Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Why Arms Length?

Personal and political. After 15 years with various institutions, I finally have a whole year when I am at arms length from all of them - on nobody's payroll. I have been very lucky in that none of these institutions have been particularly constraining. At school, as long as the kids were relatively quiet, you could close the door and get on with it - the national curriculum, ofsted and the rest of the paraphanelia were often just smokescreens for neglect and autonomy. At ippr, my team was always solvent and relatively productive, though only sporadically influential. Cue for more autonomy. And even at Creative Partnerships, managing huge budgets, I certainly received more autonomy than attention.

But the arms length feeling is with me anyway, as I deinstitutionalise my brain and body.

Arms length is also supposed to define the relationship between the UK state and the arts. My fellowship, in cultural policy, will explore this relationship, hopefully ask some new and relevant questions about whether 'arms length' is still a useful and meaningful concept, and maybe even recommend a new paradigm to shape the state-citizen-art trinity for the next sixty years.

Now if that isn't an arrogant aspiration, my next one certainly is.

Cultural policy in the UK over the past 60 years has not been without its failings and difficulties, but overall has contributed significantly to the success of the UK’s cultural sector. Through a combination of accident and design, we may have stumbled upon a set of policies, processes and relationships that go with the grain of wider societal changes, and could therefore have wider application. Through a critical analysis of how the UK state’s ‘arms length relationship’ with culture has worked and is working, cultural policy could provide a model that could influence all other policy areas, and inform new thinking about the state-citizen relationship and the role of the state. Anyone for an arms-length state?

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