Tuesday 28 April 2009

some culture matters (but only some)

A panel at Queen Mary's, London, opened Arts Week with a discussion on Does Culture Matter? Chaired by Paul Heritage, professor of drama, it featured arts impresario Stella Hall, the 'spectacularist' Keith Khan, the business academic Stefano Harney, and Artangel administrator Cressida Hubbard.

They spoke in front of an audience largely composed of their peers. It was unlikely, in that context, that anyone was going to say 'no' to the proposition or that, with two such all-purpose terms ('culture' and 'matters'), the best points would be other than anecdotal.

Stella Hall stressed the importance of long-term strategies and the identity of interest between business and the arts in the regeneration of cities.

Keith Khan discussed how tribal London is, in terms of its audience attending arts events, and how rapidly the 'consuming of culture' is changing. 'Where people think it's going, it will never go'.

Stefano Harney drew attention to the cultural aspects of major news stories. With the credit crunch, the subprime mortgages came from 'blemished borrowers', people who had previously been 'red-lined' - excluded - mainly blacks and Latinos. He predicted the story of swine flu would become the story of Mexican migrants.

Cressida Hubbard discussed Artangel's work with Rachel Whiteread, Jeremy Deller, Antony Gormley and others. 'Trust is the essential part.'

The questions that followed focussed on 'measurability', the methods by which it might be shown that culture delivers benefits. Some resisted this instrumentalist approach.

Interestingly, the idea that behind the credit crunch lay far deeper issues (climate change, biodiversity), and that artists that address these concerns might find themselves at odds with the economic activities that provide investment and funding for the arts, was not raised.

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