'70 years after public money was first put towards increasing the accessibility of the arts, Steven Hadley asks if it’s a never-ending task' - From Arts Professional UK
It was in 1946 that George VI granted a charter of incorporation to the Arts Council of Great Britain for the twin purposes of “developing a greater knowledge, understanding and practice of the fine arts exclusively” and “in particular to increase the accessibility of the fine arts to the public”.
So from the vantage point of 2016 we are able to reflect on a history of 70 years of public subsidy for the arts. Although such anniversaries rarely offer anything more than symbolic value, in this case it provides pause for thought about the long-term direction of travel and a moment at which to assess achievement in the light of the original ideological intent.
Inherent in the idea of Arts Council-led public subsidy is a moral imperative to ensure democratic access to the arts and culture being funded – a ‘democratisation of culture’. This ideology has manifested itself in a number of documents, from Jennie Lee’s A Policy for the Arts – The First Steps back in 1965, to Arts Council England’s (ACE) Great art and culture for everyone in 2013. In practice, this has meant many things, from touring national companies and building regional venues to funding for community arts and audience development.
Most recently, the ideology of the democratisation of culture has appeared in the new DCMS Culture White Paper with its language of “reaching out and increasing access”. As the first arts policy in more than 50 years (and only the second ever published) DCMS describes the white paper as ground-breaking. What it certainly is not, however, is paradigm shifting.