Monday, 14 April 2008

Keep Luvvies and Hacks out of Cultural Policy

I have written before about the dangers of privileging aesthetic criteria in cultural policy making. The people that would disagree with me would be artists and arts critics. In the past week or so we have had two excellent illustrations of why these people need keeping at arm's length from cultural policy making.

Firstly, the Arts Council took a hit because its funding forms ask questions about a potential recipients' representativeness - in particular, board members' sexual orientation. Yes, it's a bit overkill, but my understanding is that this is part of the equalities monitoring process, and not part of the hated target culture that so exercises our creative colleagues. That didn't stop the Telegraph peddling the view that money would be allocated on the basis of whether you are gay or not, and it didn't stop no less personages than Sir Ian McKellen and Michael Frayn bemoaning this seeming bureaucratic irritant.

That many organisations - public and private - use equality monitoring forms to see just who applies for jobs or, in this case, grants, is obviously irrelevant.

The second example saw Margaret Hodge complain about the small number of women in senior arts positions. Laura Cunningham shot back in the Observer with some examples of women at the top of the arts world doing great things, but she didn't let the facts get in the way of a good story. Hodge wrote to The Observer this Sunday pointing out that only 33% of arts board members are women.

Cummings' anecdotes, like the opinions of McKellen and Frayn (and many of the reactions to the McMaster report earlier this year) prove a golden rule of cultural policy - the luvvies and the critics don't actually know very much about the way things really are.

So we should be very careful indeed if we are thinking about giving them a privileged position in cultural policy making.

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