Friday 15 March 2024

Cultural Futures in the Crisis

Mark Ball

Mark Ball is a Research Associate in the School of Culture and Creative Arts at University of Glasgow. His research is supported by the Centre for Understanding Sustainable Prosperity (, and focuses on questions of cultural value and meaning, place, and politics.

Judging by the good attendance at Civic House on Tuesday, the multiple crises affecting the cultural sector are, at least, a shared concern. The afternoon kicked off with a panel chaired by Mark Banks featuring Robert Hollands, Abi Gilmore, and Katrina Brown. Robert drew on his recent book to help establish the political patterns shaping our current predicament; increasing austerity, increasing inequality, and an increasingly hard time for artists to carve out a decent life. I’ll chart my mood over the afternoon, and at this point: familiarly gloomy. Then, drawing on current work, Abi took us through the state of parks in the UK. As an essential cultural resource, these commons are under threat. We learned, with sobering detail, about how funding cuts are changing the nature of urban life. The description of new private parks for the public – privately owned though we do get a go on them, as long as we don’t piss off the private security – seemed a contradiction too far. Mood: still gloomy, but with more ammo for the gloom. Next Katrina talked about her work with The Common Guild, a visual arts organisation in Glasgow. The work of an artist seeking public support – increasingly, ‘typing and sighing’ – is made much harder by the current political-economic climate, and the gains of Glasgow’s European Capital of Culture long since slipped away. Katrina introduced Nicole Wermer’s current exhibition ‘Day Care’, which is set in a never-used office block in town – and by never used, Katrina meant never used, ever. This seemed to sum a lot up. Mood exiting panel: not exactly hopeful, though gloom lifted by examples of art working in the crises. A lively discussion followed.

After a break and a glass of prosecco, we sat back down to see Justin O’Connor in conversation with Kate Oakley. Justin’s new book, Culture is Not an Industry, is well-pitched to meet the mounting concerns from the earlier panel. Addressing these kinds of issues, Justin’s book argues that culture needs to be wrestled away from any kind of frivolous characterisation, and considered instead as part of a foundation economy; as foundational as health and education, for instance. The New Labour break into ‘creative industries’ thinking was a mistake: a depoliticising effect that made normal the idea that culture is valued only economically. For this to stop, and a brighter cultural future to emerge, a radical rethink is required. With Kate’s questions these ideas were given more air and shape for those of us (like me) who hadn’t read the book (yet). Justin wasn’t short on interested questions from the floor, which is always a good sign. Mood on leaving: gloom lifted, intellectually stimulated, though maybe short on the practicalities. Then again I should probably read the book. 

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Cultural Futures in the Crisis