”Vi behöver mer internationellt samarbete”

Vi träffade Sir Nicholas Serota, ordförande för vår brittiske motsvarighet, Arts Council England, i Visby under Almedalsveckan. I seminariet Rättvist fördelad kultur – gränser inom och mellan länder, höll han ett tal där han berättade om kulturens framtid och betydelsen av internationellt kulturellt utbyte.

Sir Nicholas Serota tycker dels att kultur måste omdefinieras till något mer inkluderande men även att mångfald har berikat Englands kulturliv. Han anser att myndigheter som Kulturrådet och Arts Council England har en viktig roll för att hjälpa folk att inse sin kreativa potential.

-Vi är en förkämpe och en röst för kulturen. Vi är en förespråkare för kulturen, avslutade han talet med.

Läs hela talet nedan på engelska eller titta på det med svensk undertext (talet börjar cirka 4:16):


Thank you.

It is a pleasure to be at Almedalen. There’s nothing like this in Britain, which is surprising because as a nation we are fond of festivals and celebrations of the summer equinox, a time for free thinking and dreaming of a better future

It is a pity, because strict political party loyalties can make us narrow minded and deaf to ideas that make a real difference to people’s lives, irrespective of who implements them.

And that, after all, is what we are in public life for.

Before I go on, I should say a little about myself.

I am Chair of Arts Council England, the national development and investment agency for arts and culture, which was conceived by the economist John Maynard Keynes in the Second World War, when it became clear that there was a public appetite for arts that had previously been available mainly to those who could afford them.

Originally, we looked after a handful of London based cultural crown jewels, such as the Royal Opera House. But, over the last 70 years governments of all persuasions have come to support the democratization of access to the arts, especially after Jennie Lee, the first Minister for the Arts, published an influential statement of government policy on taking the arts to what were called ‘the regions’ in 1965

We are charged with driving forward that public access.

These days, we invest in a National Portfolio of more than 800 cultural organisations of all sizes and disciplines across the country; we support thousands of individual cultural projects each year, are fund holders for a national network of Music Education hubs and have a brief to encourage the evolution of public libraries and museums

Our development role is every bit as important as the investment – all our funding is directed in support of strategic goals that we've agreed with our partners and stakeholders, with the government and the public.

To support that we undertake research and evaluation, offer training, advice, mentoring, contacts and partnerships, and encourage new approaches to diversifying income, whether it be merchandise, new enterprise ventures, or social impact bonds.

Like all the public sector, our funding from government has been at a standstill and reduced in real terms by about 30% since 2010, but between 2018 and 2022, we will still invest £375 million from government each year and an additional £215 million from the National Lottery.

That money is the fuel for the cultural life of our nation, which matters, now more than ever.

I'd like to talk briefly about culture, and what it might mean to us today. Then I’d like to talk about our work with communities – our placemaking work, and our Creative people and Places programme – and finally about the importance of international cultural exchange.

First - to culture.

The problem with words, as the late playwright Dennis Potter once remarked, is that you don’t know whose mouth they have been in.

At this time, we need to think carefully about our use of words, and what we mean.

“Culture” is an important word. It has been central to the most principled human endeavours and sadly also to some of the most divisive.

It can refer to the civilizing effects of the arts and humanities; to the structures beliefs and habits we share as a society; or to ideas of ethnicity or faith.

It describes what holds us together, and what can drive us apart.

It can be a complimentary term; but it can also be derogatory, and in some contexts, profoundly racist.

It is, the historian Raymond Williams wrote, “one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language.”

The Arts Council’s challenge is to take ownership of that word in its more positive and inclusive sense – to stop it being appropriated or diminished, and to make it clear that it has relevance for everyone.

And its roots are, literally, ubiquitous. It comes from the Latin verb ‘cultivare’ - to plough or till, as in agriculture, and subsequently acquired the sense of social and intellectual development.

Writing in the fifties, Raymond Williams argued that – in Britain- the meaning of the words art and culture, and our understanding of what culture is, changed around the time of the Industrial Revolution.

These words had been descriptive of processes and livelihoods of a society based around the crafts of artisans; they became instead descriptive of aesthetic and intellectual activities that were antithetical to the industrial institutions that came to dominate life.

In this reading Culture became understood as an alternative to life, a retreat from it, and a word that “provoked either hostility or embarrassment”.

You do not have to agree with William’s politics to see the general truth in his observation - that ‘hostility’ and ‘embarrassment’ have often coloured the views of the popular press and politicians in England.

In contrast to France, where the role of the ‘public intellectual’ is regarded as a valuable ingredient in public debate, in England to describe someone as an ‘intellectual’ can imply that their comment is irrelevant or unworldly

It is against this historic background that the Arts Council is currently consulting over the direction of its next 10-year strategy, which will run from 2020-30.

I believe that a strong society needs a cultural conversation that involves everybody, and that recognises as Williams put it, that “culture is ordinary;” that it is made and remade “in every individual mind.”

We need a better, shared understanding of what we mean by culture. We live in and through our culture and the arts play a role alongside the creative activities, hobbies, passions and past-times in which people express themselves and share their experience.

We may not believe, as Joseph Beuys did, that ‘every man is an artist’ but we need to recognize that every person has a creative dimension.

It is striking how many of the public we speak to still don't see themselves as taking part in cultural activities, though in practice they may have busy and rich cultural lives - music, reading, television drama, films, alongside sports and past-times.

The idea persists that culture remains for the already cultured. There is life, and there is culture, and one needs a special pass, or perhaps a particular kind of education, to cross this border.

However, I believe that we should seek a definition of culture that puts the arts into everyday life, not beyond it.

For the Arts Council, this is an important journey, a continuation of the post-war drive towards greater public participation. But we have to admit that  progress has been too slow. We need a determined change in our approach..

The clearest expression of this ambition has been our Creative People and Places programme, which invests in arts and cultural experiences in places that haven't previously enjoyed much access.

Creative people and Places has expanded from an initial six projects in 2012 to 21, a network that crosses the country.

These projects evolve through partnership with communities and take a view of culture that incorporates the landscape, local traditions and stories, food, industry, sport, religion and how people spend time with their family and friends. Often, the projects shine a light on histories and lives that have gone untold.

Creative People and Places works with non-arts voluntary and community groups that are often closer to communities than are traditional arts organisations. They include allotment societies, walking groups, refugee groups and asylum seekers, residents associations, playgroups, language and supplementary schools and heritage groups. There’s also been haulage companies, sorts clubs and even a group of pubs.

By the end of 2017 its projects had reached more than 2 million people –most of who don’t regularly engage with the arts.

We recently announced a new round of funding to consolidate and expand the programme, which will take our investment up to 2022 to £90 million.

Creative People and Places is not the only answer to this question of cultural engagement, but the learning from it, especially around the importance of local community, collaboration and listening can inform the way we work more generally.

I think this is particularly relevant when we talk about how culture contributes to “place-making” in helping to rejuvenate and bring optimism to communities that have suffered economically.

There’s a growing understanding of how a strong cultural life – in the broadest sense - brings social benefits.

Cultural opportunities can reduce loneliness and isolation.

Culture helps people from different backgrounds meet, explore their differences and create a shared identity – as the UK Government recognised in its recent Integration Strategy.

Culture is a key part of the creative industries, a sector growing faster than our economy as a whole. The creative thinking that culture can instil will be a vital asset for every young person seeking employment in a changing society.

And culture is vital to tourism, an important partner for the heritage sector, but also helping to create a night-time economy.

For the arts to contribute usefully, we need – as with Creative People and Places – to be sensitive to the communities we work with. We need to understand a place, its history, and the aspirations of its people.

When culture improves people’s lives, it is through informing the environment they live in and are shaped by, increasing their opportunity to participate and also giving them the chance to relate to a wider world.

For arts organisations that means a broad range of partnerships, with local government, and increasingly with partners like the National Health Service, or housing associations.

Above all, it means partnership with the community.

In recent years we have seen some joyful examples of art and culture bringing people of all faiths and ethnicities together, celebrating their towns and cities, and bringing hope of long-term revival.

Last year Hull was the British City of Culture; long neglected as a city, over the year Hull became one of Lonely Planet’s top destinations.

This was the culmination of years of patient work with targeted investment and involving many partners and thousands of volunteers across every sector of the community.

Hull discovered a unique style for itself that helped restore the civic confidence that had disappeared with its industry.

Culture was the catalyst for that renaissance.

It is still the beginning of the story for Hull.  But so far it shows what can be achieved when we don't impose cultural concepts, but offer opportunity and partnership to help people discover what culture means for them.

I think this work has never been more important, if we are to recover a society in which citizens feel that they can have say in how their lives are run and shape their future.

A world in which they see their function as to create, rather than simply consume what they are given

I know that here in Sweden you now have a Creative Places programme, which operates in a similar way to our Creative People and Places and grows from an excellent relationship between our Arts Councils

It is a good example of the benefits that come from international cultural exchange.

I’d therefore like to conclude with a word about international exchange and the free flow of ideas and people across borders - even where this flow creates challenges

Recent political events have reminded us of how valuable international work and exchange can be for the quality, diversity, and strength of our individual national cultures, and for reinforcing the bonds that transcend political events.
In Britain we owe much of our identity - especially our romantic side - to the contribution of incomers. It is astonishing how much of the culture that we now regard as ‘British’ has been produced by immigrants.

Handel came from Germany to be a favourite of the British court and the London stage.

The lyrical vision of Britain in Michael Powell’s films was scripted by Emeric Pressburger, a Hungarian refugee.

One of the major influences on the current school of British landscape writing was a German, WG “Max” Sebald.

And where would our contemporary visual arts be without artists like Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach in one generation, Chris Ofili, Mona Hatoum, Wolgang Tillmans and John Akomfrah in another?

The richness of cultural life in Britain comes through a combination of strong local sensibilities and a willingness to accept other cultural influences.

It is not only those who have chosen to live in Britain, but those whose work we have been fortunate to see – there have been many influential theatre directors from abroad, none more so than Ingmar Bergman, whose work inspired a generation of our theatre and film directors.

We must give young people an even greater chance to see and be inspired by such creative forces than existed for my generation. We need the stimulus of a different outlook and experience.

Historically, we enjoy excellent cultural links with Sweden and other Nordic countries, underpinned by strong working partnerships.

There is the agreement between Region Vastra Gotaland and North East Cultural Partnership, which was recently renewed. Several of our Swedish colleagues came over for the occasion, including Katti Hoflin, who will join the panel discussion later.

Many arts organisations and individual artists supported by the Arts Council have burgeoning relationships with Sweden.

Gracefool Collective from Leeds recently toured there – one of its members,  Sofia Edstrand - is Swedish.

Stella Hall, the Director of Thrift from Redcar, recently visited Sweden for talks and seminars - as a direct result of the agreement between the North East and Region Vastra Gotaland.

Visual artist Toby Lloyd is working with Helix Arts and Newcastle University and visiting Finland and Sweden this summer to explore attitudes towards Universal Basic Income.

In Stockholm, the Mancunian playwright Andrew Sheridan, winner of the Bruntwood Prize, is Assistant Director at the City Theatre, and has also been commissioned to write for them.

The Workplace Gallery in Gateshead represents the Swedish artists Jacob Dahlgren and Cecilia Stenbohm.

The publishers And Other Stories, based in Sheffield, published the first novel of Swedish writer Lina Wolff – Brett Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs to great acclaim. 
Reciprocal cultural relationships are vital to sharing ideas and to developing our creative practice.

They are also small but integral parts of a huge economic picture.

UNESCO estimates the size of the worldwide cultural and creative industry market at US$2.25 trillion, employing nearly 30 million people.  That is a larger market than the GDP of India. The visual arts alone comprise US$391 billion and the performing arts US$127 billion.  
In 2015-16, organisations funded by the Arts Council took overseas 2,465 productions, 138 exhibitions and participated in 329 festivals.

The benefits flow back into our communities:  more work for artists and performers, more money for local economies, and fresh inspiration for audiences
All of us have an interest in ensuring that this work flourishes and grows, unimpeded.

We are determined that Arts Council England should look out into the world and encourage the organisations that we support to do the same.
In nature, there is no future for monocultures; they may create refined, exquisite blooms or creatures, but have no natural resilience. In nature, and in culture, resilience requires diversity.

We need the stimulus and challenge of international exchange, if we are going to make work that engages citizens, releases their creative potential and helps people to respect and learn from their neighbours.

My life, like most of those people here today, has been made immeasurably richer through the arts; I want everyone to enjoy those opportunities.

That is why we will work to ensure that the arts in England play an ever-greater part in the cultural life of the nation and the wider world.

Thank you

Sir Nicholas Serota
Arts Council England