Author: John Holden
Full reference: Holden, J. (2008). Democratic Culture: Opening up the arts to everyone. London: Demos
This report asks what a ‘democratic culture’ in the arts would look like, and finds the current system wanting in terms of legislative frameworks, representation, transparency, equality, and universalism.
The author begins by discussing the meaning of ‘culture’ and identifies three spheres of cultural activity: publicly funded culture, commercial culture and home-made culture. He notes that these three spheres increasingly overlap and that there has been an upsurge in creative activity, particularly in the ‘homemade’ sphere, enabled in part by the expansion of the internet as an enabler of mass creativity and cultural interaction.
Nevertheless access to publicly funded culture is still very limited, with only 4 per cent of the population enjoying the arts regularly and the vast majority of people feeling alienated by some parts of the cultural world. The report examines processes of exclusion, how artists, sponsors and expert professionals can adopt benign or malign positions towards widening access to culture and how arguments of ‘excellence’ and ‘quality’ may be misused to preserve the status quo.
The report concludes that democratic culture is not an unattainable high ideal, or necessarily synonymous with debased quality. Rather, it is something that should be an essential part of a wider political democracy.