9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN02 Sociology of the Arts

2009-09-03 15:30:00 2009-09-03 17:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 15:30 - 17:00 Being An Artist I Building II, C6.08

Artists and policymaking process: "unacknowledged legislators", or "mad, bad and dangerous"?


The Recommendation concerning the Status of the Artist adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO at its twenty-first session, in Belgrade, on 27 October 1980 (and re-endorsed in 1997 by a UNESCO convened World Congress as "the principal text relating to the Status of the Artist") included a number of "Guiding principles" that emphasise the importance of including artists, and of facilitating their inclusion, in the policymaking process. The Recommendation urges that Member states should "have the opinions of artists" taken carefully into account in the formulation and execution of their cultural policies. To this end, they are invited to make the necessary arrangements for artists and their organizations to participate in discussions, decision-making processes and the subsequent implementation.

The evidence suggests, however, that artists often have only a very limited or marginal involvement in the policymaking process of UNESCO Member states. In fact, their concerns and interests are often less visible in policy discussions than might be expected. In the UK, for example, Robert Hewison and John Holden of the policy thinktank Demos have written: "In spite of the economic and social significance of their output, artists lack visibility in crucial ways - They do not sit easily within the structures and methods that government - both central and local - have adopted to measure what they consider to be important - It is as though visual artists are invisible.

Through an analysis of the contested and mutable roles attributed to the artist as a public figure in Western cultural and philosophical discourse - from the indictment of poetry and theatre and the arguments for their banishment from the ideal polity elaborated by Plato in the Republic, to Percy Bysshe Shelley's claim in his A Defence of Poetry, 1819, that "poets are -the unacknowledged legislators of the world," to the contributions made by artists to the politically committed cultural avant-gardes of the 20th century - this paper sets out to examine why it might be that, despite the 1980 UNESCO Recommendation, artists are often not viewed as welcome or necessary participants in the policymaking process.