The Cultural Policy In The Uk History Essay
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
British cultural policy developed and changed dramatically during the period between the end of the Second World War and the mid-1960s. Until the war, Britain had been notable among contemporary European countries for the lack of state involvement in cultural production or patronage (Gray, 2000), (Pick, 1988; 15-37), (Hull, 1958). After the war, the first significant state arts patronage systems, most notably the Arts Council, were established along with the key components of the welfare state. The Arts Council aimed to increase the production of, and public access to, culture in the UK, and did in broad terms achieve this goal over the decades (Harris, 1969), (Shaw, 1980).
Cultural policies have never been purely philanthropic on the part of the state. The Arts Council, and its wartime precursor the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA), were instituted as public morale-boosters. In the case of CEMA, a propaganda purpose was also intended (Gibson, 2004). After the war, cultural policy continued to be used by the government in attempts to affect the national mood, stoke national pride and unity, and also to aid Britain’s international standing in terms of both politics and trade. Cultural policy, while usually espoused as “for the people” is often equally intended to serve the purposes of the state (Gibson, 2004), (Sinfield, 1995).
‘God help the government who meddles in art’
Lord Melbourne, British Prime Minister (1835), quoted in (Minihan, 1977; 60).
The cultural policies enacted in the immediate post-war era were rooted firmly in the cultural, political and social changes brought about by the war itself (Fyrth, 1995; 7). It is therefore vital to examine the historical background leading up to the cultural sea-change coinciding with the Labour Party’s 1945 landslide election victory.
Prior to 1940, the British state was generally unconcerned with the arts. The only direct state involvement of the government in the artistic sphere ‘was to be found in local and national museums, financial support for broadcast opera on the BBC and in the post of Poet Laureate’ (Gray, 2000; 35). Generally, the political establishment was wary of direct involvement in ‘a field that was seen to carry as many political problems as it did opportunities’ (ibid; 36).
Nineteenth-century Britain was defined by free-market capitalism and a ‘laissez-faire mentality’ (Gray, 2000; 37). With a few exceptions, such as Charles I’s establishment of a royal art collection, Britain was unlike many of the continental European societies which had already developed a strong tradition of state arts patronage (Pick, 1988; 15-37). Ridley (1987) suggests this state of affairs arose both from the dominant Protestantism of British people, and from the early growth of capitalism in the British economy (Ridley, 1987; 225). Protestantism ’emphasised private, individual, consumption at the expense of the public sphere’ (Gray, 2000; 36), while a strongly capitalist society provided conditions for the arts also to develop within the context of the private sector rather than through any kind of public patronage (ibid; 36).
It should not be assumed, however, that the state was totally uninvolved in the arts. State intervention in the arts during the nineteenth century consisted primarily of ‘the control of artistic production’ (Gray, 2000; 36). Books and theatrical productions were subject to state censorship and licensing, which was restrictive in both fields. In terms of Pratt’s (2005) “field of cultural policy making”, which demonstrates nine distinct fields based both on the degree of governance and the type of cultural discourse involved; the situation in Britain up until the Second World War was one of stark privatization, with a primarily economic cultural discourse and government based upon the market (Pratt, 2005; 40). Technological advances, in tandem with a capitalist free-market economy, enabled faster and cheaper private production of art, and the market was ‘seen to be meeting the needs of the public’ (Gray, 2000; 38). State involvement was mainly based upon educational or moral ideals, whether through morally-based censorship, or via the supposed ability of the arts to exercise a ‘civilising’ influence on society as a whole (Bennett, 1995). Developments in the early twentieth century continued along moral and educational lines. The BBC was launched in 1927 with the aim of both entertaining and educating the population, and the Labour government of 1930 subsidised opera productions for broadcast, via the BBC (Gray, 2000).
During the Second World War, a ‘wartime popularisation of culture’ (Fyrth, 1995; 7) occurred, and this was in part due to government cultural policy. The Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) was established in 1940, and this represented, in Britain, ‘the first national body to support the arts’ (Fisher, 2010). CEMA distributed both private and public funds, and aimed to boost public morale during the war years. CEMA enabled and vitalised arts participation in both the major cities and the provinces, and in both professional and amateur artistic spheres. With CEMA funding, plays were performed in bomb shelters, and live opera and symphonic performances were made available to troops and working-class civilians.
CEMA aimed to ‘enrich the lives of the British people to the extent that war conditions permitted’ (Harris, 1969; 254), and the state discovered that ‘the arts were extremely valuable in maintaining public morale’ (Shaw, 1980; 85). Politically, also, there was debate regarding the possible role of the British government in ‘funding the arts as an expression of a free and democratic society’ (Fisher, 2010). A further intended role of CEMA was ‘to defend British culture and the arts against the threat of fascism through financial support for music, opera, ballet and drama, and for the purchase of works of art’ (Gray, 2000; 39).
All the people were to have a stake in society, an adequate share of its resources as of right – a job, a pension or social security, a roof over your head, healthcare, education. This, quite explicitly, was the pay-off for wartime suffering. And ‘good’ culture, which hitherto had been the special prerogative of the leisure classes, was also to be available to everyone. By the end of the war, state support for the arts was firmly on the agenda (Sinfield 1995; 184)
1945 saw two dramatic changes in the landscape of British society. Firstly, the Second World War ended. Secondly, the Labour Party experienced a landslide victory in the 1945 election. In addition to the wartime work of CEMA, the general public had gained unprecedented access to the arts through other new channels, such as the 1941 launch of Penguin Books and Pelican, and the film societies which were springing up (Fyrth, 1995: 7). The London Philharmonic Orchestra, for example, innovatively sold tickets through trade union branches (ibid; 7). The war had broken down some of the tightly-structured class hierarchy in British society, as people rallied together against Fascism. This led to the development, during the war, of a so-called ‘People’s Culture’ which was based on progressive, radical ideas, a liberal ideology, anti-Fascism, and anti-Capitalist, anti-establishment sentiments (Fyrth, 1995; 13). Against a background of ‘an emotional desire for a new and better Britain’ (Fyrth, 1995; 4), large-scale social and cultural reform took place in the years immediately after the war. Partly as a result, ‘the state’s involvement with the arts developed rapidly, with the introduction of new institutions and the development of state patronage for the arts in Britain on a scale that had never been seen before’ (Gray, 2000; 4).
CEMA’s wartime activities in bringing arts to the public led directly to the formation of the Arts Council in August 1946 (Hull, 1958 ; 133). The Arts Council is ‘considered to be the first arts agency in the world to distribute government funds at “arm’s-length” from politicians’ (Fisher, 2010), being funded entirely from the government Treasury, with a chairman and other Arts Council members appointed, though not controlled by, the government. The concept was for the Council to continue the work of CEMA on a permanent basis, ‘independent in constitution, free from political interference, financed by the Treasury, and ultimately responsible to Parliament’ (Harris, 1969; 254). The Royal Charter directed the Council ‘to develop “a greater knowledge, understanding and practice of the fine arts exclusively, and in particular to increase the accessibility of the fine arts to the public … to improve the standard of execution of the fine arts and to advise and cooperate with government departments, local authorities and other bodies on any matters concerned directly or indirectly with those objects….”‘ (ibid; 254).
The first chairman of the Arts Council was the noted economist John Maynard Keynes, who had been the chairman of CEMA from 1942 until the end of the war (Harris, 1969; 259). Keynes believed that the Arts Council was likely to exist only temporarily, as British cultural life was rebuilt in the immediate aftermath of the war (Fisher, 2010), however, the Arts Council exists to the present day. Under Keynes’s chairmanship, the Arts Council supported primarily professional opera and theatre which was based in the London metropolitan area. Keynes himself had disliked the involvement of CEMA with amateur arts production (Croft, 1995; 199), and focused Arts Council subsidies on a relatively small number of professional, high-art institutions.
In this context, state patronage of the arts was not entirely performing its prescribed function of “[increasing] accessibility of the fine arts to the public”. The four national theatre companies received large Arts Council subsidies, yet Hutchison (1982) argues that this did not truly increase or broaden public access to the arts. Hutchison quotes Richard Hoggart: “most of the new money is going towards subsidizing and improving the artistic pursuits of those who already know and enjoy the arts. To them that hath is being given.” In a move away from the previously market-driven cultural policies of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, ‘public funding became a primary means of support for serious art not paid for directly at the box office’ (Whiting 1993: 558). There were, even at this point, state bodies supporting the arts which were separate to the Arts Council. For example, the Local Government Act of 1948 permitted ‘an expenditure upon the Arts up to the equivalent of a 6d. rate in England and Wales, and 4-d. in Scotland’ (Hull, 1958; 134).
Ideas of improving the artistic, cultural and general quality of life in Britain were central to the post-war period. In this time-period, the welfare state was created, for the first time placing responsibility for citizens’ physical, economic and social health on the state. Government interventions of the time included the creation of the National Health Service, the establishment of national parks, and the nationalisation of various industries, such as the coal industry in 1947. To coincide with the coal industry’s nationalisation, a documentary play funded by the Ministry of Fuel was produced, in another example of state theatrical patronage linked to the new welfare state (Croft, 1995; 199). Obviously, the intention of the state in funding such a piece of work was not to enhance public access to high art, but to educate the masses and therefore acquire public support for the nationalisation of the coal industry. In this aspect such a cultural policy was not too far removed from the industrial-based art forms used for propaganda purposes by the Soviet Socialist regimes.
Obviously, after the war a great rebuilding of society in physical terms, rather than cultural and economic, was necessary. The bombings of the Blitz had destroyed many British buildings and cities, and the unemployed architects who returned home after deployment in the wartime military were put to work by the state to rebuild ‘beautiful and healthful cities’ (Wood 1995; 182). Another massive act of state patronage in the realm of architecture particularly, was the 1951 Festival of Britain, for which one hundred designers and fifty architects, mostly of a younger generation, were commissioned (Sinfield 1995; 184). Although sponsored adverts appeared in the accompanying guidebook to the Festival, there was no explicit sponsorship of the event, and the overall budget of £11 million was met by the State (ibid; 184).
The idea behind the Festival was to celebrate the ‘People’s Culture’ that had emerged to some degree during the war, representing ‘the history and potential of the British people – not just of distinguished individuals’ (ibid; 184). In keeping with the ideal of democratisation of the arts, the exhibitions were presented to the public in an open, unstuffy way. The preceding conventions for art appreciation – the guarding of elite culture from mass access – were discarded in favour of art built into the fabric of buildings, and the freedom to take in the Festival as one wished. In the words of critic G.S. Whittet: “For the only occasion in my experience painting and sculpture became even the tiniest bit proletarian”. (Sinfield, 1995; 184). This glorious democratisation of art for the people was, however, not without capitalist considerations. The festival’s exhibits of Britain’s scientific, technological and industrial design achievements was not only a celebratory exercise in building a national spirit among the British people, but also a display to other countries in an attempt to attract foreign trade. The year of the Festival was also the year that Labour lost power after 6 years in government, and Britain’s parliament became Conservative once again. The Festival can be seen as ‘the last fling of middle-class radicalism before the onset of the carnivorous 1950s (one of the first actions of the incoming Conservative administration of 1951 was to smash almost everything on the South Bank site)’ (Sinfield, 1995; 191).
Overall, the post-war reforms built upon the optimistic, inclusive, politically left-swinging culture that emerged during the war. Britain went into the twentieth century as a capitalist society highly divided into a class-based hierarchy, and the Great Depression and ensuing Second World War significantly blurred class lines. The deference to authority that had characterised British society was somewhat undone by the war and the following Labour government – for example, when British troops in Cairo heard of Labour’s 1945 election victory, they stopped saluting officers (Fyrth, 1995; 3). The Labour administration enacted cultural policies in the post-war period that intended to continue the broadening of public access to the arts and high culture in particular, as public enthusiasm for arts had been demonstrated by the activities of CEMA during the war. With this in mind, the Arts Council was founded, in the same timeframe as the welfare state was constructed. Underlying these policies was the idea that ‘the good things of life customarily enjoyed by the leisure classes were now to be available to everyone’ (Sinfield, 1995; 183).
However, the Arts Council chose to fund a narrow range of artistic endeavours and forms, and it has been questioned whether in this period public access to high art was really increased. Additionally, the Council did not undertake any real educational work, but instead subsidised those artforms such as opera which retained a mainly elite audience (Shaw, 1980). The members of the Arts Council itself were not working class by any means (Harris, 1969): mostly from privileged family backgrounds, they had attended elite public schools and universities. So although the concept of cultural democratisation was trumpeted, by the time the Conservative government was elected in 1951, it was clear that much of the hierarchy of the pre-war class system was intact. ‘This drag back towards a traditional idea of culture shows how, even when there is a wide constituency for radical change, you cannot simply jump out of the prevailing conceptual structures. For who was to arrange the new cultural future if not the experts? – And they, for the most part, were products of the old system’ (Sinfield, 1995; 189).
The cultural policies of this era stated the desire to democratise the arts for society as a whole – the Labour Party’s 1945 manifesto stated: ‘By the provision of concert halls, modern libraries, theatres and suitable civic centres, we desire to assure to our people full access to the great heritage of culture in this nation’ (ibid; 189-190). Ultimately, it appears the government failed in this stated aim. Additionally, there were unstated political goals of such a cultural policy. In a time when anarchism and Communism enjoyed not insignificant domestic support, a morale-boosting, purportedly democratic arts policy helped keep the population satisfied with the status quo. Furthermore, the British government, aware that Soviet Russia was more popular among the general post-war British population than the United States of America, wanted to position the UK as a ‘middle way between capitalist America and Communist Russia’ (Fyrth, 1995; 8).
The tragedy of post-war British society was that, in spite of Labour’s many achievements, culture and intellectual influence in Britain once more flourished in a walled garden. There were more people in the garden than before 1939 and access was less difficult than in the past; and those outside the garden lived better, with better health care, education and housing. Nevertheless the great majority were outside; the wall was still there and the name of the angel who guarded the gate with a flaming sword was ‘Class’. (Fyrth: 14)
The period of 1953 to 1960 saw the Arts Council under the chairmanship of Kenneth Clark, as successor to Ernest Pooley who had headed the Council from 1946 to 1953. By 1955/56, the annual Arts Council budget had grown to £820,000 (Fisher, 2010). The Council fulfilled a primarily reactive function, in which it allocated funds for artists and arts organisation. Direct support of certain activities was gradually cut back over these years, although the Council continued to support ‘the touring of art exhibitions and an “Opera for All” touring programme aimed at smaller venues’ (ibid).
Although the overall budget, and the number of arts organisations receiving Arts Council support increased during this time, the breadth of art forms supported remained in many ways quite limited. For example, poetry, jazz and photography were not supported for decades after the Arts Council’s inception (ibid). One parameter which was broadened during this period, however, was the geographical focus of Arts Council support. Whereas in the preceding era, Arts Council support had been focused upon London and the metropolitan areas, there were now developed separate Arts Councils in Wales and Scotland. The Arts Council continued to function as a politically separate entity from the British government, although Treasury-funded. An ‘expansion of Government support for the arts in 1959 not only depended upon a private member’s motion in the House of Commons, but also upon MPs themselves voting on non-party lines’ (Gray, 2000; 44).
A Labour slogan of the post-war era was “export or die”, and it is clear that cultural policy was to a degree designed with the intention of capitalising on Britain’s cultural exports. For a long time, the British government and British film industry believed that films could make more money in the United States than any traditional British exports. Filmmaker Harry Watt stated: “Films are perhaps the easiest and most profitable exports. It may take half a dozen large ships to carry enough Jaguars to America to make a million dollars profit. Ten tins of duplicate negative film, in a box measuring four feet by two feet, and weighing perhaps forty pounds, can easily earn the same amount.” (Swann, 2000; 28). Trade journal Kine Weekly stated that British film exports to the US could “increase our dollar intake and thus give us the means of buying more foodstuffs, machinery and other items for our people at home” (ibid; 32). Although ultimately export sales of British films to America in this time period were disappointing, the idea of exporting the products of Britain’s cultural industries foreshadowed contemporary cultural policy.
The Arts Council in the 1950s promoted the British film industry. From 1950 up until 1980, the Council collaborated with the British Film Institute to organise the Art Film Tour: ‘a mobile cinema unit which travelled the country with 16mm prints of non-fiction films about art and artists… The Arts Council commissioned 16mm art films from independent filmmakers, including the pioneering work of James Scott’ (Loukopoulou 2007: 414).
Winston Churchill again led the Conservative party as the ruling party of the British government in the years 1951-1955. As in the post-war era, Britain was trying to position herself between the USA and Soviet Russia. As Britain’s international prestige and influence waned, the government wanted to create the so-called ‘special relationship’ with America in particular – which continues to this day. Already in the 1950s and 1960s, Churchill foresaw the need for America to be the actual superpower, but for Britain to be a respected ally who could benefit from America’s global power (Porter, 1999; 28). In 1953 Eden, at the time serving as the UK’s Foreign Secretary, ‘observed that the strategy was “to persuade the United States to assume the real burdens [of foreign policy] … while retaining for ourselves as much political control — and hence prestige and world influence — as we can” (ibid; 28).
Once again, it was politically necessary to convince the British public that their country was ‘still `Great” (ibid; 28), and cultural policy played a part in this. The 1953 Coronation of Queen, Elizabeth II was a rallying, patriotic cultural event, with related activities and products springing from many cultural and artistic spheres. The Coronation was the first such state occasion accessible to the mass population via television, and people certainly felt part of a great event. Indeed, ‘[i]t was possible, amid the prevailing euphoria, for people to convince themselves that Britain was once again on top of the world’ (ibid; 28). Despite the Coronation really representing a reinforcement of the old, elitist, class-based British social structure through monarchy; cultural policy surrounding the event made the masses feel part of the Coronation, and part of a glorious, united Britain.
During 1960-65, the Arts Council was chaired by Lord Cottesloe, and this is considered ‘a most important period in the Council’s history, marked by increased Exchequer allocations and consequent expansion of subsidy programs’ (Harris, 1969; 259). In addition to the existing Scottish and Welsh Arts Councils, which were still legally part of the Arts Council of Great Britain, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland was established in 1962 ‘as an independent body’ (Fisher, 2010). Further change came in 1963, when the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries (which had been set up in 1931) was ‘given the responsibility of granting aid to national museums’ (ibid).
The year 1965 was a seminal one for cultural policy in the UK. At the end of 1964, the funding structure of the Arts Council changed, as responsibility for funding the Council passed from the Treasury to the government Department for Education & Science (Harris, 1969; 254). The first UK government White Paper setting out a specific Policy for the Arts was issued, ‘following which the Arts Council’s grant significantly increased by 45% in 1966/67 and a further 26% in 1967/68, raising it to £7.2 million’ (Gray, 2000; 40).
Such increased funding did not lead to a broadening of funding, however. The Arts Council stuck with a policy of ‘supporting a limited number of institutions capable of achieving exemplary standards’ (Harris, 1969; 255). Covent Garden received £1,026,500 during 1965-66; Sadler’s Wells £521,000; and other sizeable grants to the London Opera Centre, Western Theater Ballet, Ballet Rambert, and the English Opera Company (ibid; 255). Therefore it can be seen that as the political pendulum swung, in broad terms, from left to right between the end of the Second World War and the mid-1960s, state patronage of the arts remained rooted in support of a narrow and geographically-concentrated range of “exemplary” proponents of high art. The ‘People’s Culture’ which had been espoused after the war never really took hold as a major facet of UK cultural policy.
From the discussion above, it is clear that government cultural policy is never purely conceived for the benefit of the population, but also in many cases is intended to benefit the state as well as society. In the time period examined in this study, Britain was typically an exporter of manufactured goods, and an importer of food and supplies (Porter, 1999), and various attempted moves toward capitalising on Britain’s cultural industries were made with this factor in mind.
During the post-war era, it was believed by the government that British films, for example, could be a profitable and physically efficient export, especially to the American market. Despite cultural policies enacted to bolster the British film industry as a profitable export throughout the period, wholesale export of films to America never really caught up to the expectations or hopes of the British government.
Another cultural action aiming, at least in part, to attract foreign trade was the 1951 Festival of Britain. Although in some ways the Festival was presented and received as a relatively proletarian offering of culture to the masses, there was an underlying desire to advertise to the world Britain’s available cultural exports such as architecture, design and technology.
Cultural policy has been one of the major ways Britain, during this time period, both competed with and differentiated itself from other countries. As the British Empire crumbled, there was a desire to present British culture and British arts as still something distinct and worthy of national pride. Policies which led to the sharing, across class lines, of high art such as opera and symphony concerts aimed to unify, educate and civilise the population as a whole. Whether these policies ultimately succeeded in opening up the elitist world of high culture to the mass population seems doubtful. In comparison to continental European societies, Britain has historically been defined by a sharply-divided class hierarchy, and also somewhat meagre state patronage of the arts.
The era 1945 to 1965 demonstrates a slow loss of national unity in political, cultural and artistic terms. Immediately following the Second World War, the most inclusive state cultural policies seen in Britain for centuries, in tandem with the building of the modern welfare state and the fresh memory of wartime victory, went a long way toward creating a sense of national unity. As the decades continued, however, Britain became no longer an international Great Power, and a political swing back toward conservatism, contributed to a social return to the class divisions and cultural elitism that had preceded the war. Despite unprecedented levels of state arts patronage, primarily through the Arts Council, most people remained excluded from high culture, just as they had been in the nineteenth century.
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