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© 9/8/03 Jon Hawkes <email> <web>

Comments on Charles Landry's 'International Perspectives on Cultural Policies'

Landry was commissioned by the City of Melbourne to provide it with an analysis of city-focused cultural polices across the world in order to inform the City's proposed development of a cultural policy. For some years the paper was available on Comedia's site (no longer). Presumably it can still be retrieved from the City's archives.


'the attempt by Melbourne to insert into corporate policy making the idea of culture as the fourth pillar of sustainability is a major innovation in policy development' (para1, p5)

is the conclusion of the first paragraph of the Preface, and:

'Incorporating the notion (of cultural sustainability) into corporate mission statements and goals would be extremely innovative and embed, perhaps for the first time, cultural considerations right across policy concerns thus helping at last to put culture centre-stage;' (para3,p36)

is the concluding paragraph of the paper. But, in between these two claims, CL does not really address the issue of maximising the creative participation of citizens in the determination of a city's goals and aspirations which is at the heart of the cultural perspective paradigm. The final section of the Appendix, on Antwerp, comes closest to embodying this approach in a real-life example.

Incidentally, Landry was mistaken in his belief that the City of Melbourne was in the process of adopting a 'fourth pillar' model. They weren't, didn't and haven't.

A caveat

This is a really dense paper. CL probably knows more about urban cultural policies than any person alive and this paper demonstrates this. So the criticisms made below are from a perspective of immense respect (indeed, awe) for the author.

He is absolutely right when he concludes his Preface by saying that:

'Over the next decade it is likely that the economic approach to supporting culture will be challenged by educational, social and cultural arguments for culture' (para4,p5)

My hope was that the paper would go on to clearly demonstrate the nature of that challenge. I was disappointed to find that he has not done this anywhere near as coherently as he has elsewhere (eg in his book, The Creative City).

When is a city really a city?

The most pertinent issue in relation to the relevance that CL's examples may have to the City of Melbourne is structural. The City of Melbourne is a CBD with a population of around 40,000; none of the examples CL draws upon are.

Singapore is a nation state; Bilbao's development appears to have been initiated at the provincial government level (and the developments have occurred in the context of the entire metropolitan area); Toronto (of the examples, the city most similar to Melbourne) has been governed since 1998 by the Greater Toronto Area, an amalgamation of 7 metro municipalities. The other examples (Antwerp, Austin and Rotterdam) are similarly widely focused.

Furthermore, if one were to include Geelong in the 'greater Melbourne conglomeration' (which it is increasingly difficult not to do), at least 75% of the population of Victoria lives in this area. It is difficult, from this perspective, to get away from the fact that a plan for Melbourne (the 3.3m city, rather than the 40thsnd CBD) needs to be a State Gov't initiative, and for what it's worth, is that not what 'Melbourne 2030' is meant to be?

It is faintly possible to imagine the 9 inner metro Councils (combined population 850,00) co-operating in the development of a unified vision; it is even more faintly possible (that is, even less likely) to imagine the entire 31 metropolitan Councils coming together, let alone agreeing on anything.

All of which adds up to saying that the work that CL has put together is far more relevant to the State Government in its pursuance of a vision for Melbourne the urban conglomeration than it is to the City of Melbourne's role in governing the tiny bit in the middle.

Nevertheless, CL's work raises some really interesting issues, not least to do with the most useful operational definition of culture and its application within a local government context.

This can best be summed up in his observation that common practice is 'moving from the planning of culture to planning for culture'.

Continuing confusion and overlaps between arts and culture

Interestingly, despite his protestations to the contrary, CL still seems to maintain the 'arts and culture' mindset. He attempts to distinguish the two concepts at various points, but constantly slips back into referring to them as a combined package and/or highlighting 'arts' when presenting a cultural example or argument and vice versa.

Institutional focus

Understandably, he also exhibits a strong 'institutional' focus. There are constant references to cultural (and arts) institutions (and by this he is clearly referring to museums, libraries and galleries, but it is unclear whether he is also including, for example, large 'arts' bodies like theatre, dance and opera companies, orchestras, etc). There is also some confusion between the institution as a building and the institution as a maker and/or conservator of culture.

He talks often of the problems involved with major institutions having to deal with new agendas, for example of having to 'reflect the diversity of its populations' (para3,p9). While this is clearly a real problem, it is also an example of a centralised focus / mindset. Reflecting diversity may require the dispersal / decentralisation / devolution of major institutions, the development of alternate reflective surfaces so to speak, rather than transforming existing major institutions into ever more complex prisms.

Commonalities of cultural policy

He identifies 6 'trajectories'(p6-7):

In all of these trajectories, CL's main concern appears to be with the effect that developments have had on institutions. This is obviously important but I don't think it's the main game.

Trends and issues

CL states that the 3 'most significant trends' in cultural policy are 'managerialism, markets and evidence' (p8-9) (and once again plays the arts card as a counter to culture)

Culture and urban regeneration

And here we are on CL's home turf. He knows this stuff better than anyone (p10-21)

The creative industries

While identifying this concept as 'the flavour of the decade', he notes a range of problems when attempting to add this ingredient to public cultural policies:

Unfortunately, he doesn't, at least at this stage, make any suggestions as to how these problems might be overcome.

Different models of dealing with cultural diversity

He identifies (based on the work of Bloomfield & Bianchini) 5 models:

CL, I believe correctly, argues for the intercultural approach.

Social inclusion debates

He correctly points out that the democratisation of culture strategy (which has 'underpinned British cultural policy since 1945') is nonsense. Bringing high culture to the masses has not worked.

He then critiques the use of cultural programming to achieve non-cultural objectives (eg addressing sickness, crime, unemployment) as alleviating symptoms rather than addressing causes.

He beautifully describes the way that dominant culture dominates.

He then leaps into a critique of museums, galleries and libraries (the institutional focus again) concerning their capacity to represent diversity, involve communities in determining program etc. These are extremely accurate criticisms (although there's not all that much that the City of Melbourne can do in response) but they focus on a very particular field.

The potential for public cultural interventions to stimulate civic engagement, particularly amongst those that feel marginalised is not raised.

The European Cultural Capital process as a policy making tool

Bit of a waste of time (other than it gives some language that might be pinchable). Is there any significance to the fact that neither Bristol nor Birmingham (the two he waxes lyrical about) got to be Britain's 2008 nomination - it went to Liverpool - I wonder what their submission was like?

A renewed public culture

He identifies 13 'dilemmas & issues' starting with:

'Moving from the planning of culture to planning for culture - setting the pre-conditions within which a vibrant culture can be expressed and developed' (final para, p33)

and concluding with:

're-orienting debate towards the idea that an overarching role of cultural policy is to help identify, harness, attract and sustain talent'

I think that this last 'issue' may say it all (that is, from CL's perspective). I strongly disagree with this as an 'overarching role' for a city's cultural policy. Firstly the concept of 'talent' is as problematic as excellence, quality, standards and all those other concepts used to justify the dominant culture. Secondly, a city is, first and foremost, its people - the ones who live and use it. A local government's first responsibility surely must be towards them. One might rephrase this 'issue' thus:

Reorienting debate towards the idea that an important role of cultural policy is to help unleash, channel and sustain the talents of its citizens and their offspring.

Designing policy to 'attract' (whether it be talent, investment or tourists) is fundamentally pathetic. It is based on an assumption of inferiority, a belief that what we have already isn't good enough.

He synthesises these 13 dilemmas into a fourfold basis for 're-arguing what culture is for':

This is a pretty well argued position, but doesn't quite get there. These are four critical ways in which to present the case for a new cultural policy, but I have this suspicion that the deep connection hasn't been established.


Culture is such a useful and adaptable concept that we often forget that it actually describes the activities that are at the foundation of what it means to be human and is the basis of our capacity to live together. It is like that multi-purpose tool that the trendy gift shops sell, with so many instrumental functions that we lose sight of its essence.

Culture (and, consequently, art) manifests the adaptability of its makers: it can be a community service, it can be a marketing tool, it can be the cloak of confidence for those with a civilising mission, it can be a chapter in the Planning handbook, it can promise riches for the market obsessives, it can be the catchcry of the creative industry proponents, it can be a formidable tool for rebuilding cities.

It is this last role that CL understands better than any. He is the world leader when it comes to knowing how art can contribute to urban regeneration. But when it comes to cultural policy he is in danger of getting lost in the forest. He can identify individual trees but seems to miss the wider picture.

After travelling around the world, let's return to the banks of the Yarra. The State Government, quite properly, has a vision for the development of the Melbourne metropolis. It is appropriate that the CBD local government authority contribute to this vision, and commissioning CL to assess the policies of other big cities is a reasonable move in that direction.

However, in the context of what the CoM's own cultural policy should be, the paper is not all that useful. CL mentions some of the work of the UK's DCMS; one aspect he neglects to mention is its efforts to encourage local government authorities to develop cultural strategies and its development of models / approaches for them to consider.

But this is not big picture, high profile stuff.

I suspect that with this paper, we are drifting into big fantasy land - looking for justifications for major projects with world shattering impacts. CL is correct when he opines that:

'Incorporating the notion (of cultural sustainability) into corporate mission statements and goals would be extremely innovative and embed, perhaps for the first time, cultural considerations right across policy concerns thus helping at last to put culture centre-stage;' (para3,p36)

although, in fact, many LGs are already doing this (eg Port Phillip). Let's cop it sweet that in Victoria, Australia the cultural responsibilities of the LG authority are to maximise the happiness and survival (otherwise known as wellbeing and sustainability) of its constituency and get on with it. Perhaps the most useful model to examine in closer detail is that of Antwerp:

'we must not plan and guide the culture or the city; we must be conscious of the preconditions and must create and manage these in such a way that the culture of and for the city's residents and visitors, in short the users, can thrive'.

© 9/8/03 Jon Hawkes <email> <web>
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From The Hawkes Library; affiliated with

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