Cultural Entitlement – Take It Or Leave It?

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I was looking through a transcription of a joint presentation I gave in Dublin a while back with a great friend and mentor, Einar Solbu, from Norway. Einar is one of the leading authorities on culture in Norway (though he’s too modest to say so) , and we were asked to talk about the Economic and Social Significance of the Arts. The following snippet seemed to sum up the disparity in how ‘access’ to culture can be viewed in two ways: between the haves and have-nots, and between ‘ what you want’ and ‘what you need’:

‘I remember the last time myself and Einar Solbu worked together. And I think it is worth mentioning this, just so we can keep a sense of perspective, because I understand we are all passionate about what we do. Our last job was to go over to Kathmandu in Nepal and advise on the curriculum of the one and only music school to be built in Nepal. If it wasn’t for the support of the Norwegian government there wouldn’t even be a music school. And we have also done some work together in Soweto. And I sometimes think that particularly in the UK we are often complaining about the way things are, but it’s a hell of a sight better than it could be. So that said, I think one of the issues now for most Western European countries is that we are all doing pretty well. I think when that starts to happen we start to look at issues around the quality of life.

And I think the idea of a cultural entitlement is one of those issues which are now starting to emerge in European countries.

It’s the notion of the involvement in the arts, not for the economic reasons but in terms of social justice and people having the right to take part in arts activities. So when you start looking at access it seems to me that one of the challenges is
that historically a lot of our institutions have tended to be provision led.

In other words, we have schools, we have conservatories, we have provision, which is then offered to people on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis. And I think what we have now got to do, in terms of social justice, is to turn that thinking on its head.

In Britain we talked for a while about a cultural entitlement, but politicians want to avoid being committed to anything. So it’s now become a cultural ‘offer’. This means that if you make an offer and it’s not what the kids want, well, at least we gave them the chance. The notion of an entitlement means that if it’s not what they want, then we should find out what it is that they do want. And that to me is why the e-word is really important.’

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