Towards Cultural Democracy: New Approaches to Cultural Opportunity

Towards Cultural Democracy: New Approaches to Cultural Opportunity

Arc Stockton 2016 Fun Palace
Arc Stockton's Fun Palace in 2016

by Dr. Jonathan Gross, Teaching Fellow & Researcher (Culture, Media & Creative Industries) King's College London  

Date Published: 10 July 2017


Over the past 15 months, my colleagues and I at King’s College London have been conducting research alongside the Get Creative campaign. The research took us around the UK, speaking to a wide range of Get Creative Champions. Through this work we have developed a new understanding of what cultural opportunity consists of – opening up possibilities for how theatres and other cultural organisations might approach their social and creative missions.

Interdependencies of amateur and professional practice

We found that in many cases, amateur (or what we call ‘everyday creativity’) and professional practice are closely interlinked. Collectively, we are only beginning to scratch the surface of the interdependencies between the amateur and professional worlds, but the implications for cultural organisations and policy makers could be extensive.

The Old Vic Community Company

One of our case studies was the Old Vic Community Company (OVCC). The ambition for the OVCC was to develop a theatre company over three annual productions, in which members would not only ‘take part’, but develop long-lasting skills, including - potentially - the skills to establish their own theatre groups. Experienced theatre professionals - including directors, movement coaches and stage managers - worked closely with the hugely diverse membership of the company, drawn from audition workshops involving hundreds of people from across the capital.

The Fun Palace movement

A second important example is the Fun Palaces movement, established in 2014, with Stella Duffy and others picking up and running with Joan Littlewood‘s idea of  ‘Everyone an Artist, Everyone a Scientist: Culture at the Heart of Every Community’.  When I attended a Fun Palace at the Arts Depot in North Finchley, I was struck by the diversity of people making use of the space, and the transformation of the building’s use going on there.

New possibilities for expanding cultural opportunities

Drawing on examples such as these, in our report, Towards Cultural Democracy: Promoting Cultural Capabilities for Everyone, we build on the work of economist Amartya Sen and philosopher Martha Nussbaum, who ask  the question, ‘what is each person actually able to do and to be?’ What if we all – as cultural practitioners, policymakers and researchers – began to think in these expanded terms: how might this change understanding of the roles that cultural organisations can play, not only in increasing ‘access’ to the arts, but in enabling cultural agency?

There are  many vital ways in which theatres and other cultural organisations already facilitate cultural opportunity across the UK. But by thinking afresh about what cultural opportunity consists of, we may in the coming years develop even more ways of enabling a diversity of voices to be heard through cultural expression, and enjoy the benefits of what we call in the report cultural democracy. Theatres, artists and ‘creative citizens’ have a great opportunity here: to shape the politics of our culture, and to contribute to the culture of our politics.

A fast-developing conversation

 ‘World-class’ theatre is a crucial part of a future in which the UK’s cultural ecology continues to flourish. By recognising the interconnections that already exist between the publicly funded arts, the profit-making creative industries and everyday creativity - and by thinking about cultural opportunity in ways that take seriously the very real interconnections between these domains of creative practice - we open up new possibilities for enabling cultural opportunities for all: be it through a Fun Palace, a new kind of community theatre company, or types of creative partnership yet to be invented.

To keep in touch with this ongoing research, and to receive a hard copy of Towards Cultural Democracy: Promoting Cultural Capabilities for Everyone, please email

Towards Cultural Democracy Front Cover
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