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Towards cultural democracy: Promoting cultural capabilities for everyone

Towards cultural democracy: promoting cultural capabilities for everyone is the final report of King’s fourth Cultural Enquiry. On the basis of a 15-month research project, it presents a timely and distinctive vision of how to build a cultural life for the UK that is valuable for everyone, and made by all.  

At the heart of the report is a call for a radical but pragmatic new approach to understanding and enabling cultural opportunity. It is argued that cultural opportunities are comprised of a far broader range of freedoms than access to already existing publicly funded arts – the primary focus of current cultural policy.

Whilst acknowledging the vital importance of the publicly funded arts and the profit-making creative industries, the report casts a spotlight on their relationships with everyday creativity – a plethora of cultural activity that is happening around the UK but which is often overlooked. It demonstrates how the arts, creative industries and everyday creativity are not separate but deeply interconnected, enabling each other to flourish. It then makes the crucial connection between these activities and the range of socially-embedded freedoms they require in order to be possible.

In doing so, Towards cultural democracy sheds light on the explosion of cultural creativity that could be happening if the arts, creative industries and everyday creativity were better connected. This would radically increase everyone’s substantive freedom to co-create versions of culture: what the report refers to as cultural capability. This is the report’s proposal for a new way to understand what cultural opportunity consists of, moving well beyond access to currently existing publicly funded arts.

Cultural capability – the combined freedom to speak, to express, to be heard, to experience, to make, to build, to contest, to create – is the key idea at the heart of this report. Documenting and analysing conditions in which people lead empowered cultural lives, the report identifies key ways in which future policy and practice have the potential to more fully realise cultural capability for everyone. It is on this basis that the report offers its distinctive vision of cultural democracy: an achievable future in which the substantive freedom to co-create versions of culture is enjoyed by all.

Everyday creativity (i.e., the enormously diverse range of cultural and creative practices that take place outside of the publicly funded arts and the profit-making creative industries) is a hugely important part of the UK’s cultural ecology and needs to be taken seriously. 


14 recommendations are targeted at a broad set of stakeholders, including national government departments and agencies, private trusts and foundations, local cultural policy makers, arts and cultural organisations, and cultural creativity initiatives (such as the Get Creative Campaign, Fun Palaces and 64 Million Artists).

Framed around the promotion of cultural capabilities for everyone, the recommendations include:

  • exploring the best institutional arrangements through which this overarching objective can be achieved;
  • reviewing how this policy objective complements rather than negatively impacts existing policy directions and priorities;
  • considering what investment might be needed;
  • paying particular attention to the creative citizens and pillar organisations that play a crucial mediating and connecting role in promoting cultural capability;
  • encouraging arts organisations to develop their own explicit cultural capability strategies;
  • paying special attention to the role of digital platforms and technologies;
  • encouraging local (and city-wide) responses;
  • working with local radio;
  • and developing connections between organisations and individuals of many kinds – including partnerships between arts organisations and ‘non-arts’ groups.

The report was commissioned by King's College London and supported by the university's Culture team. It is based on a research collaboration with the Get Creative campaign, July 2015 - October 2016. This campaign aims ‘to inspire people to try something new at home or at a Get Creative event and to encourage people to share their own examples of everyday creativity’. It is led by a consortium of cultural organisations - 64 Million Artists, Arts Council England, the Arts Council of Wales, BBC, Crafts Council, Family Arts Campaign, Fun Palaces, Voluntary Arts, What Next?, Creative People and Places, and Creative Scotland.

The research team produced two internal evaluation reports for the campaign in 2015-16. These had significant impacts on a number of levels, from the practical to the conceptual - including enabling the Steering Group to refine the campaign’s explicit objectives, and to develop a shared language through which to communicate these goals. This Cultural Enquiry is the major public-facing report from the project, responding to the work of Get Creative and other national initiatives seeking to enable cultural opportunities in new ways.

The research draws on the following sources of data:

  • Interviews with organisations on the Get Creative Steering Group.
  • Interviews with twenty Get Creative Champions around the country, from individual creative citizens to large institutions.
  • Focus groups with What Next? chapters in eight locations around the UK.
  • Two-stage questionnaire for Get Creative Champions, November 2015 and April 2016.
  • Ethnographic research with four cultural organisations / networks, including two Get Creative Champions. This included in-depth interviews and focus groups.
  • Top line data from the BBC about the Get Creative campaign, including viewing figures, demographic data from competition entries, and social media analysis.

The authors of the report are:

  • Dr. Nick Wilson, Reader in Creativity, Arts & Cultural Management, Department of Culture, Media & the Creative Industries.                 
  • Dr. Jonathan Gross, Teaching Fellow and Researcher, Department of Culture, Media & the Creative Industries.     
  • Dr. Anna Bull, Lecturer in Sociology, University of Portsmouth (formerly, Researcher, Department of Culture, Media & the Creative Industries).

The report was supported by the university's Culture team.

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