Perspectives on cultural participation in Europe


Perspectives on cultural participation in Europe

Antonio Ariño Villarroya, University of Valencia;

Victoria M. ATECA-AMESTOY, Victor GINSBURGH, Isidro MAZZA, John O’HAGAN and Juan PRIETO-RODRIGUEZ (eds.): Enhancing Participation in the Arts in the EU. Challenges and Methods. Berlin: Springer, 2017.

The aim of this extensive book is not only to measure participation in cultural activities in the European area, but also to promote these in order to contribute to social inclusion and active citizenship. It offers the results of a research project funded by the European Commission’s Culture 2007-2013 programme, with wide-ranging participation of academics, managers and experts from different countries. Its content is in keeping with the concerns and objectives of the Commission, which understands cultural participation as a relevant tool for consolidating democracy and the welfare state through cultural democratisation, but also as an instrument for economic development thanks to the expansion of the creative industries and of the cultural market. 

This work follows on from a long tradition of research that, since the 1970s, has used surveys regarding preferences and practices as a tool for measuring the population’s expectations and demands. At the same time it proposes an evaluation of these instruments and the incorporation of other new ones in order to better understand cultural participation. 

Three major questions guide the research: how participation is evolving; what happens if a broad sector of the population does not take part in cultural activities (in fact, distribution is highly uneven not only by artistic sectors but also according to the main sociodemographic variables); and how it is possible to help identify factors that make a higher participation possible in such a way that policies take into account the corresponding findings. 

The book’s twenty-five chapters are structured within five parts of unequal length: the first presents instruments for measurement and assesses them, taking into account an international comparative perspective; the second is concerned with the analysis of various sectors: music, theatre, museums and cultural heritage; the third focuses on tourism; the fourth deals with the impact of new technologies; and the fifth is devoted to articles on funding and innovation respectively. 

The different chapters offer an explicit or implicit approach to the fundamental problems affecting this field: what is understood by culture or how far the cultural field extends; what is understood by participation; how to measure it and what difficulties must be overcome to do so and to make comparisons; and finally, what results of significance are obtained from this entire process. 

According to the book’s title, its content should be limited to the English-speaking concept of the arts, but in reality it is concerned with the usual repertoire of cultural activities that are included in European surveys (classical music, theatre, museums, etc.), although the range opens up significantly to include three other important areas, namely sport (the case of Ireland), videogames and tourism (in various cities, including Hong Kong), which are not always included in national questionnaires because they are usually the subject of specific surveys. We thus find ourselves facing one of the most important problems today: what is the extension of the cultural field that must be tackled by research into cultural participation, consumption and habits? 

The term participation, which comes from political studies, has consistently caused difficulties when applied to culture. Usually two focuses are identified: the French, which distinguishes between practices in the home and outside the home, plus those related with promoting cultural identity; and the English, which uses participation as a synonym of attendance and frequency (attendances, visits and readings) and which enables differentiation between attitudes that are more active or more receptive.  

Artistic participation enables the generation of a sense of community and identity, promoting integration and social cohesion thanks to its symbolic efficiency

The book covers other more complex distinctions of a qualitative nature that take into account barriers to participation, as well as motivations and cognitive competencies and experience. For example, one of the authors, Pierre-Michel Menger, in an analysis of contemporary music audiences within the context of the historical transformation of spaces or possibilities of choice, distinguishes three types of audience depending on their experience: newcomers, occasional and committed. And Víctor Fernandez-Blanco et al. identify 12 types of music consumers, using classical music consumption as a guiding criterion and taking into account diverse sociodemographic variables. Of these 12 types, four are considered “omnivorous”, while the rest are characterised by a low level of classical music consumption and, in certain cases, by a lack of interest in any type of music. 

Other articles direct attention to the changes that are proposed from the perspective of the supply in order to attract certain audiences, those from the communication and digital societies, who have more complex expectations than audiences in previous eras. In participation outside the home, audiences are no longer happy to settle for attendance at specific functions or events, but need involvement in meaningful experiences. For this reason, those in charge of programming have to adopt multiproduct strategies (diverse goods and services are offered) or multifunction strategies (urban regeneration, promotion of creativity, education, social inclusion). These aspects are dealt with in the articles by Tiziana Cuccia et al., by Michel Hambersin and by Roberto Cellini et al

The same occurs with cultural tourism, as the committed consumer will not settle for a visit to heritage sites, but requires the integration of the different components of the heritage-territory, environment, material culture, etc. For example, Calogero Guccio et al. describe and analyse the supply in the Orta lake, Italy. Imma Fondevila studies the transformations in Spanish museums, that not only pursue an increase in audiences in absolute number terms, but also aim to open them up to the variety of types of visitors, reflect on the function that public facilities must perform and achieve a qualitative change in visitor involvement through guided tours, education proposals, mediation and interpretation as well as the creation of experiences with the use of new technologies, among others. 

One of the transformations being played out with new audiences is the combination of the classical aim of personal development or self-realisation with the growing need for entertainment or distraction. Francesco Mannino and Anna Mignosa introduce the hybrid concept of edutainment to approach this problem. And Michel Hambersin also points out the need to pay attention to the expectations of new audiences in his article on classical music.

The political objective of relating participation with social inclusion and, therefore, reaching new audiences, especially vulnerable social groups (excluded minorities, immigrant population), is made patent in two of the chapters: one by Mannino and Mignosa on the Benedictine Monastery of Catania and one by Marco Ferdinando Martorana et al. on participation in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. These sustain that the arts and culture contribute to the accumulation of social capital, reduce exclusion and, therefore, improve the development of depressed urban environments, but prolonged public action is required for them to be successful.

In the introductory chapter great attention is paid to this dimension of politics and cultural participation. The discussion makes mention of both the individual benefits (differentiating between child and adult population) and social and public benefits. Undoubtedly artistic participation generates new forms of learning and new languages for interpreting the world that are key in the education process, but it also enables the generation of a sense of community and identity, promoting integration and social cohesion thanks to its symbolic efficiency. This is a question that, in the future, must not only be proclaimed but also researched with breadth and empirical rigour, without avoiding the conflicts and tensions that symbolic forms generate in constitutively plural societies. 

In the part that deals with the impact of new technologies, Hasan Bakhshi defends the need to fund innovation in the cultural field, while simultaneously showing how audiences can be expanded using different applications and techniques. In this regard, he recounts the experience of the National Theatre in London with the play Phèdre, which was screened at digital cinemas, reaching both a broad and a new audience. Noam Shoval and Bob McKercher show the efficiency of digital trackers for finding out not only the patterns followed by tourists at heritage spaces but also across the whole of the city of Hong Kong. Christian Handke et al. analyse the impact of digitalisations. In all these cases, there is much talk of information and communication technologies, but the fact is overlooked that they are also technologies of organisation and, therefore, of new forms of participation. Not only do they “alter” previous ways of consuming or expand access (such as the Gutemberg and Europeana projects), they also generate new practices and this is their most relevant dimension.  

The expansion of audiences does not depend so much on reducing prices as on eliminating barriers

One of the book’s most interesting aspects lies in its inclusion of the neuroscience of music. In her article, Sylvie Nozaradan asks how the human brain interacts with musical rhythm, recalling that the musical experience is an activity involving full commitment rather than merely listening. Research into the perception of the musical rhythm constitutes an opportunity to shed light on the interaction processes between biological and cultural determinations. 

The question of sources and the opportunities and limitations that they present has been deliberately left until the end of this review. In the first part of the book, four chapters analyse the most important instruments for the measurement of cultural activities. The first article is concerned with international comparability; the second, third and fifth focus respectively on Spain, Italy and Ireland. All the authors conclude that statistics are needed and that they must be adequate. 

What fundamental problems are recorded and analysed? In the case of national surveys, there are differences in the study objectives, in the variables used (for example in Spain it is impossible to know a respondent’s social class), the design of the questions, the population surveyed and the size of the sample or period of observation of the activities; poor taxonomies are used when studying genres (for example in the case of music) and the periodicity of conducting surveys varies.

In surveys of European scope on living conditions (Statistics on Income and Living Conditions), on values (European Social Survey), on adult education (Adult Education Survey) or in the Eurobarometers, different procedures are used to collect the data and difficulties arise in standardisation due to questions of linguistic diversities and identity. 

Overall, three fundamental contributions can be identified in this book, independently of those offered by each chapter: the need to generate reliable information and prudence in the use of that which currently exists; its criticism of the infra-utilisation of that same information for the design of public policies; the confirmation that the expansion of audiences does not depend so much on reducing prices as on eliminating barriers, the main one of which lies in weakness of educational capital. To address this, decisive action is required in primary school learning.

The book will be of great interest to people with responsibility for designing public policies, but also for public and private programmers; obviously for academics specialising in this area and for a broad audience of people who perform professional roles in cultural creation, dissemination and programming.

In summary, this is an essential text for the debate on the role of arts and of culture in our societies.  



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