Participating in the 'wrong' way? Practice based research into cultural democracy and the commissioning of art to effect social change.
Hope, Charlotte Sophie
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HOPE, C.S. 2011. Participating in the 'wrong' way? Practice based research into cultural democracy and the commissioning of art to effect social change [online]. Available from: http://sophiehope.org.uk/research/
Through this practice based research I argue that cultural democracy as a way of thinking contests dominant models of commissioning art to effect social change. A method of generative metaphor of critical distance emerges through four projects based on a contextual and theoretical framework that tests the conditions for recognising cultural democracy as a critical practice. Cultural democracy is distinct from the democratisation of culture, which means providing free, accessible professional culture to all. The socially engaged art commission is, I argue, an example of the democratisation of culture based on predefined economic, aesthetic and social values. Cultural democracy disrupts expected forms of participation and communication of culture, drawing attention to these values. As an uninvited act of disobedience, it is thought and practised as individuals reclaim the right to express themselves, creating conflicts with expected norms of behaviour. This research project began in 2006, nine years into New Labour's administration, and reflects an urgent question of the time: what are the implications of increasing dependency on a culture of commissioning art to effect social change that might perpetuate, rather than radically rethink, social injustices' These concerns are even more significant in a political and economic climate where public funding for critical, non-conformist participation in culture slips further down the agenda. My own career is a symptom of New Labour's neoliberal policies of social inclusion and the arts. A new period of 'austerity' may imply fewer paid opportunities for this professional class of socially engaged art workers, coupled with a distancing of the recognition of cultural democracy as a possible alternative, with further reliance on free, precarious cultural labour. For this reason, I hope this research will be of use to those who also find it an urgent task to address these issues critically and practically.