Cultural Policy and Participation

Copyright: Andreas Hartmann

Conference Venue Kulturcampus Domäne Marienburg

by Birgit Mandel, Doreen Götzky, Thomas Renz and Stephanie Mai

The third semi-plenary session was entitled “Cultural Policy and Participation”. It was conceived by Birgit Mandel, Doreen Götzky and Thomas Renz. This interactive, participative session was divided into two sections: “Participation in terms of audience development and developing arts institutions” and “Participation in terms of cultural development planning and developing cultural policy strategies””. The first section focused on cultural management strategies for participation in arts institutions, while the second section looked at how the cultural life of a district or region as a whole can be participative in the sense that it involves people from a broad range of urban or social sectors.

In her brief introduction, Professor Birgit Mandel from the University of Hildesheim’s Department of Cultural Policy described the various facets of the term cultural participation, which may include simple attendance at cultural events, active amateur involvement or participation in the decision-making processes of cultural policy. She left it to the participants to coordinate the session in terms of their own understanding of culture, their own cultural preferences and the key policy objective of participation. The latter may range from increasing audience sizes, to greater inclusion for disadvantaged social groups, to making the processes of cultural policy decision-making more democratic.

She went on to present a number of theories on cultural participation and described the methodological difficulties involved in carrying out international comparisons. She presented three key findings of meta-studies on people’s involvement with the arts in a number of (mainly Western) countries: attendance rates are very similar in most Western countries. Despite the introduction of audience development programmes, they have remained fairly steady. A higher level of education is the main prerequisite for attendance at cultural events in all countries, and preferences for particular types of culture are similar in most countries. Entertainment formats such as pop music and cinema are the most popular, with opera bringing up the rear. According to Mandel, this leads to the controversial theory that it is less a question of finding new audiences for “old institutions” but rather of changing cultural offers and institutions to make them more attractive and relevant to broader sections of the public.

In conclusion, she presented the key findings of her own research project on intercultural audience development. This looked at how traditional, publicly funded arts institutions need to change in order to attract new and more diverse audiences. There is a need for a wider range of marketing strategies, but this alone is not enough. Institutions also need to change their programmes and what have traditionally been very hierarchical structures in order to meet the cultural interests and requirements of a changing society.

However, in order to democratically justify public expenditure in the arts sector and create a sector that is in line with the needs of today’s society, more research is needed on how to attract new visitor segments and involve currently excluded groups in the processes of cultural production and decision-making. This was also addressed by subsequent presentations in the plenum section. An international comparison is particularly helpful in this respect.

An international comparison of cultural participation

Thomas Renz from the Department of Cultural Policy at the University of Hildesheim presented some key findings on audiences in Germany. Despite its dense cultural infrastructure and huge public subsidies, visitor rates are still relatively low. In Germany, only 10 % of the population regularly attends cultural events. Most of these are part of the social majority and are highly educated; 50 % are classed as “non-attenders”. The most popular cultural events are pop concerts and cinema, neither of which receive public funding. The events that receive the most public funding, such as opera, attract the smallest audiences.

Since the 1980s and Hilmar Hoffmann’s legendary call for “culture for all”, no ongoing assessment of cultural participation has been carried out in Germany, with the exception of visitor studies carried out for marketing purposes and occasional population studies such as the Kulturbarometer. There are also no strategies or compulsory instruments for managing policy. Instead, there are isolated best practices such as the work of the Kulturlogen, which use personal communication to give away free tickets to cultural events to people on low incomes.

Hilppa Sorjonen of the Foundation for Cultural Policy Research gave an insight into the situation in Finland, which in Germany is often held up as a good example of arts education and participation. A long-term study in Finland has shown that visits to cultural events (excluding opera and theatre) has indeed increased over the last decades. But there are no specific audience development strategies at national level. In 2014 the idea began to circulate of linking a system of incentives to public funding, with audience development being one of several criteria. Interestingly, most managers of arts institutions generally know very little about the concept of audience development.

Meanwhile, in Australia the concept of audience development was seized on by independent arts and cultural organisations as far back as the 1990s. Dr. Rimi Khan of the Research Unit in Public Cultures of the University of Melbourne reported that this area of promoting the arts has its own programme organised by the Australia Council for the Arts. A good example of cultural participation is provided by the Art Centre Melbourne’s partnership programme as part of its “Mix it up” series. Working with Multicultural Arts Victoria (a migrants’ arts association), the Art Centre Melbourne attracted a new, predominantly non-English-speaking audience, while at the same time offering its existing audience access to a wide range of multi-cultural content. It is still debatable whether such examples are primarily commercial marketing strategies designed to increase the commercial viability of arts institutions or whether they can be classified as successful strategies for audience development and diversification.

During the subsequent discussion, the panel agreed that the main challenge facing arts institutions is to identify the new and very varied patterns of consumption in an increasingly diverse society, and to use these findings to create content. Therefore more research needs to be carried out into the alternative cultural activities that are enjoyed by people who do not attend traditional arts institutions. Particularly in rural areas, other forms of civic engagement are much more significant than visits to traditional arts institutions, as has been shown by studies carried out in Australia. Anthropological mapping undertaken in the Netherlands has also shown that 60 % of the population attend events which are not considered to be part of the “official cultural infrastructure”, such as local concerts, and these are never reflected in official statistics on art usership. So it is necessary to carry out more research on a wide spectrum of cultural practices and to employ sociological and anthropological methodologies. These may be more complex to use, but they provide a more accurate picture of real life than statistics.

If arts institutes are to develop their audiences, then it is important to involve volunteers and to use the latest technical advances from the USA to find strategies for countering the problem of visitor numbers, which are falling every year. Audience figures at publicly funded events tend to increase when they are made available to a wider public by airing them online and/or making them open-air events. In the Netherlands, museums are increasingly being allowed to place their collections online. Clicks on their websites are then included in their visitor figures. These kinds of considerations are all part and parcel of a new definition of cultural participation. Cultural behaviour can no longer be measured by visits to traditional arts institutions. Now it involves participation in a cultural life that is open to the public and based on a broad, non-standardised understanding of the term culture.

Cultural development planning as an instrument of participative policy

The second session was dedicated to the relevance of participative methodologies when framing cultural policy, with particular reference to an international comparison of cultural development planning. In Germany, there are increasingly calls for a concept-based cultural policy. In her introductory talk, Dr. Doreen Götzky from the Department of Cultural Policy at the University of Hildesheim showed how this is leading to greater relevance in the way cultural development is being planned. Some of the key issues in this respect are the challenges posed by funding, arts education, the role of culture in regional development processes and tourism, and the cultural and creative economy. The increasing political significance of popular culture is also reflected in the cultural development processes of the various regions. A number of participative methods are being used (surveys, arts advisory councils and workshops on cultural policy) in order to involve broader sections of society.

Professor Patricia Dewey Lamberts of the University of Oregon set out the core tasks of cultural development planning in the USA: access to cultural goods and the role of the arts and culture in educational processes. A relatively new concept is “creative placemaking”. This term brings together the different strategies involved in relationship management. Its aim is to develop local communities such as neighbourhoods, urban districts or regions based on the needs of individuals and civil society. Artists and artistic practices play a key role, and it also involves a change in methodology. Needs analyses are no longer the sole key elements of cultural development processes, but have been joined by analyses of resources and potentials. This kind of research is being carried out by US bodies such as Americans for the Arts and the National Assembly of the State Arts Agencies. The problem is that these studies often have few practical consequences.

In Poland, Dr. Marcin Poprawsky of the Adam Mickiewicz University explained that cultural development concepts are primarily used by cities as part of their best city branding in the competition to be awarded the title of European City of Culture 2016. Cultural development planning is relatively new in Poland, and it is mainly based on marketing methodologies such as SWOT analyses. However, it is experiencing a gradual increase in the use of anthropological and sociological research methods. Dr. Poprawasky reported on the “Leader of Change” concept with particular reference to “new forms of participation”. He described how stakeholders from the professional arts scene and civil society are becoming sponsors for particular cultural topics. They introduce these topics into their networks and encourage debate and development in this area.

The ensuing discussion revolved around the question of who should set the goals for cultural development strategies – experts, elected politicians, civil society or other groups – and who should decide which types of art and culture should receive public funding. This resulted in a lively discussion between those who believe it should be demand-oriented and those who believe citizens should not be given the power to decide on the cultural offer as this could lead to it becoming very one-sided. On the question of how to involve more non-experts, it was generally agreed that this depends on the size of locations and the number of people involved. It takes time and effort to seek out microstructures among culturally active communities, find out who are the key contacts in a particular section of society and work out how they should be involved. And as the size of the community involved grows, this becomes increasingly unviable. It was also surmised that established arts institutions have little serious interest in tackling these issues in order to reinvent cultural participation and cultural life because of worries about their funding.

The need for definitions

The lively and fascinating discussions throughout the session showed that participation is very relevant to policy in the delegates’ home countries. It also became clear that participation can take a wide range of different forms and that different policy aims can be pursued with the involvement of the arts. It also strongly depends on individual countries’ understanding of culture. In Germany this predominantly means visits to publicly funded arts institutions, whereas in the USA the statistics also include visits to theme parks, zoos and shopping malls.

It will be interesting to see how accelerating globalisation and internationalisation as a result of migration and an increasingly digital society will change ideas about what constitutes culture, cultural preferences, art usership and calls for shared decision-making on public cultural life. What new cultural policy concepts will be needed in order to reflect these changes?