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An overview of cultural policy in the UK A Tale of Coalition, Cuts, Creative Industries & Cultural Olympiad

In March 2011, the House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport released a study on funding arts and heritage. The report’s summary begins with a statement which can be construed as this government’s cultural policy platform:

Arts and heritage in Britain are among our greatest assets. They bring great cultural and economic benefits and everybody should have access to them.”

Since the Second World War, most arts and heritage organisations have operated on a mixed funding model, whereby their income is made up partly of public subsidy and partly of private investment and earned revenue. This model has worked for them, and we support mixed funding.”

The Committee’s report summarized the government’s austerity measures while also establishing the government’s priorities in this sector. Not unlike other countries, the UK is moving towards a model of public-private-partnerships, away from traditional funding models, and towards investment schemes.

This article will examine the primary mechanisms charged with developing cultural policy and disseminating funding at the national (ie. Federal) level in the UK. Beyond establishing the context and framework for cultural policy and funding in the UK, I will explore the Olympics as an example of place-making, cultural infrastructure and branding for fostering a creative economy. I will end by looking at what kind of legacy the Olympics have left behind and whether the Games established a paradigm shift for implementing innovative creative sector policies.

Cultural Policy in the UK: moving towards an economic model

In the UK, there is no official definition for culture, though now it is often associated with multiculturalism and diversity. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) defines culture in very broad terms – encompassing many art forms, cultural expressions, and institutions. What is of note is that increasingly the government has associated creative industries, including fashion, advertising, and software development with cultural sectors like arts, museums, and heritage. In Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe country profile on the UK, author Rob Fisher claims this amalgamation of industries and sectors is tied the government’s perspective that the common denominator is economic potential.

Prioritizing the economic benefits of the cultural sector has been a subtle pillar establishing itself in stone over the past decade. Notably, in 2008, an inter-governmental report was published on the creative industries titled: Creative Britain: New Talents for the New Economy.[1] Furthermore, in 2010, Dr Dave O’Brien published Measuring the value of culture, commissioned by DCMS. The report calls for increased collaboration between cultural policy makers and economists studying culture. Oriented towards generating a larger market share for culture, the report developed the concept of using datasets and economic indicators for a more robust analysis of culture. (Fisher p.21)

A component of the current government’s policy platform is to reform the relationship between central (national) government and local communities. The intention is to create more streamlined functions and community-focused initiatives. Understandably, many of the targets are regionally specific. For example, the Local Government White Paper: Strong and Prosperous Communities, published in 2006, established a framework where priorities for national departments, were locally based. The result of these policies is a reduction in budget and staffing at a national level, in favour of delegating the jurisdiction of culture to local delivery partners (Fisher, p13). The other consequence is a diverse and fragmented cultural policy framework, led by local initiatives rather than a cohesive national cultural policy platform.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport

In the UK, the portfolio comparable to the Department of Canadian Heritage, containing the cultural industries, creative sector and the arts, is the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (and recently: Olympics). When developing its strategic objectives for 2008-2011, DCMS identified four targets. Out of the four, one focuses on economic imperatives, and the other solely references the Olympics (Fisher, p8).

  • Opportunity: Encourage more widespread enjoyment of culture, media and sport;
  • Excellence: Support talent and excellence in culture, media and sport;
  • Economic impact: Realise the economic benefits of the Department’s sectors; and
  • Olympics: Deliver a successful and inspirational Olympic and Paralympic Games with a sustainable legacy.

Over 95% of DCMS’ budget is allocated to the bodies that deliver the department’s aims and objectives. This includes Arts Council England, English Heritage, Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), and Sport England (Fisher, p8).

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Jessica Litwin is a cultural policy expert, art historian, and communications specialist. She currently lives in London, UK where she consults for a range of clients as part of the team at  Political Lobbying and Media Relations (PLMR) Ltd. Prior to joining PLMR she was the Senior Cultural Policy Advisor at the Canadian Conference of the Arts (CCA) where she headed the research and policy unit. With a passion for all things arts, museums, heritage and design, Jessica has sat on the Sectoral Commission on Culture, Communication and Information to UNESCO Canada, the Youth Advisory Group to UNESCO Canada, and the Arts, Culture and Heritage Committee to the City of Ottawa. She has been a guest lecturer at Concordia University in Montreal and Somerset House in London.

As a freelance consultant for Nordicity Group – Jessica worked on studies for the digital and technology sector, cultural industries, and government regulators. She was formerly a graduate fellow at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. Having earned an MA from the Courtauld Institute of Art, Jessica also has a BA in political science and art history from McGill University.

To contact Jessica: Jess (dot) Litwin (at) gmail (dot) com

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[1] Produced jointly between DCMS, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, and the Department for Innovative, Universities and Skills (Now: Business, Innovation and Skills).