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A short note on the first Council for Culture conference

09 July 2008

Note on First Council for Culture Conference
Key note speakers and feedback sessions

The following note was made following the first Council for Culture conference held on Saturday, 14 June, 2008 at Hautlieu School.

Professor John Holden

John Holden is Head of Culture at Demos, an independent think tank in the UK, and a Visiting Professor at City University. He has masters Degrees in Law and Design History, is a FRSA, and a member of the Management Committee of the Clore Leadership Programme. His publications include Capturing Cultural Value, Cultural Value and the Crisis of Legitimacy, Cultural Diplomacy, Logging On, and Creative Reading. John has given many keynote speeches in the UK and in Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Professor John Holden asked how, without resorting to simplistic targets or trying to respond to a largely irrelevant social agenda, we could capture and articulate the value of culture. He drew upon three kinds of cultural value: the intrinsic (the capacity for culture to move us), the instrumental (the positive effects it may have on other aspects of our lives) and the institutional (the way that cultural organisations act and the possibilities for social interaction they engender). They were three viewpoints from which culture could be regarded but while all three were essential, an over-reliance on one at the expense of the others could have undesirable consequences. Analysing the relationship between the public, the arts professionals and the political realm confirmed that each sector attached greater weight to one, or more, of these values. Philip Roth’s comment that politics was a great generaliser while literature (or by extension the arts in general) particularised, helped shed light on the relationship between the public which tended to think in intrinsic terms about cultural value and politicians who tended to place emphasis on the instrumental. Moreover, politics was inherently averse to risk-taking which meant that there could be an uncomfortable relationship when it came to assessing experimental or conceptual art. To get the balance wrong between these approaches was likely to result in a failure to take a rounded view of cultural value; one example was the tendency to describe culture using language which downgraded its significance or which made support for culture appear nothing more than a handout. To address this we needed to engage with the public: statistics showed the extent to which people did want to enjoy cultural activity, and to which social contentment did not simply correlate with wealth creation; addressing well-being was a legitimate concern. Professor Holden set out the following goals: politics needed to give more weight to culture as its importance increased in the lives of the community; funding bodies needed to recognise the essential strength of poly-cultures rather than mono-cultures, supporting a cultural life which was diverse and sometimes small scale (‘nurturing the cultural ecology’); arts professionals and practitioners had to strive for greater engagement to establish cultural value; these goals were to be achieved by a rich and co-operative approach, calculating value from a balanced combination of perspectives. By better understanding how to assess cultural value, we could strengthen the case for legitimate support for cultural activity.

Discussion topics stimulated by the audience:

  • The impact of global culture on the desire to find cultural individuality and identity, and the balance between ease of communication and transmission of knowledge on the one hand, and the need to create distinctiveness and sense of place on the other.
  • The role of sponsorship and the danger of supposing, in a climate of mixed funding, that if one source of funds was reduced, it would follow that the others would make up the shortfall.
  • How to create a society which bridged the gap between elitist and popularist culture, particularly in an Island where there was no university culture.
  • The importance of maintaining funding channels to support small groups.
  • How to encourage private funding – through the tax system, advocacy and the acquisition of professional skills from organisations like Arts & Business in the UK.
  • How to explain why the arts are not self-funding and why it is important that they should be supported from public funds – funding to address market failure, seed-corn support to generate new initiatives and the ‘vitamin’ argument: what happens to a society with an impoverished cultural life and the effect this has on public life generally.

Download the full text of Professor Holden's speech.

Kate Clark

Kate Clark is an archaeologist who specialises in heritage management. She has worked with the Ironbridge Gorge Museum, English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund, and is now director of Kate Clark Associates. She has written extensively about heritage management and the value of heritage, and teaches and works with groups in the UK and abroad.

Heritage could become an after-thought as it often occupied an uncertain position between culture and environmental concerns, yet it was central to the States’ Cultural Strategy. Moreover, Jersey was especially rich in heritage from the Palaeolithic to the C20th. This was evident not only in larger sites but in the history of its fortifications, its industrial and domestic buildings, landscapes, smaller distinctive features and also in our ‘intangible heritage’, the customs and ways of life which have shaped the Island. Asking what it was that made an object valuable from the heritage perspective, Kate Clark addressed a number of misconceptions about heritage. It did not stop us from developing, or reject all new buildings: in fact, it could create jobs, provide practical accommodation, encourage sources of funding, help re-generate a place and encourage local building skills. It was not only for tourists: research showed that local people were aware of, and cared about, heritage projects in their area. Educationally, it was not only about history: a whole range of skills and different kinds of knowledge were involved. The public really cared about heritage for a range of reasons connected with their everyday lives. There was no truth in the notion that it was irrelevant to the modern world: it offered important opportunities for people to get involved in projects and their inclination to take an interest was also evident in membership of organisations like the National Trust. The charge that heritage brought no benefits did not bear scrutiny when one looked at the social benefits which followed projects like the restoration of parks or other re-generation work: they were about the wider health of the community. Moreover, people wanted the places in which they lived to be distinctive. Heritage was not necessarily costly; in fact, from the environmental perspective, avoiding demolition and instead looking after buildings was often an attractive option. Kate Clark identified a number of issues relevant locally. There was a need for more data in Jersey about what people thought of their heritage. The voluntary sector was especially strong so it was important not to lose that engagement. It was vital to look at heritage not simply as a number of important, self-contained sites but rather as wider landscapes, buildings and patterns of existence. The example of Singapore, where there was a thriving museum sector but a loss of identity in the built environment was instructive. An audit of loss/threat might be helpful in this connection. Referring to the World Heritage convention, she saw potential for a bid covering CI fortifications, capitalising on the depth, historical duration and diversity of the collection. But it would require political commitment, partnership building and a real passion for success.

Discussion stimulated by the audience:

  • How to bridge the gap between the planning and the culture departments of government – better data might encourage more productive ministerial discussions across departmental boundaries. 
  • The message should be reinforced that the Island can have development and safeguard its heritage – they were not alternatives as Kate Clark had skilfully articulated. 
  • How this message could be conveyed to politicians - by recognising the information which politicians needed in order to make the case and particularly the extent to which it had popular appeal. 
  • What were the boundaries of heritage? What about modern buildings and issues like the proliferation of plastic windows? 
  • Was enough emphasis placed on cultural tourism and on showing visitors what we had to offer? Information was not as easily available as it might be, particularly to those outside the Island. We could do more to present our heritage, it was said. 
  • Legislation in Jersey was more recent than in the UK and this shorter legislative history posed a number of problems locally, not least what had been lost prior to the introduction of controls.

Some key issues raised by the conference audience in feedback sessions:

  • Attitudes to culture have changed in the past 20 years and there is a diversity of opportunity in the Island. Our cultural strength is this diversity.
  • An open forum is a good way of building cohesion between groups in the sector so that it can speak with one voice. It should be repeated with more opportunity for participation/feedback.
  • We need to articulate better the balance between heritage and development which was described by Kate Clark – they can be complementary rather than antithetical.
  • New projects like the National Gallery need the engagement of the public and sufficient financial support to create something good enough to be an asset for the Island.
  • Distinctiveness is a key theme for local culture and we need to work to get this ‘Jersey-ness’ across not only at the conference but also to sectors of the community where there may appear to be a lack of engagement.
  • We should address the issue of how to reach newcomers (residents) to the Island so that they are aware of our cultural distinctiveness.
  • Funding for cultural needs to be properly assessed and maintained – the perception is that it is continuously being eroded for the main cultural organisations.
  • Attention needs to be given to the way in which grass roots activities are supported.
  • We should explore the way in which an important event like the Battle of Flowers could be reinvigorated culturally.
  • Our Island culture is the product of many forces, including the influence of neighbouring France and the UK: we should work to get across just how this uniqueness has been created.
  • We need to work to increase awareness in culture and increase involvement within specific groups – young, elderly, minority groups.
  • Initiatives like percentage for art need to be matched with support for wider artistic projects not just painting and statuary.
  • We must recognise that for some St Helier has a forbidding image: we should explore a ‘culture bus’ perhaps connecting parish halls with venues and better parking.
  • The States must be asked to budget more for culture in its wider aspects as set out in the Cultural Strategy.
  • The ESC Citizenship programme which has worked well in primary schools could profitably be extended not only to other age-groups within the Education system but also to parents and the public in general.
  • We need to improve our communication and marketing within the cultural sector in Jersey and outside, making it easier to locate relevant organisations/individuals and promoting our cultural offering better.
  • ESC needs to work to broaden support for culture across the States.
  • There is a challenge to get across what culture means to a broader spectrum of interests than merely those represented at the conference – this should be an aim of future events.
  • We should also try to project our thinking into the future – what will we be doing as a community in 20 or 25 years time and what will our cultural needs be then as well as now?
  • Culturally, we are running hard to stay where we are at present and there is a lack of stability in terms of support. We need proper funding and an assurance that such support for the sector will be maintained.
  • The funding issues go beyond annual grants to deeper concerns like the absence of lease agreements on buildings like the Jersey Archive, Jersey Opera House, Maritime Museum.
  • The cultural sector needs collectively to support and strengthen the hand of the ESC Minister and Assistant Minister to resolve the issue of support.
  • There is still an issue about bridging the gap between what culture is and the, sometimes negative, perception that others may have of it.
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