Audience Development: Democratising Culture?

May, 15, 2018
Steven Hadley

We were very excited to have Dr Steven Hadley, Visiting Research Fellow at the School of Performance & Cultural Industries at University of Leeds, as CTM BRU‘s closing keynote speaker. 

Why is audience development so important for arts and cultural organisations? From an arts management perspective there are two broad answers: arts managers want more people to engage in culture because it benefits either the arts organisation (financially, socially and artistically) or the individual (and, by proxy, society at large). The logical corollary of this is to extend these benefits as widely as possible through both artistic and audience development.

In the period since 1945, the ‘Patron State’ model of public arts subsidy predominant in Western Europe has sought to make available to all a culture that had previously been the preserve of elites. Inherent in the idea of public subsidy is a moral imperative to ensure democratic access to the arts and culture being funded by the taxpayer – a ‘democratisation of culture’. There is an implicit theoretical relationship between public cultural subsidy and the broadening, or democratising of access. Such a moral imperative is implicit in any system of public cultural subsidy operating in a modern liberal democracy given that no democratic state can be seen as simply indulging the cultural tastes of a small (elite) social group. This leads both arts management and cultural policy to ask questions about how publicly subsidised arts and culture must be both democratic and democratised.

This is an urgent debate and presents a significant leadership challenge for the subsidised cultural sector. As recent work on meritocracy, race and class has shown, the arts sector (and wider cultural industries) has significant structural and intersectional issues to address.

Words by Dr Steven Hadley.
Dive deeper into Steven’s work with Is the Museum a Democratic Institution?, the closing keynote at CTM BRU.