Cultural Policy and Processes of Transformation

Copyright: Andreas Hartmann

Main conference location Kulturdomäne Marienburg.

by Annika Hampel

The first semi-plenary session on the topic of “Cultural Policy and Processes of Transformation” was conceived by Wolfgang Schneider, Daniel Gad and Annika Hampel. Over two morning sessions, it looked at how culture and applied arts can trigger the processes of social change. The focus of the session was on concepts and structures. Moderated by Professor Jonathan Vickery from the University of Warwick (UK), German, African and Arab delegates discussed cultural policy and the attendant social transformation with the help of the following questions:

  • What are the roles of art and artists in society?

  • What is the function of cultural policy in society?

  • What funding and infrastructures are needed for the arts to “function” in society?

  • What social function should be supported by cultural policy?

The “activating cultural state”: understanding concepts of cultural policy

In his brief introduction, Wolfgang Schneider outlined the meaning and significance of the arts. The arts stimulate, irritate and provoke. They reveal the needs of individuals and societies alike and influence political decision-making and individual actions. So the arts have an inherent capacity as partners in the transformation process and as determinants of society’s future. Cultural policy is therefore social policy, which is ideally conceived and put into practice by civil society in a bottom-up process. The countries of the Global North and Global South are all equally preoccupied by the role of the arts in transformation processes. For example, Germany has breached the human right to cultural participation and has neglected its role as an “activating cultural state” (see the concluding report on “Culture in Germany” produced by the German Bundestag’s Enquete Commission in 2007) by failing to provide opportunities for migrants and Germany’s rural population to participate in the arts and artistic forms of expression. In terms of cultural policy, we have to ask how cultural policy can support the arts and artists without instrumentalising or functionalising them. The context, tradition and understanding of cultural policy are different in every country. It is impossible to find a single cultural concept that can act as a model for cultural policy activities in all countries, because their circumstances are all different. So a first step is to define a common understanding in international dialogues on cultural policy studies. Conference delegates – academics and intellectuals – are all members of the state structure, so it is their right and duty to use their studies to shape the cultural policy of the future.

Lupwishi Mbuyamba, Executive Director of the Observatory on Cultural Policies in Africa, based in Maputo (Mozambique) explained his understanding of cultural policy as follows: “Cultural policy is a coherent sum of principles and measures taken by the leadership of a given community to define the modalities of identification, preservation, and promotion of the essential elements of the cultural, social, spiritual, artistic and moral heritage and its own identity.” He illustrated his view of cultural policy by using the example of people who establish the origins of a culture and hence have the power to legitimise that culture. When asked about the role of artists in Africa and how the arts affect the transformation process, Lupwishi Mbuyamba stressed that artistic creation can be a reflection of social conditions. For him, works of art are a source of inspiration and technique. Artists do not want to be disturbed by political interventions and academic surveys. They just want to express themselves. Using specific examples from African countries, he explained how the arts can trigger transformation processes. For example, poverty can be combated by artists setting up their own businesses and by opening up new job prospects for street children through artistic activities in their neighbourhoods. In future, cultural policy studies should focus on the connection between visions of cultural policy and strategies of action: identifying indicators for cultural development and defining the basic conditions for building cultural policy at local and national level. He concluded by stressing that inter-faith dialogue is also an area that should not be ignored. In an African context it is particularly important to integrate traditional leaders into cultural policy, as they exercise a great deal of influence on all areas of society.

Amine Moumine, Professor at the Université Hassan II in Casablanca (Morocco) and a member of Al Mawred Al Thaqafy in Cairo (Egypt), explained that he would be speaking about the Arab region in relation to cultural policy and cultural policy studies. He said that this region is made up of many very different countries in terms of their political, economic, geographical and social structures. They all have a different understanding of cultural policy concepts. He described the Arab region as having two main groups. On the one side are the ruling elite, who support the arts and the country’s cultural heritage in a conservative, traditional way. On the other side there is the young generation, particularly cultural activists and members of civil society who support global, contemporary visions of artistic creativity. Moumine outlined a number of objectives for cultural policy in the Arab region. Firstly, it is important to protect cultural diversity – the culture and art of the many different ethnic groups. Secondly, it is essential to develop concepts for arts education, not just for artists, but also for children. The arts allow the imagination, and hence reality, to blossom. Thirdly, the cultural sector must be more professional in terms of cultural policy and cultural management, so that the existing abundance of creativity is provided with the environment it needs to flourish in everyday life. He concluded by saying: “We possess creativity, but we are failing to explore this creativity. We have no facts and figures on cultural policy in terms of infrastructure, stakeholders, laws and rules.”

Christine M. Merkel from the UNESCO Commission (Germany) described cultural policy as “the free flow of ideas and building peace in the mind of men”. She outlined four policy areas which form the basis for cultural policy: freedom and human rights, trade and international exchange, the cultural economy and cultural policy as the partner of education and media policy. It can take years and decades to establish and implement cultural policies. This is the only way that local artistic communities can work on developing their own cultural policies. These promising processes also need to be evaluated and provided with funding.

Drafting a set of conditions for cultural policy: understanding cultural policy structures

Daniel Gad began by saying that structures, cultural policy frameworks and cultural infrastructure in this context are vital for ensuring the freedom of artistic creation. The questions to be discussed during this session were: How are cultural infrastructures defined and what needs are identified? What degree of infrastructure is necessary in order to achieve the aims of cultural policy? How should it be created? What are the obstacles? How should initiatives, projects and programmes be supported? What cultural policy research is needed in this respect? According to this, cultural infrastructure not only includes financial support but also freedom and security, mobility and space for the arts, training and education in the arts, artistic exchange and participation. Sustainability, ownership and empowerment are other topics which relate to this discussion on cultural infrastructure. Gad emphasised the three cultural policy actors in Germany – the state, the market and civil society. Ideally they should be working together to support the arts and share the responsibility for cultural policy. The underlying concepts of German foreign cultural policy – relationships of equals and the “dual-carriageway principle” – mean that concepts should not be copied. Instead, viable concepts should be developed that are suited to the local context. So it is about developing “mobile concepts” in other regions.

Mzo Sirayi of the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria (South Africa) looked at the rural regions of Africa, far away from the cities and cultural centres. With regard to infrastructure, he stressed: “Village cultural facilities have to be built in South Africa.” Villages, townships and cities all lack a cultural infrastructure which provides space for creativity and mitigates social problems. No infrastructure and no cultural policy, a lack of research into cultural activities and spaces – all this does not mean that there is no public demand. On the contrary, a cultural infrastructure is important and very necessary.

Rana Yazaji, a Lebanese cultural researcher at the Ettijahat institute (Lebanon) and the newly-appointed Director of Al Mawred Al Thaqafy (Egypt) gave an introduction to cultural policy in the Arab region. She described the diversity of these countries and identified three different groups: politically stable countries such as Morocco; countries in transition (such as Egypt) in the grip of political and social upheavals but where violence is kept in check; and countries where violence is an everyday occurrence and openly perpetrated, such as Syria. She explained that countries can very quickly move from one category to another. This analysis is significant for exploring the activities and roles of civil societies with regard to the arts and culture, as they cannot be viewed as separate from the social and political context of their countries. Depending on these categories, the civil actors either sustain a dialogue with the government, or they are at odds with the government, or civil society works separately from government. It is not easy to establish cultural policy in these countries, as the cultural actors (groups, organisations, etc.) have few connections, as has been shown by an analysis of networks in Syria. Like science and research as a whole, cultural policy research is generally in a fragile position. But this kind of research is important if structures are to be changed. Cultural researchers also lack a counterpart. The government does not act as a partner which seeks the involvement and input of artists, cultural workers and stakeholders from other areas of society. This led to the goal of creating an alternative cultural policy for the independent sector. Rana Yazaji stressed that it is useful to compare cultural policy in other countries in this research, whether it is with neighbouring countries or countries such as those of South America which have certain geographical, political, historical and artistic similarities with the countries of the Arab region.

Ulrike Blumenreich of the Kulturpolitische Gesellschaft in Bonn (Germany) presented Germany’s cultural infrastructure. Here, 10 percent of cultural funding comes from private sources and 90 percent from the public purse. According to Blumenreich, German funding only ranks in the middle compared to that provided by other European countries. She argued for a concept-based cultural policy in order to devise new kinds of cultural funding, in which previous cultural policy objectives and the functions of cultural institutions would be exploited in alternative ways. This resetting of goals in collaboration with civil society would still include the question: How much and what type of cultural infrastructure is needed? Finally, the cultural policy goals must be put in writing at both regional and national level, otherwise they do not have the weight to influence and criticise cultural policy.

The semi-plenary session revealed that this meeting of several hundred cultural policy experts in Hildesheim first of all provided an important platform for getting to know each other. They had an opportunity to learn from each other by setting out their particular views of cultural policy in different national contexts. The various realities and challenges also provided inspiration for their own particular circumstances. The discussions and dialogue allowed common questions and goals to be identified in terms of cultural policy research, such as good governance as a cultural indicator for human development. In future it will be useful to make an international comparison of the research results.