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:
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.
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.
Preservation includes safeguarding artifacts -- buildings, paintings, costumes, furnishings, musical literature and so forth -- as well as cultural skills and activities -- basket-weaving, shape-note singing, or paper-making.
A central issue here is what people deem worthy of preservation: preservation activities in the U.S. often focus on cultural traditions derived from Europe -- the conventional fare of ballet and opera companies and symphony orchestras -- rather than indigenous cultures or those brought to America from Asia or Africa. The homes and histories of the wealthy are often treasured while those of working people are ignored.
Preservation raises other interesting questions, like the tension between the impulse to preserve and the impulse to move forward into the future: too much reverence for the past can produce a museum culture, lacking vivacity and innovation; but inattention to the past impairs a culture, cuts it off from historic roots and lessons that may be vital to survival. Another issue is the purpose of preservation: preservation can be seen as largely a matter of rescuing buildings and artifacts to be put on display; or artifacts and knowledge from the past can be related to current cultural interests, issues and problems, part of a dynamic dialogue with the present.
Dissemination is the main focus of most current cultural policies. Money goes to finance performances, tours, ticket subsidies, broadcasting, publishing, distribution networks, and special events designed to reach larger audiences.
The big policy questions are what will be disseminated and which methods will be used. Dissemination activities can be aimed at wider distribution of particular works -- "taking art to the hinterlands" -- or they can be multi-directional, supporting networks that can be used to share cultural offerings from city to country, neighborhood to neighborhood, and back again. And, as with preservation, the origin and forms of cultural work can be very narrow or encompassing of diverse cultural traditions.
Creation describes the contemporary work of artists and others involved in cultural production.
The problem of supporting new creation is addressed in most public cultural policies, including roles for government, private philanthropists, and various markets. One important issue here is what forms of creation and which creators are supported. A common approach is to focus entirely on artists as creators, and many public agencies confine their aid to those already recognized by other artists, critics and patrons; government's role in such cases is to corroborate and ratify the choices of private patrons.
An alternative goal would be to broaden the potential for creation, encouraging more members of society to pursue creative activities through a range of range of measures -- helping to finance facilities and equipment for all sorts of enterprises that a conventional art-oriented policy would consider hobbies -- model-building, barbershop quartets, neighborhood newsletters, flower shows. Within the realm of the arts, the goal would be more to redress the imbalances of the marketplace than to emulate the private sector.
Research into various cultural phenomena is generally conducted, to assure that policy is grounded in the concrete. Virtually every policy-making entity has looked into the nature and extent of cultural resources: Who makes up the audience for various cultural activities? How much are professional dancers paid? What arts education programs are available? How are racial minorities represented in public agency programs?
Key issues in research are what will be studied, and how methods color the results. Very little research has been done in the U.S., for example, on community-based cultural activities, while quite a bit is known about the major institutions' economics, audiences and plans. This bias perpetuates itself, as researchers frame their questions in ways that incorporate the values of the prestige arts or the academy and exclude others.
Democratic cultural policies must also be grounded in another kind of research: Acquiring knowledge about the customs, concerns, values and social relationships within a community and allowing this knowlege to shape and inform cultural action. This requires field research, interviews and conversations, anecdotal information, dreams and feelings as much as it needs hard data.
Training as a focus of cultural policy comprises the education of artists, arts administrators, and workers in related fields.
The main question here is how much government will intervene. Will standards be set, some sort of professional certification or licensing required? Will apprenticeship be considered a viable model for training? Do gaps exist in the training opportunities available? Is training accessible to those who can't afford tuition and fees?
Education plays a key role in explicit cultural policy, since learning about community cultural life is essentially an educational process.
Dozens of policy questions are at stake here: Will creation be treated as a special province of professional artists, or will education try to involve all students in creative activity? Will the aim of arts education be to train "arts appreciators" or practitioners? Will cultural education give students access to electronic media, or concentrate only on older media? Will the cultural forms transmitted through the schools come from all elements of society, or only the dominant culture? What cultural values are transmitted by the approach to learning and its context? Will history texts highlight the contributions of women and people of diverse cultural traditions, or will they reinforce the idea that history is made by white men?
Animation can be an element of policy only insofar as policy addresses cultural democracy. Discussed further in a document soon to be published inWebster's World of Cultural Action, the term "community animation" denotes work aimed at stimulating new, participatory activities in community settings. Its professional practitioners are widely known among policymakers by the French label animateur. If involving people in more active cultural lives is a goal of policy, then animation must be one of the means to that end. But if the state's exclusive goal is to support professional artists and institutions, as is true in most U.S. arts agencies, then animation will have little place in policy.
In each of these areas of activity, policy-makers have a variety of instrumentalities at their disposal.
Grants and awards are far and away the most popular methods of implementing cultural policy in the U.S. and some other countries. Arts agencies in the U.S.A. have tended to adopt the instrumentalities of private patronage, particularly the gift of a sum of money to a selected artist or institution.
Employment and job creation have been used here at certain historical moments, particularly during the Works Progress Adminstration (WPA) of President Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal" and the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) President Richard Nixon put into effect. In both these cases, the main intention was to take people off relief rolls and put them to work; someone had the secondary idea of using these job creation programs to employ artists. Artists may also be employed directly to fulfill commissions for works of art, act as agents of cultural preservation or animation, as teachers, or as arts administrators.
Cultural facilities of some kind are always provided, if only the basics of transportation and security. Libraries are a key example of providing public cultural facilities, expressing the value of democratic access to diverse written materials unaffordable to any but the wealthiest of private collectors. Public performance and studio space, and certain kinds of heavy equipment -- kilns, photographic labs, light and sound equipment -- can be provided so that each individual or group is not required to purchase these items anew. While grants often finance end products, providing facilities is a way to support cultural creation by furnishing the means.
Similarly, policy can provide for services. Central banks of theatrical scripts, costumes, scenery and equipment can be provided to keep individual production costs low. Printing services can be subsidized to make low-cost reproduction available for books, posters and periodicals. Legal aid for creators can be financed to ensure protection of their rights against claims from potential exploiters. The same is true of medical aid designed to monitor the many health hazards in artists' materials. Direct training comes under this heading, as does providing loans to creative workers unable to obtain traditional bank financing.
Finally, laws and regulations are powerful tools of cultural policy. Regulations can control the amount of imported cultural product and finance an indigenous film industry, as it has in Canada, Belgium and Australia. Some nations have enacted requirements that broadcast outlets and cinemas exhibit a certain percentage of domestically-produced programming. The regulations governing tax deductibility have had an enormous impact on the financing of culture in the U.S.A. The judiciary sets standards for obscenity in material broadcast, published or exhibited; many other kinds of judicial rulings deal with cultural issues, even when these are not treated as such. Zoning, copyright laws, laws governing the educational system -- these and many more are key to any nation's cultural policy.
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.