History of cultural industry

Sandy Fitzgerald

To talk about cultural industries I think I would have to talk a little bit about the history and particularly the history I have been involved in. I come from Ireland but really it has to be taken in context with all the British Isles with the UK and particularly England. And what has happened over the last fifty years or so.

In seventies when I was initiating an arts centre in Dublin and there was a group of us who were very involved in developing this idea. We were not coming from an arts background. We were coming from what we have called the working class background. So we were not coming from universities. We were not coming from a background that was based in art.

So our concepts were really around how to have a voice in society, how to have a voice. We wanted to be creative. We were very involved in music. I guess we were coming out of the sixties as well and this was our platform really to change society.

But in the mid to late seventies this movement began in England, which was called community arts. Community arts grew very much from this idea that there was a cultural inequality, that there was an inequality in society between how culture was culture actually represented, who had the resources, who could actually participate. And this was the movement that started in the UK in the big cities and in the mining towns because when you remember that time going into the eighties there was a huge conflict in England between working class, conservative ideologies.

Margaret Thatcher would be a representative of that. And there were many battles around this issue of equality in society. And community arts were about cultural equality. And that was really about everybody having a voice in culture. Because there is a misunderstanding a lot of the time, that there are a lot of places with no culture. People say it is a cultural wasteland.

But in fact every community, every society has a culture. And it is represented just by different symbols and different expressions. So you might see graffiti, you might see even anti social behaviour, vandalism that is a form of cultural expression where people are trying to say something. Maybe very negative but they are trying to say something.

If you take a rap music coming out of America. That is coming from a particular place, particular community. Black community who had no other voice to express how they feel except for this type of music. So the reason why this happens is this cultural inequality. And some things are valued more then others. Some things are funded a lot more then others. The resources go into different places.

So if you take resources for instance there have been studies done in Ireland and England that we have what is called Arts Council. Arts Council of Ireland who fund the arts. That is from taxpayer’s money but most of the grants go to the middle class organizations and middle class audience particularly. And the majority of people do no benefit from the investment in the arts, just as an example. So the community arts movement in the seventies was about trying to address that imbalance, find voices for people in the community and ways to express themselves in society. So that was the aim of community arts.

Now if you take the neoliberalism and Margaret Thatcher, Ronal Regan side. Their agenda was really to crush any form of left-wing opposition. And to crush anything that would impede the market. So the market as the economical market was the most important thing. And culture as the way society works was not interesting to them. And I am saying all this by way of an introduction to cultural industries because out of this when the neoliberal side managed to crush the left-wing and particularly when communism failed in Berlin Wall and socialism was discredited, there was no two-sided debate anymore. You could not talk about those issues anymore. So the neoliberal agenda really went forward hugely into consumerism which is what we have now. That is really what the orthodoxy is really up to now.

And out of this in the late eighties came this idea of cultural industries, which had quite interesting ideas. But one of the problems in it is that culture is not the industry. That is the problem. So again there is a misunderstanding what the culture is. You can say maybe there is a film industry. You can say there is a new technology industry. But you cannot say there is a cultural industry. For the simple reason that the culture belongs to everybody. And culture is something that everybody expresses. And culture should be supported at every level. Sometimes it makes money, sometimes it does not but that is not the issue.

The issue is that there should be invested in culture at all levels so that there is an equality and equal voice within the society for all people and all cultures that is the idea. By creating cultural industry you are separating it out from society. It is like you take and industrial park and you say, okay, we are going to have a new technology hub on the edge of the city. You know you, cannot take the culture out and put it on the edge of the city and say, okay, there is the cultural industries there. And there is the rest of it left to itself.

If you do not invest in culture then nothing else really develops. There will be no development within the society. In fact it will go in other way going back to what I talked about regard to young people having a future. You have to invest in the future. You have to actually begin to create that future in a way that everybody can participate. And that is not an industry that is actually the society. That is how you build the society and you build the community. And that is what culture should be about.

Related fights

More fights by Sandy Fitzgerald

Sandy Fitzgerald

Sandy Fitzgerald

Ambassador of Trans Europe Halles in Dublin, Ireland

Full biography