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September 22, 2012

On being a CPRA judge

Last week I spent two very enjoyable but very intense days in London, most precisely at Goldsmiths’ stunning – if dull named - New Academic Building to carry out my duties as jury member for the Cultural Policy Research Award. The award was instituted by the European Cultural Foundation (ECF) and the Riksbankens Jubileumsfond in 2004 and since 2008 is run in partnership with ENCATC, the network that brings together organisations that offer training in arts management and cultural policy, of which the Centre for Cultural Policy Studies is a member. The prize consists in the award of €10,000 to a young researcher to conduct a one-year research project of an applied nature on a topic of great significance for Europe.

Historically, the decision of setting up the award was the result of the observation made by senior staff at the ECF that research in the field of cultural policy was still patchy; that, as a foundation involved in policy analysis and advocacy, they felt that the available research was not sufficiently robust and that academically rigorous research that was also relevant to the policy process was paltry. Hence the decision to create a scheme to facilitate the emergence of new researchers with an interest in the type of cultural policy research that can positively contribute to the development of original scholarship in the field whilst also providing crucial new insights to policy makers.

Nine editions of the award on, and the landscape of cultural policy research has dramatically changed: the bodies and institutions – within the academy and beyond – which produce research in the field that we can broadly refer to as ‘cultural policy’ have grown significantly in number, and so have the available training opportunities. The field now has a number of dedicated publications: academic journals such as The International Journal of Cultural Policy and Cultural Trends, professional publications in most countries, and so on. Interestingly, the nature of the competition is also following suit and changing slightly and broadening its scope: for instance, this year, a significant proportion of the shortlisted applicants (including the one who eventually was awarded the prize) had entered the competition with projects that claimed (rightly) to address topics of key importance to Europe but whose focus of analysis and fieldwork was located in other geographical areas, often in the developing world, and shared an interest in questions of policies for development seen as contiguous to cultural policy.

This trend has led to some really vigorous and intellectually really stimulating discussions among us jury members as to what ‘research relevant to Europe means’ and on other equally intriguing issues such as: how to understand the notion of ‘applied’ research in relation to rigour and scholarship, and most notably what the criteria of ‘policy usefulness’ means for the proposed projects. Reaching a decision was actually a rather lengthy process of detailed analysis of the project ideas, candidates’ oral presentations and their ability to front questions and objections from the floor. This year’s winner, in the end, was Christiaan de Beukelaer, a 26 years old PhD student from Belgium enrolled at the University of Leeds. He will be spending his €10,000 doing ethnographic fieldwork in Africa, with a view of challenging our (very European/Western) faith in the UNCTAD-sanctioned model that sees the creative industries as key to economic development.

The CPRA winner, shortlisted candidates and the jury

In these years of austerity, €10,000 are not an insignificant amount of money and, as a researcher and a teacher, it is such a great pleasure to be able to offer a young researcher (often mid-way through a PhD) much needed cash to carry out precious fieldwork, or develop his or her own research agenda. However, if I’m honest, this is just part of why I love being a CPRA member… The CPRA shortlisted candidates present their projects not to the jury alone, but to a fairly substantial group of peers, who attend the Young Cultural Policy Researchers Forum. This is an ENCATC initiative established in 2006, which aims to offer young and early career cultural policy researchers the opportunity to meet fellow researchers and develop a personal network of colleagues with whom to share projects, experiences and good chats at the pub once yearly, when the Forum is convened just before the opening of the ENCATC big conference. The Forum coordinators at ENCATC put together various activities for the Forum participants, ranging from methodological sessions, to more pragmatic forms of training (for example, last year I led a session on ‘how to get published’ that was full of tips and very practical advice). The jury members are always involved in these activities, and this means that – in my second year as a CPRA judge – I’m starting to get to know some of the ‘Forumites’, and I love it!

YCPR Forum participants 2012YCPR Forum participants - group photo

I really, really enjoy my time at the Young Cultural Policy Researchers Forum. I am so impressed by these young researchers, and how bright, motivated and determined they all are. Also, they are great fun. The Forum usually takes place in late summer/early autumn, when your average academic (well, at least me!) is worn out by an exhausting summer writing schedule, or by dissertation marking & teaching, and the morale is low. Yet, two days at the Forum suffice to stimulate and invigorate me: these young cultural policy researchers are so articulate (very often in a language which is not their native one), so lucid in their thinking and original in the projects they are developing. If these young scholars are representative of the work being developed in the field, then there is a bright future ahead for cultural policy research. And the feeling that, at least in some little part, by being a CPRA judge and helping out at the Forum, I am supporting this burgeoning research community makes that load of marking so much easier to bear!

July 24, 2012

#ICCPR2012 – A first timer’s view

Graffitied doorway, Barcelona

It was fabulous to be in Barcelona for the 7th International Conference on Cultural Policy Research (ICCPR) at the beginning of July. Of course I love conferences, and of course I love Cultural Policy, and I would just have to get on with the fact it was in Barcelona. We suffer for our research. This time in Barcelona it struck me profoundly just how much the city uses culture as part of its identity. Every surface is tattooed with identities political, commercial, regional and personal, from graffiti to logos, design to decoration. Every piece of street furniture is designed, every metal shutter is graffitited. This visual culture is official and unofficial, planned and unplanned, commercial and expressive, corporate and civic, strategic and ad hoc. It is identity through culture wearing its distinctiveness on its sleeve.

It is this broad, eclectic view of culture, and thus of cultural policy, for which the ICCPR – and indeed the discipline of cultural policy - provides a wide umbrella. This reflects the contested field of cultural policy. Cultural policy researchers and academics have taken into their purview not only the purposive actions of nations and states (and for that matter the supranational, and what might be called the ‘infranational’, i.e. the regional and parochial), but also the implicit, such as those policies not aimed at culture but which affect it, like town planning, and those actions which affect culture that come from what Althusser called the ‘private domain’, i.e. non-governmental agents such as the family, the church, education and so on. This wide ranging and eclectic field means that cultural policy academics come from a catholic range of disciplines. The conference reflected this, presenting research on a broad range of aspects of cultural policy and cultural politics.

The first session I attended was themed ‘digital culture’, and I was intrigued to find out about the Icelandic experience of extending democracy through social media. (Disappointingly, it turns out, there was not very much take up of Social Media by Icelanders as a way to engage in the democratic process. I have more followers - and tweet more - than Iceland. However, I would say that this was not so much a criticism of digital democracy per se but of a poor use of social media, and perhaps a cynical one at that.) The interesting thing for social policy discourse though was that this was in the same session as digitising museum and library collections, which is a very different subject. Pau Alsina (@paualsina) of the Open University of Catalonia tweeted that there was a ‘confusion between digitalization of culture and digital culture at #ICCPR2012’ and worried about a feeling of ‘techno utopia’. He had, I think correctly, picked up on an uneasiness about technology and what it means for, and more importantly where it fits into, cultural policy discourse. There is certainly plenty of space for future cultural policy researchers to tease out the strands of technology and separate subject from object, to define and to acknowledge the distinctions between and implications of phrases like ‘new technology’, ‘digitisation’, ‘social media’ etc.

As well as the emergence of the new, one of the things I really love about academic conferences is that received opinions and beliefs are challenged if not shattered. One of the shibboleths under reconsideration was that of French protectionism of films: JP Singh asked, “Why is France so welcoming of tourists but so protective of films? Why is cultural imperialism only discussed in terms of films?”, suggesting this was more of an economic than a cultural imperative. And Anna Upchurch disrupted my received understanding of the formation of the Arts Council of Great Britain with evidence from the Arts Enquiry at Dartington Hall. Of course it was also good to have some things confirmed – Upchurch talking about the difficulties of getting theatre people together to meet in the 1940s, and even more so the reluctance of the then theatre managers’ association to release their statistics (compare that with the Society of London Theatres who only release theirs in anonymised form) showed that not much has changed.

In a sold out session (we had to change rooms to accommodate everyone), Ele Belfiore went further, suggesting a paradigm change. She reminded us that we did not have to accept the current terms of the debate, and declared her mission of ‘dethroning economics’, wishing to open the ‘cultural value’ agenda to humanists as well as those doing cost benefit analysis. Belfiore’s argument, built partly on Lakoff’s theory that frameworks shape the debate, is that we have given too much ground by arguing for cultural investment in economic terms, using the economic importance arguments of Myerscough, playing to the cost benefit preoccupations of the Treasury and so on. According to Belfiore, the argument ‘This is the only language this government understands’ is a counsel of despair which has set limits on the discourse by accepting an economic frame which reduces arts to numbers. This was very well received within the room, a delegate from Greece declaring, ‘The emphasis on just economic values has led my country nowhere!’, and I imagine this view would be just as popular with many arts practitioners. To find out more and to join Belfiore in her paradigm revolution, follow @CulturalValue1 and the hashtag #culturalvalue on Twitter.

Of course I saw so much more (highlights include Clive Gray examining the structure of cultural policy itself, Ben Walmsley effortlessly presenting on organisational change, Monica Sassatelli and Franco Bianchini on festivals, Egil Bjørnsen on the social impact of culture), and, as is the nature of conferences, missed even more (apologies to Annette Naudin, Dave O’Brien and David Wright – bang goes the PhD!). I also had some really stimulating conversations around cultural policy and politics outside of the seminar room. Overall I had a very inspiring time, and am left reflecting on cultural policy as a project that is not settled, still under review and, like Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s greatest gift to Barcelona, a work in progress that may never be completed, and that may even be its strength.

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