John Holden from Demos recently released this report ‘Democratic Culture’ to explore what it is that we mean by culture in our times. The report establishes three useful spheres:the public, commercial and homemade. The public is that which is defined as culture through the act of being funded by governments, commercial culture is determined by the consumer and the homemade by the creator and/or community. Holden proposes that as these three spheres become increasingly interconnected and networked, the ambiguities between each is likely to increase. He suggestst that the reaction to this by those who consider art to be ‘for an elite’ will be that they to try to maintain their power to define what art is by separating it from everyday life. This is probably not such a new thought; before the internet we found ways of defining high and low culture, particularly in the museum/library/archive/gallery sector. Kevin Moore’s ‘Museums and Popular Culture’ (1997) dealt with issues of interpretation and representation and focused on the paradox of the museum in attempting to maintain a distance from those cultural events which, in another time and another place may well be defined as high culture.
But this is not the place for yet another ‘divide’ discussion. Holden describes the impact of ‘exculsivity’ and ‘the cultural snob’, suggesting levels of expert skill and knowledge are relative. He proposes that the arguements which frequently break out between the ranks are in themselves a mechanism for ‘asserting exculsivity’ in order to ”guard the territory that they have mapped together, in order to keep the public out.” (Holden 2008, p. 20) Holden asserts that if we can begin to consider the demos as ‘us’, ” a self-governing, enlightened citizenry, with the capacity to make judgements and decide questions” then three-way communication can develop.
The article is an interesting read and contexutalises existing debates quite well. Where it seems to lack punch is in a sense of the future. Recognising that there is a big gap between the rhetoric or access and audience expectation, I can’t help feeling somewhat worn out by the report. It’s not the fault of DEMOS. Perhaps it has more to do with a sense of frustration that before we can move forward, we have to locate the muscles that work together to propel us through space.