john holden, Cultural Value and the Crisis of Legitimacy (image via

John Holden – Cultural Value and the Crisis of Legitimacy

“The ‘cultural system’ faces a crisis of legitimacy. At local government level culture is suffering extreme funding cuts, the recent Arts Council England (ACE) Peer Review uncovers a rift between ACE and its Whitehall department, and individual organisations continue to stagger from one damning headline to the next. These are the current symptoms of a deeper problem that has dogged culture for the last 30 years.

Politics has struggled to understand culture and failed to engage with it effectively. Cultural professionals have focused on satisfying the policy demands of their funders in an attempt to gain the same unquestioning support for culture that exists for health or education; but the truth is that politicians will never be able to give that support until there exists a more broadly based and better articulated democratic consensus. The diagnosis is worrying, but the prognosis is optimistic. ‘Cultural value’ has provided politicians with an understanding of why culture is important, and is helping institutions to explain themselves, and to talk to each other. The language and conceptual framework provided by ‘cultural value’ tell us that publicly funded culture generates three types of value: intrinsic value, instrumental value and institutional value. It explains that these values play out – are created and ‘consumed’

Cultural Value and the Crisis of Legitimacy within a triangular relationship between cultural professionals, politicians, policy-makers and the public. But the analysis illuminates a problem: politicians and policy- makers appear to care most about instrumental economic and social outcomes, but the public and most professionals have a completely different set of concerns. As a result the relationships between the public, politicians and professionals have become dysfunctional. The ‘cultural system’ has become a closed and ill-tempered conversation between professionals and politicians, while the news pages of the media play a destructive role between politics and the public. The problems are clearly systemic but the solutions must start with cultural professionals. Their opportunity is that the value of culture to the public is unlimited and infinitely expandable. The challenge, which is already being taken up in some places, is to create a different alignment between culture, politics and the public. In practice this will require courage, confidence and radicalism on the part of professionals in finding new ways to build greater legitimacy directly with citizens. The evidence so far suggests that such an approach would be successful and would serve the aims of all concerned – politicians, the professionals themselves, and above all the public.”

John Holden
Cultural Value and the Crisis of Legitimacy

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