What’s new in Cultural Trends: Vesna Copic on evidence-based cultural policy in Slovenia

In the June 2009 edition of Cultural Trends, Vesna Copic has a fine article which examines the urgent need of governments everywhere to justify their spending and funding decisions with “evidence.” Provocatively entitled “Ideological background of empriical ignorance” [Cultural Trends, June 2009, 18(2): 185-202], it raises some timely points about the “increasing need by politicians … for evidence as a basis of decision making.” Of course, in the field of cultural policy (as indeed with many other fields, for example defence), simply repeating the phrase “evidence-based policy”, as Australia’s Prime Minister occasionally does, doesn’t necessarily mean that research is available to policy-makers, or that good policy gets made.

This interesting article explores the issues from the Slovenian context. It’s as good a general introduction to the problems of cultural policy-making as you’re likely to find. For instance, take this paragraph, which neatly sums up many of the dilemmas currently faced by policy-makers in Australia:

The scope of cultural policy depends on how we define culture (Lewis & Miller, 2003, p. 2).
If the focus is on artistic output, then cultural policy deals with enabling artistic creativity, dissemination
and protection of cultural goods and audience access. Since the support of culture is
selective and not value free, it is inevitably influenced by many factors such as an elitist notion
of culture, a national agenda for the arts, reduction of arts to a language and symbolic
representation and so on. Cultural policy as a phenomenon of the twentieth century is closely connected
with modernity that is marked by the process of differentiation based on specialization.
Representation takes over the function of symbols and this gives culture a certain mystique or
aura. Its “gate-keepers” are self-selecting and their validity is therefore challengeable.

The scope of cultural policy depends on how we define culture (Lewis & Miller, 2003, p. 2). If the focus is on artistic output, then cultural policy deals with enabling artistic creativity, dissemination and protection of cultural goods and audience access. Since the support of culture is selective and not value free, it is inevitably influenced by many factors such as an elitist notion of culture, a national agenda for the arts, reduction of arts to a language and symbolic representation and so on. Cultural policy as a phenomenon of the twentieth century is closely connected with modernity that is marked by the process of differentiation based on specialization. Representation takes over the function of symbols and this gives culture a certain mystique or aura. Its “gate-keepers” are self-selecting and their validity is therefore challengeable.

Right on! Copic goes on to examine the problems of applying cultural research as evidence for cultural policy in Slovenia, and concludes that:

Slovenia is among those countries where cultural policy research has not yet gained proper recognition and where cultural policy is not or hardly conceived as public policy. The cultural sector has its own internal dynamics, based on the perpetuation of traditional meanings and functions of culture. The border between political tolerance for culture and political ignorance of culture is very thin and could easily turn into political indifference for culture.

This is a well-written and thoughtful paper. I suspect its author would be surprised to learn that many of the points she makes are relevant to the Australian situation too.

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