisations have worked hard over recent years to develop imaginative ways to engage broader audiences with their work. But supporting everyday participation in arts and culture, encouraging the creativity and cultural capabilities of everyone, is not necessarily the same thing.