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Converging Views on the Future

University of California Press

Within weeks, two leading thinkers in very different parts of the cultural sector came out with major new writings that are variations on the same theme. As Marc notes, John Holden considers what a more “democratic culture” would look like, citing new statistics from Arts Council England that show that only a small percentage of British adults frequently attend museums and theatres. Meanwhile, Bill Ivey, head of Obama’s arts and culture transition team and director of the Curb Center, has written a highly critical assessment of the U.S. cultural system in his new book, Arts, Inc. It’s a must read for funders and arts managers who want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. It’s almost as if these two authors sat down together to work out a common point of view. Both authors criticize the legislative policies, copyright laws, nonprofit infrastructure, and lack of a coherent public policy that balances artistic innovation and preservation of cultural treasures with public access. Holden argues that “culture should be something that we all own and make, not something given, offered or delivered by one section of ‘us’ to another.” Ivey goes a step further and describes a new “cultural bill of rights” that guarantees every American the right to an “expressive life.” Individually, they are compelling arguments. Together, they are a clarion call for a serious rethinking of cultural policy on both sides of the pond. Arts groups and their supporters might use these writings as an opportunity to consider the social costs of “excellence” and “quality” in an environment of profound inequity.

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