Participation

In The twelve dimensions I gave an introduction to Pier Luigi Sacco’s theories on the position of culture in the postindustrial society. In this essay I will continue the exploration. One of the signs is culture as a system-wide force, another is active culture participation.

Sacco builds his reasoning around several theoreticians – for example Amartya Sen, Michael Porter and Richard Florida. Zygmunt Bauman could also be mentioned; his theories on the floating modernity are connected to Sacco’s theories on culture based participation and the symbolic production’s importance to identity. Other important theorists like Manuel Castells, Saskia Sassen, Robert Putnam and James Coleman could be mentioned in connection to Sacco as well.

Saskia Sassen

Sacco divides the system-wide cultural district in five parts in an analytical tool: Quality, Development, Attraction, Sociality and Networking. Every part can in turn be divided in several aspects, which we, a bit simplified, can term material resources (natural and physical capital) and immaterial resources (social, human and symbolic capital).

Sacco’s perspective is quite generic and I will put the reasoning in a Swedish context.

Quality

The quality dimension is connected to Michael Porter, professor of Economics at Harvard Business School, who has built models on competitiveness and clusters. From a hard-core art perspective, Porter could be perceived as too influenced by economy, but I still think there are some points to be found here.

One of the quality dimensions has to do with the quality of the cultural supply. Since ’quality’ is a comprehensive (and surprisingly conflictual) subject, my advice is to stay pragmatic. The basic question for this dimension is: Is there a cultural environment that is stimulating and attractive? Institutions and organizations play a major part. But a major institution doesn’t have to be more important than a minor, since small, edgy activities could be really attractive.

The next quality dimension deals with the quality of the local, public governess. This dimension answers questions about coordination, understanding and engagement of the local administration. Without administrative and political support, the cultural environment will get drained. In Sweden, Regions and Municipalities play a major part for the impact of culture in the local societies.

The third quality dimension is about education and the production of knowledge. What are the quality of the institutions of education and research in the district? The universities are definitely the most important players. Art Academies and several other degrees – humanities, media, communication, pedagogics, IT – are all keys in the production of knowledge in the system-wide cultural district. Adult education and upper secondary schools with aesthetic profiles could also be of certain interest.

Art School, Bashkirtseff, In the Studio

Development

Development, which is emphasized by both Amartya Sen and Michael Porter, deals with refinement of the existing resources of the district.

The first development dimension is about reorientation and formation of institutions, associations, entrepreneurs, producers. How do innovations get support? How conservative are the existing infrastructures? What opportunities are there for curious projects? In which way are the new trends caught up? How do we meet the new forces?

The second development dimension deals with individuals. What support do individuals (‘talents’) aiming for a higher level get? How do we encourage artists? How permissive is the existing scene? What opportunities do new talents have to get established? In what way do we coach them and promote them?

Attraction

Attraction should be associated with the American professor Richard Florida, well known for his identification of the creative class. The creative class produces a tolerant, open environment, which in turn attracts more creative individuals (talents), businesses and capital. It’s not difficult to challenge Florida; the model has been criticized for being elitist and out of empiric support.

The first dimension of attraction is about mobility, not at least within private businesses, but also within the public sphere. How does the district attract external investments in the fields of knowledge production, culture and communication? In what way do we attract education institutions, companies, regional/national cultural institutions etc. to get established in the district?

The second dimension of attraction works on the individual level – how do we attract external individuals to settle down and work in the district? Think of professional artists, musicians, designers, producers and culture carriers – well-oriented and specialized people from the cultural and creative industries. What opportunities do external writers or dancers have, if they want to develop their careers and relations in the district?

Sociality

Under the headline sociality sorts the social dimensions of culture and the social scope of the cultural life. Sacco relies partly on Amartya Sen’s theories. Sen’s interest in low developed economies is relevant also for higher developed economies; the poverty doesn’t have to be economic or material, but instead connected to, for instance, the lack of life experience or lack of will to broaden horizons.

The first dimension of sociality deals with everybody’s chance to participate and to build capacity in the local society – does everyone have the possibility to live an expressive life, a life characterized by the capacity of artistic expression? The American Bill Ivey, former head of the National Endowment of the Arts, has written the book Arts, Inc., where we highlights the expressive life.

Bill Ivey

It’s, according to Ivey, every human being’s right to live an expressive life, which of course doesn’t mean that everybody should become an artist, writer or musician. Nor does everyone have to get engaged in all genres, techniques or art forms. Instead, everyone should have the chance to experiment with different artistic methods.

All citizens should have the knowledge and the access to the basic cultural tools, i.e.to play an instrument, draw, dance, compose or design. But it could also be an attitude to life based on creativity.

Artistic expression isn’t just about art, but also about self-esteem and to find tools to interpret ´different contexts. The expressive life isin some way autonomous, independent and raised above f.x. money, power, success and the everyday world.

The second dimension of sociality has to do with cultural and knowledge based activities and methods as basic tools for solving social criticalities. How do we use artistic practices to improve intercultural communication? Does culture help us to burst filter bubbles or to get isolated tribes together?

The third dimension of sociality emphasizes the engagement in the local society. What role does culture play in urban development, city planning and city regeneration? In what way is civil dialogue used for the development of cultural presence in the local society? In what way do the culture institutions view their audiences – as a genuine resource for the content or as less informed passive spectators?

Networking

Network is closely connected to both Amartya Sen and Michael Porter. Porters clusters for example –i.e. the transformation of old industrial areas to hubs for culture and creativity – requires networking. The sociologist Manuel Castells has also, in several packed volumes, noticed the network from different perspectives, usually on a macro level.

In the network society, collaborations between activities that used to consider each other as competitors appear. A requirement for success is open collaboration, which cross-fertilizes the companies and creates innovations. Networking means great expectations, and the digitalization has made the potentials more or less infinite. In close connection with the term network society is specialization; it’s common that projects requires certain specialist competence for defined tasks.

The network society is built up by weaker and stronger nodes, and in the outskirts it’s almost impossible to make benefits of synergies. In many fields networking is essential for success. But at the same time, the network society is structured by a capitalism that slices up labor and employment in insecure, short missions without continuity.

What does the internal and external networks look like? Are they strong or weak? Institutional or individual? Short term or long term? Time consuming or effective? Compulsory or voluntary? Additional or tautological? Top-down or equal? New thinking or anacronistic?


This page was updated 2016-03-26 by Fredrik Sandblad.