Search This Blog

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Means of Promoting Cultural Democracy

Among the primary means devised to realize the aims of cultural democracy is community animation.
In many community animation projects, an artist-organizer uses both artistic and organizing skills to help the members of a community discover and express their own cultural identities and exercise control over their own cultural development. Other kinds of cultural workers have also worked as animateurs of cultural life, to use the French term by which the practice is known in international circles (where animation is often called animation socio-culturelle or, adopting the British form, "socio-cultural community development"). Many examples of animation practice are described in Webster's World of Cultural Action and in the Guide to the Cultural Landscape.

Much attention has also been paid by post-War policy-makers to the problems posed by the proliferation of electronic mass media:

  • How to encourage and sustain democratic media?
  • How to ensure media literacy, to enable people to use the media for democratic expression, rather than being held helplessly in their thrall?
  • How to encourage and sustain live, participatory, face-to-face cultural activities in societies saturated with mass-distributed product?
Among the experiments which have been tried are community TV studios where community groups are helped to produce programs about their own perceptions and concerns, which are then broadcast on local TV and sometimes nationally, thus linking efforts to promote active participation directly with the otherwise pacifying forms deployed by mass media. Variations on this theme exist in many countries. Examples are featured in Webster's World of Cultural Action and in the Guide to the Cultural Landscape.

A basic aim underlies most efforts to implement policies of cultural democracy: that the primary task in cultural development is to support the means of cultural production and dissemination, not its ends. This can be a hard point to grasp, since the public arts-funding system in the U.S.has been modelled after the conventional forms of private patronage. Most of its money goes to support end-products: an artist applies for a grant to compose a particular piece of music, or an orchestra applies for a grant to perform it. And since there's been very little money set aside for these purposes -- less than $1 per capita on the federal level -- competition for money in the United States (both public and private) is fierce, and most applicants don't get any.

The cultural democracy alternative is to support the means of cultural participation: making facilities, equipment, materials, education, and jobs widely available, so that everyone who wishes is able to participate. It's the difference between maintaining a public library (the most democratic of existing cultural institutions in this country) and having a system whereby the most determined readers apply for funds to purchase volumes for their own private libraries, with just one out of every ten or twenty of them getting to buy books.

No comments: