When national governments enter into the realm of cultural policy, tensions are inevitable as the monolith of nation clashes with a pluralism of cultures. Eager to recruit culture for their own benefit, governments through history have proved adept at supporting cultures agreeable to them, but have been less disposed toward cultures they view as radical, different, or threatening. There are therefore good reasons to be critical when considering national cultural policies, even those of seemingly benign governments: whose cultures are being supported and why? Whose cultures are being ignored or suppressed and why?
Fortunately, a healthy scepticism abounds in cultural policy discourse. British cultural policy maverick John Pick, for example, views cultural policy as ‘high-minded ideals that often [bear] little relationship to the actual actions proposed’. With similar scepticism, Mark Schuster identifies three common types of cultural policies: ‘motherhood and apple pie’, where policy is couched in terms too general to be a useful guide to action; ‘everything but the kitchen sink’, where policy tries to satisfy too many priorities to be practicable; and ‘form over function’, where policy is emasculated by a focus on processes rather than on outcomes. Terry Flew warns of an inherent duality in traditional ‘sovereign’ cultural policy models that makes them both inclusive and exclusive simultaneously .
For better or worse, however, national governments do get involved in culture. Though scepticism and good governance might dictate that we should know what a government’s intentions for culture are, not all governments are willing to spell these intentions out explicitly. When they do, they sometimes use what is called here a ‘monolithic cultural policy’: a single cultural policy statement bringing together the branches of government’s cultural involvements under one umbrella; into one, hopefully coherent, whole.
This paper explores monolithic cultural policies around the world to address the question: if Australia is to have a cultural policy, what should it look like? The chapter surveys monolithic cultural policies in a selection of countries, examines what these policies have in common, what they say and how they say it, and ends with some personal reflections based on this comparative analysis. The approach is neither scientific nor fully comprehensive. The sample of policies is based exclusively on availability, and does not include countries that are a ‘close fit’ to Australia. The analysis is limited by time constraints, and the lessons drawn are accordingly broad and of a highly personal nature. The chapter outlines personal impressions gained from the brief comparison undertaken, but does not aim to supply a full empirical substantiation for these impressions.
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Monolithic cultural policy: A cultural policy for Australia?
This is the draft of a book chapter that is due to be published in Making meaning, making money: Directions for the arts and cultural industries in the creative age, Cambridge Scholars Press, UK, edited by Kate Oakley and Lisa Anderson.