High Culture, Regeneration And The Legitimation Of Excellence
In some circles it is a given that High Culture is ‘inappropriate’ for ‘local people’. This is patronising. It dismisses the enjoyment the arts can bring to everyone, and ignores opportunities which the arts – as particularly visible public activities – can give for people to develop skills and even careers. Legitimation of ambition, in the arts or any other challenging positive activity, is important, regardless of where you live.
In a city such as Liverpool, there is for some a major issue about entitlement and appropriateness in respect of culture. It has on occasion been suggested that ‘high culture’ is not what should be on offer to local people, because they don’t / wouldn’t enjoy it.
This approach surely misses the point. Art must always be inclusive, but like many other activities, getting well acquainted requires patience and perseverance. All cities, and many smaller localities, need to offer every level and type of culture – and here is a challenge for developers as much as for community leaders and politicians – if they are to be true cultural centres, convincing and alive.
The case for a broad sweep in cultural provision is convincing. The argument that ‘high’ art is unnecessary because ‘people don’t want it’ is at best patronising, and at worst insulting, both to providers of that art and to its potential recipients. There must be opportunities for artists to offer their skills at the highest levels of achievement, alongside programmes which afford people engagement in the arts at lesser formal levels of skill (whether this be performing themselves, or listening / watching / looking at the work of others).
One of the challenges in this for regeneration is to find out how to knit together these opportunities, sometimes using the same human and cultural resources, and sometimes different ones, in a way which moves forward for all concerned. When this happens there will be more positive ‘artistic’ and professional role models for others in a given community to follow, which would help to ensure that local aspirations are high and that people from less-advantaged communities are not just left expecting the low-paid jobs.
Put another way, community perception of the art of the possible – expectations for the future – must include legitimation of the ambitious.
In the light of these considerations, perhaps there should be a re-emphasis within the questions above, at least to include these questions:
* How can decision-makers and leaders nurture formal arts and culture in places with limited understanding or appreciation of these?
* How would this impact in terms of enhancing engagement and opportunities for both arts practitioners and their ‘audiences’ / local people?
* What would be the cultural, social and economic synergies which follow from such enhancement and engagement?
Such questions in no way imply that everyone has to appreciate ‘high art’. What they might do is bring us to a greater consideration of the value of art and artists ‘for themselves’ as well as for what they can deliver in the normal sense of regeneration.
Regeneration plans must include artists directly, alongside all other partners. In including them directly we might even discover a new narrative to describe the meanings of ‘high art’, and what can come from it…