This year Miaaw celebrates its fifth anniversary and so every time we find a fifth Friday in a month we will relive an episode from our history. This month we slide back in time to December 21, 2018.
We have come to the second month of 2023 with five Fridays in it, and so we look back at another memorable episode from our short history. This time we listen in to Owen and Sophie grappling for the first time with the relationship between what we used to call community art and ideas of cultural democracy.
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, once Roy Shaw, the Secretary General of the Arts Council of Great Britain, had begun 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 François Matarasso once observed, “Patrician indeed”.
As soon as it became clear that the Arts Council wanted 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 a conference in Sheffield in 1986 became the (not necessarily successful) attempt to launch the idea publicly.