Cultural Democracy Symposium

Cultural Democracy Symposium
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From Wed 4 April 2018 to Thu 5 April 2018
From Wednesday 4 April 2018 to Thursday 5 April 2018
5:30 PM - 7:00 PM

Cultural Democracy - yesterday, today and tomorrow       

Symposium at the Martin Harris Centre, University of Manchester, 4th and 5th April 2018

We invite artists and academics to join us for a day of exploration and discussion about the relationship between culture and democracy. We are interested in uncovering the roots of cultural democracy and evaluating current thinking in order to speculate on future directions. This free event will include panels and open discussion, viewing of film based on unique archive footage and sharing ideas generated by practice. The evening will include a wine reception and the official launch of Culture, Democracy and the Right to Make Art: the British Community Arts Movement which is edited by Alison Jeffers and Gerri Moriarty.

The event is free but places are limited and all delegates must register as soon as possible through Eventbrite. If you book a place but can no longer use it please let us know.

Background to the event

Ideas around cultural democracy were first posited in the UK the 1970s and early 1980s when artists involved in the British Community Arts Movement articulated and developed their ideas as they emerged from community arts practice. At this time too, other nations began to articulate policies based on ideas about the intrinsic relationship between creating culture and creating democracy: in 1976 the Council of Europe ran an international event called Towards Cultural Democracy. Although cultural democracy emerged alongside new radical and alternative modes of live performance, challenges to gallery culture and the growing recognition of the value of popular art forms, its aims were more ambitious. Artists developing their practices aimed to put questions of ownership and authorship at the heart of the work, opening up the artistic and creative ‘means of production’ to communities that they felt had been deprived of them to that point. Despite the fact that the Community Arts Movement in Britain was eroded by the mid-1980s these ideas and ways of working have continued into the 1990s and beyond.

Recently cultural democracy has been brought back into focus by a number of academic research projects, by initiatives emerging from the arts and by the renewed interest of political and charitable bodies. Briefly, and in no particular order, these could be represented by: the AHRC funded research project ‘Understanding Everyday Participation’ which began in 2012; the 2015 report by the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value called Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth; publication of the 2016 AHRC Cultural Value Project report Understanding the Value of Arts and Culture; evaluation of the Get Creative Research in the 2017 report Towards Cultural Democracy and the recent Manifesto for a Cultural Democracy published in Red Pepper in January 2018.

The event is designed to facilitate discussions that will make sense of recent practices and initiatives while not forgetting valuable lessons that may be learned from recent history. It is designed to appeal to both academics and to artists and creative practitioners who are interested in the relationships between culture and democracy.


4th April

6.00-8.00              Action Space – experimental documentary film by Huw Whal based on the early work of arts company Action Space.  Action Space used large inflatable sculptures to create interventions into public spaces. By bringing together artists, performers, dancers, painters and musicians, the movement sought to produce cultural democratic spaces for art, education and creative play outside of the restrictive space of the gallery system. This film looks at those years between 1968 and 1978, exploring contemporary and pertinent issues around public/private space, individual/collective creativity, community and responsibility, emancipation and play. Followed by Q&A with Huw Whal.

5th April

10.30-11.00        Arrivals and registration

11.00-1.00           Panel 1: What can we learn from the histories of cultural democracy? Speakers – Owen Kelly (Arcada, Finland), Stephen Hadley (Queens University Belfast), Cathy Mackerras (community artist and co-founder of Telford Community Arts), Sophie Hope (Birkbeck University).

Chair: Jenny Hughes (University of Manchester).

1.00-2.00              Lunch and networking opportunity

2.00 -4.00            Panel 2: What is the current state of cultural democracy and what are the possibilities for the future?  Andrew Miles (University of Manchester), Cilla Baynes (Community Arts Northwest), Steve Vickers (The Agency, Contact), Nick Wilson (Kings College).

Chair: Abigail Gilmore, (University of Manchester).

4.00-4.30              Tea Break

4.30- 5.30            Showing of film made for the event and plenary discussion.

5.30-7.00              Book launch and refreshments. Invited inputs from Arlene Goldbard (community artist, United States), Nick Mahony (Manifesto for a Cultural Democracy) and other special guests to be confirmed.


Details of the location can be found here -

Anyone requiring accommodation is advised to book early.


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The Martin Harris Centre
University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom
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