Basic Concepts:

Modes and Means of Cultural Policy-Making

by Don Adams and Arlene Goldbard

© Copyright Adams & Goldbard 1986, 1995


How Is Policy Set?

Many approaches to making cultural policy are being used throughbout the U.S. and around the world. Specific descriptions of many of these appear in the deeper levels of Webster's World of Cultural Policy, which can be accessed through links at the end of this document. Here, we briefly describe the general processes involved in policy-making.

To make truly comprehensive cultural policy, three categories of action are required:

  1. processes to define cultural values, goals and priorities;
  2. programs of initiatives and expenditures which can advance those goals, most often seen as the terrain of "explicit" cultural policy-making; and
  3. ways to monitor indirect policy, a kind of watchdog process to assess the cultural impact of every social action in light of defined standards, establishing a means of handling implicitly defined cultural policy.

The first step provides the foundation and the criteria for the next two.

The watchdog process might be compared to the "environmental impact report" process enacted in the U.S. 1970s, requiring development plans to be evaluated for their potential effects on the physical environment according to standards established in federal policy. With a comprehensive cultural policy, a "cultural impact report" might be required before a neighborhood could be bulldozed to make way for a shopping mall, factory or superhighway.

A vital question is cultural policy-making is who decides. An entirely laissez-faire approach leaves those with the most power and wealth with the greatest opportunity to affect the nature and quality of their cultural lives, and leaves the poor and disenfranchised out. Cultural democracy emphasizes the ultimate aim of enabling everyone to participate in such decisions, to the greatest extent possible.

This implies decentralization -- bringing as many key decisions as close to home as possible, leaving to central authorities only those decisions which must be taken up at higher levels of decision-making. But at the same time, the intervention of central authorities has played a significant role in protecting minority rights when local majorities have become oppressive, as in the federal government's roles in the 1950s and '60s civil rights movement.

So the question of who makes policy is among the most complex and hotly debated of them all.

Modes of Action in Cultural Policy

Generally, government initiatives in explicit cultural policy involve activities in one or more of the following broad areas of concern: preservation, dissemination, creation, research, training, education and animation.

The Instrumentalities of Cultural Policy

In each of these areas of activity, policy-makers have a variety of instrumentalities at their disposal.

Arlene Goldbard and Don Adams are writers and consultants in organizational and cultural development. They established their consulting firm, Adams & Goldbard, in 1978, and have been based in Ukiah, California since 1985.

This page is adapted from a previously unpublished manuscript entitled Cultural Democracy, written in 1986.

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including links to other cultural policy pages

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Webster's World of Cultural Democracy
The World Wide Web center of The Institute for Cultural Democracy (Don Adams, WWCD Project Director)
P.O. Box 404, Talmage, CA 95481-0404 U.S.A.
© Copyright The Institute for Cultural Democracy 1995