Book review: The Future of Cultural Policies

Andy Pratt

Professor of Cultural Economy Director
of Centre for Culture and the Creative Industries
Department of Sociology City, University of London



By Andy Pratt

Philippe Kern’s collection of inter-linked essays on the future of cultural policies in Europe is written with  the policy and political audience in mind; one that needs to ‘catch up’ with where culture and policy has been, and where it should go in the future. The first half of the text is made up of concise summaries of the key elements of the cultural policy field in Europe, followed by clear advocacy and critique. The second half concerns itself with questions of finance and capacity building (to repair the gaps identified by the first part). This makes it a useful handbook for those  who need to assimilate the debate; not an easy task. As Kern notes, specialising in culture has not been the ‘fast track’ to a leading career in the bureaucracies of Europe (or anywhere else, for that matter); and, traditionally, it has not attracted the brightest and best, hungry for power. These characteristics have both held policy making back, and threaten to stymie positive ideas such as those laid out here, before birth.

European ‘policy’ for culture has been an ‘evolving’ field; but, one with and uncertain sense of scope and direction), from a vague idea of mobilising the idea of Europe and constructing a European identity, to one that additionally includes a form of ‘industrial policy’ of tariffs, subsidies and territorial policies. The mix and the evolution has not been simple: perhaps bricolage is a better term.  Culture has in fact only, post-Maastricht, become an EU competency; one that is mainly delivered via subsidiarity at the nation state level. Nevertheless 80% of the rules regulating the cultural and creative industries (CCI) are set by the EU. However, as Kern argues, these rules are of a generic variety aimed at medium and small enterprises, and don’t engage with the specifics of the CCI: bifurcated organisation structures, on one hand, very large multinationals controlled outside of Europe; and on the other hand, micro-enterprises. Moreover, the critical interface between the commercial and public aspects of culture are not resolved by standard regulation tools. Policy for the CCI seems condemned to fall between different sets of competing concerns- none of which fit properly.

European cultural (CCS) policies are still founded on inclusion and identity concerns but with some generic commercial regulation tacked on. Despite the outstanding rate of growth of the CCI and significant employment and value added contribution (as well as the identity and heritage), the policy debate has not been remoulded to take either strategic or holistic actions; in this way Europe will be doomed to be a follower rather than a leader unless things change. As cities become the dynamos of cultural growth and innovation, and the question of the environmental consequences of all of our actions become apparent, it is these areas : urban and environmental dimensions to the CCI that will need to be addressed, in addition to the (redefined) core concerns of the integrity of the CCI. Whilst this collection highlights the urban dimension, a notable omission is the environmental. It is clear from reading this able summary of policy foundations and trends that what is called for is less evolution (gradual accretion of new responsibilities) and more revolution (a redrawing of the content and scope of CCI policy).

Having diagnosed the problem of cultural policies Kern uses the second half of the book to address the question of capacity building, with specific reference to raising finance to support the CCI. This is a welcome section, not only as rejoinder to the problems identified in the first part, but to honestly raise the question of money and culture which for so long have been thought of as polar opposites; and that any mention of money will be corrupting to culture. Kern retraces some of the issues raised in the first part about institutions and policy makers failing to understand the CCI, and assuming that generic policies and practices will be sufficient. Again the organisational peculiarities of the CCI need to be acknowledged and worked with. Banks of course being a case in point; it is a simple fact that the risk-reward structure of the CCI is different to, for example, car making. Bankers don’t have much education in culture, nor its risk profile, and many cultural entrepreneurs don’t like banks or business plans. But as Kern points out the relationship can work, but it needs capacity building on both sides to achieve the knowledge and insight- education and information- as well as tools to mobilise such support – institutions and networks. It is in these areas, Kern argues, that the new cultural policy making should focus. Whilst finance is a critical and previously overlooked concern in cultural policy debates, there are other aspects of capacity building not covered here: namely institution building, labour markets, education and training.

This collection of essays is concisely written, and is a quick revision tool for politicians and policy makers trying to grasp the topic. It sets out in brief detail the changing ‘shape’ of policy and its foundations and justifications. Its main contributions are to provide a cohesive and comprehensive overview of the policy agenda; but perhaps more importantly, the establishment of a strong and clear advocacy of future directions based on the analysis of an increasingly ill-focused system, and rapidly changing cultural practices. Moreover, the second part, with its insight into issues associated with finance and capacity building are critical elements of a forward looking and strategic cultural policy environment.



Key link:

The book The future of cultural policies by Philippe Kern





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