Episode 006

Community Art & Cultural Democracy









Sophie Hope

Owen Kelly



December 21, 2018


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The term cultural democracy began to find favour among some people working in the British community arts movement in the 1980s. They used it to describe the goal and purpose of their work, when Roy Shaw at the Arts Council of Great Britain began to try to paint them as quaint missionaries.

In The Arts and the People, Shaw wrote that:

The efforts of community artists to serve ‘the people’ in centres of urban decay or neglected rural areas are often admirable attempts to apply in cultural terms the principle which John Wesley commended when sending his methodist missionaries to the working class: ‘Go not to those that need you, but to those that need you most.’

As Francois Mattarosso has observed, “Patrician indeed”.

Once it became clear that the Arts Council had decided to pretend that community arts had nothing to do with politics but only with a general wish to “do good”, many people began to look for an idea that could describe their ambitions in their own terms.

Cultural Democracy became that idea and the conference in Sheffield in 1986 became the (not necessarily successful) attempt to launch the idea publicly.