Culture Club

Managing the sublime.

The International Network on Cultural Policy (INCP), a group of some 60 culture ministries, exists "to develop strategies to promote cultural diversity," diversity meaning creative works that haven't been exported from the U.S.

Called into being in 1998 by a Canadian minister, the INCP meets annually to brainstorm and to chew over learned papers. The 2003 conclave, held last fall in Croatia, produced a number of worthy thoughts, including a remarkable paper entitled "Research on Models of Financing Culture." Six years into its life, the INCP has taken up the issue of culture's economic value.

The paper offers four financial models, including the "liberal" market model in which people spend their money on whatever they like; the INCP thinks such markets consist of "cultural products intended for mass consumption." The other models involve the state's spending the people's money on what official cultural arbiters like, either at the national level, at the local level, or through private foundations.

There are some interesting moments in the paper, which recognizes a "linkage between culture and the economy" that is "reflected in two associated processes: 'acculturation' of the economy and economization of culture." That is, cultural activity has become a driving economic force even as an increasing number of products are marketed in terms of their aesthetic dimension. The INCP thus tiptoes up to an epiphany about the personal meaning that makes culture valuable to consumers. Ultimately, however, the INCP is blinded by its understanding of markets as places of mass (rather than personal) exchange.

"Cultural policies," asserts the paper, "set the framework for artistic production which represents the most sophisticated form of human expression. Art...is the fruit of social experience which communicates with the deepest aspects of human spirituality. And this is precisely the value which cannot be reduced to simple economic considerations." In other words, culture is a transcendent phenomenon, so it must be managed bureaucratically.

The INCP's 2004 meeting will be held in China.

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