Speech: Dr Nick Wilson at launch of Towards cultural democracy report

Last week, King’s College London launched its fourth Cultural Enquiry. Towards cultural democracy: promoting cultural capabilities for everyone investigates the UK’s cultural ecology, highlights the importance of ‘everyday’ creativity and calls for a more inclusive approach to building the networks and partnerships that enable creativity in the UK.

At the launch, Dr Nick Wilson, Reader in Creativity, Arts & Cultural Management, Department of Culture, Media & Creative Industries at King’s and one of the report’s authors, gave a speech to invited guests from across the cultural, academic and policy sectors that formally launched the report: 

Any talk of ‘cultural democracy’ carries with it the danger, however unwitting, of reinforcing rather than eradicating or overcoming division: unfortunately, of course, we’ve heard so much in the last few days and weeks about the haves vs. the have nots; the rich vs. the poor, and so on; it is easy to see how this report might threaten to add a long list of additional dualisms of its own – high culture vs. popular culture; professional vs. amateur; culture vs. commerce; London and the South East vs. the North; the arts vs. everyday creativity; and so on. The cry goes up that we should be re-directing attention and resources towards the ‘other’ – the marginalized, the disenfranchised, and the excluded – and what is termed a ‘deficit’ model quickly ensues. So what of this Cultural Enquiry and its call for the arts and creative industries to take everyday creativity seriously – is this just another well-intentioned but ultimately flawed agenda which, if implemented, would merely see hugely stretched resources being re-directed from one group to another – a zero sum game?

It will come as no surprise that my answer to this is a resolute ‘no’. I firmly believe that the ideas and recommendations we are presenting today offer a different, necessary and pragmatic way forward that is in everybody’s interests. But, in the same breath, I want to stress that this is just a starting point; its big ideas need to be discussed and debated; we don’t have all the answers.

So, what are these big ideas; what do we mean by cultural capability – and why do we think this is this so important? I want to answer these questions very briefly in reference to 5 ‘C’s, the first two of which are Culture and Creativity:

Over and above Get Creative’s specific aim, which the BBC’s Director General Tony Hall, at the campaign launch described as ‘inspir[ing] everybody, and I mean everybody, to make art; to do something creative’ it has placed even more firmly on the map the importance of thinking more deeply about the relationship between culture and creativity.  Through our research we have glimpsed just some of the plethora of creativity that is happening across the country, but which is not recognized or supported at a cultural policy level. Bringing attention to this ‘everyday creativity’ is of itself not new, of course. The Warwick Commission; 64 Million Artists’ report for the Arts Council England; John Holden’s work on the significance of ‘home’ and ‘amateur’ culture, as part of a cultural ecology; the AHRC Cultural Value project; and the Understanding Everyday Participation research project – to name but a few – have all made important contributions. But what we think IS new, is our findings about the interdependencies and interconnections that exist between everyday creativity, the arts and creative industries, and what this tells us about the nature of cultural opportunities  – which crucially extend well beyond the over-arching cultural policy goal of increasing access to already existing publicly funded arts.

The report argues that we need to pay much greater attention to the Connections (my 3rd ‘C’) between everyday creativity, arts and creative industries. These are vital – not just to inspire people to try something new, or encourage more everyday creativity, but rather as representing the (often invisible) conditions and pathways into the arts and creative industries, and moreover, crucially, as the ways in which people get to lead fulfilled lives. This brings me to where I think the report is most innovative – in respect of its re-thinking how we do ‘cultural policy’ not so much, as I have said, in terms of access to currently existing publicly funded arts, or even the equitable distribution of resources across the country (important though these are), but in respect of promoting the potential, the opportunity the freedom, or in the language of Nobel prize winning economist Amartya Sen, the ‘capability’ to do or be what we really value. Cultural Capability (my fourth ‘C’) is the real freedom or opportunity to co-create versions of culture. Commenting on a draft of this report, Alex Ferris (formerly of the Old Vic Community Company, now at West Yorkshire Playhouse) said: “Culture can provide the agency, confidence and platform that communities need to survive – giving them a route to be heard, a sense of belonging, a compassion and empathy for each other no matter where they fall in society.” Cultural capability matters because not everybody has this socially embedded freedom: and if you are still struggling to see just what I mean by these words – think of ‘co-creating versions of culture’ in terms of the very real and lived freedoms (or not) to speak, to express, to be heard, to make, to build, to create. When everyone has this freedom we will have cultural democracy.

The obvious question arises: How might we promote these cultural freedoms, this cultural capability for everyone … in practice? In the report we outline 14 recommendations – the most central of which is to make the promotion of cultural capabilities for everyone an interlinked policy objective – by which we simply mean that we encourage everyone across all scales of policy decision-making – from national policy makers (across Government), theatre chief executives, funders, foundations, to knitting club organisers – to embrace this focus on cultural opportunities, as discussed in the report. Other recommendations include exploring the best institutional arrangements through which this can be done; reviewing how this policy complements rather than negatively impacts existing policy directions and priorities (as I said at the start – we really don’t want to unwittingly reinforce division; access to ‘great art’ and cutting edge creative industries remain central within this vision of cultural democracy); as well as a range of other more focused recommendations, including supporting creative citizens; encouraging arts organisations to develop their own cultural capability strategies; local (city-wide) initiatives; exploring the role of digital platforms and social media in enabling new partnerships and collaborations; and developing new connections with non-arts groups.

All of which brings me to my 5th and final ‘C’ – Change. Starting this evening, but very much in the spirit and practice of Get Creative – we hope that through joining together in an inclusive conversation about how to promote cultural capability for everyone, we really will be able to bring about change for the good. The arts and the creative industries are best-placed to lead this conversation – but it is one that should embrace many voices, and bring us into contact with people and views we haven’t heard from (or perhaps haven’t been heard) before.

And on this note – you will find a piece of paper on the desk by the window, which invites you to reflect on and share,– what you have heard this evening. We should like to hear from all of you – so do please take a few minutes to jot down any helpful thoughts and contributions and post in the box by the doors before you leave.

To conclude, let me just say: for us – the research continues. We are currently planning a follow-on research project that asks ‘what interventions (if any) are needed to bring about cultural democracy?’ We will also be taking this agenda to South Africa in September to make the case for cultural capabilities on an international level (to the Human Development and Capabilities Association). We very much look forward to talking with you further in due course.

Words: Dr Nick Wilson

For more information about and to download Towards cultural democracy: promoting cultural capabilities for everyone, see the King’s website.

Further information about King’s programme of Cultural Enquiries, is available on the King’s website.

CiF’s first Annual Creativity Lecture: a farewell to Sir John Sorrell

Declan Sheahan. a Masters student at King’s studying Arts & Cultural Management, went along to the Creative Industries Federation’s (CiF) first Annual Creativity Lecture where members were saying a fond farewell to the organisation’s Chair and founder, Sir John Sorrell. Here Declan writes about the event and Sir John’s address to the Federation. 

I was incredibly lucky to be invited to Sir John Sorrell’s farewell address (many thanks to Ruth Hogarth at King’s Cultural Institute), touted as the very first Annual Creativity Lecture. Consequently I was keen to arrive promptly, calm and looking relaxed. A short monsoon on my 10-minute walk from King’s College London Strand Campus to The Hospital Club close to Covent Garden ensured I arrived quite the opposite. As I dried myself, my mind turned to the prospect of Sir John Sorrell’s address that evening. How do you balance the end of one chapter whilst welcoming another?

Hair dried and drink in hand, I took a seat and eagerly waited for Sir John. I opened a tiny envelope on my seat which concealed a business card with ‘Creativity’ printed on one side, and the dictionary definition printed on the other. Many hours had been spent debating and trying to pin down definitions of ‘creativity’, ‘the arts’, ‘art vs. craft’ and so forth during my Masters seminars (Arts and Cultural Management at King’s College London). The definition on the card was so neat that it seemed to mock me, so I stuffed it in my wallet for safekeeping. It’s still there.

biz card

I was familiar with The Virtuous Circle, co-authored by Sir John Sorrell, which makes an incredibly compelling case for the value of creativity in the educational setting and provided one of the sparks of inspiration for my dissertation topic. Needless to say, any case put forward by Sir John this evening would be preaching to the choir. Surrounded by Creative Industries Federation members who looked on to someone who had worked hard to bring a previously disparate collection of industries together to talk with a more ‘united voice’.

My attention soon turned to Sir John as he took to the stage and began a talk that mapped the story of The Creative Industry Federation. This was so inextricably linked to his own story that I sometimes couldn’t tell which was which –  where friends ended and colleagues began, where his vision turned to hard graft, determination and action. His talk spoke to me as a struggle for recognition that the creative industries, before they were termed as such by policy, needed leadership and organisation if they were to ever be taken seriously by government. He praised the DCMS mapping document and the more recent work of Ed Vaizey for understanding and supporting the ‘cause’ of the UK’s creative industries, their value to the UK economy but also to the fabric and texture of British society.

Sir John dedicated a large amount of his talk to  the importance of the link between creativity and education. From my perspective as a Theatre grad, creativity and expression of individuality is only made possible through arts subjects. However, Sir John’s vision of creativity imbedded as a process or way of thinking across all subjects is a vital step, as it would certainly have changed my perception of STEM subjects being a place for my creative endeavours had this been made explicit to me at a young age. His speech outlined that there was still much to do to enshrine creativity within our education system to ensure that not only the Creative Industries talent-pipeline doesn’t run dry, but that Britain continues to drive innovation across many sectors.

The evening had struck a powerful balance, successful in gathering the creative industries together to celebrate Sir John’s long career and legacy and also welcoming the very first Annual Creativity Lecture. As I headed out from the Hospital Club, into the pouring rain again, I felt energized and ready to begin a new journey of my own. The infrastructure installed by Sir John Sorrell and those who worked with him demands a new generation of creative sector leaders to come forward and continue his work.



Declan Sheahan is a Masters student at King’s studying Arts & Cultural Management. To contact Declan, email: declan.sheahan@kcl.ac.uk.



The Creative Industries Federation is the national membership organisation bringing together all of the UK’s arts, creative industries and cultural education to provide an authoritative and united voice in a way never done before. For more information about the course, please visit  the King’s website. More information about the Creative Industries Federation can be found on the organisation’s website

Words: Declan Sheahan
Pictures: Declan Sheahan

King’s alumna, Rosanna McNamara, talks about her role as Production Assistant on King’s Dear Diary exhibition

If you’ve seen King’s current Inigo Rooms exhibition Dear Diary, you’ll realise how much work and research went into its production. The Programming team at King’s manage the university’s flagship exhibition space and we managed to find a small amount of downtime to speak to Rosanna McNamara, King’s alumna and Programming Assistant, to find out about her role and why students should take the time to look around Dear Diary.

How did you end up working for King’s and what does being a Programming Assistant entail?

After finishing my MA at King’s in Christianity in the Arts, I faced the inevitable task of finding work. I had some gallery experience, having previously worked for The RYDER Projects, a contemporary gallery in East London, so when I saw an invigilator position on the King’s Talent Bank I applied. My first position was for the By Me William Shakespeare Exhibition, during this time I got to know the team, and ended up taking on extra shifts and becoming a supervisor. I then started helping out with office support and now I’m on a fixed term contract.

My current role is to support the Programming Team, which can mean a diverse array of tasks. For example for Dear Diary I have helped recruit gallery staff, organise the private view and even ordered some furniture. I’ve learnt you have to throw yourself into all the different elements of the job.

Why do you think diaries make an interesting topic for an exhibition?

Six months ago I don’t think I would have thought so, my idea of a diary was limited to a teenage one. Now I know more about the subject matter I’ve realised how the form of ‘life-writing’ or diary writing has changed. The Dear Diary exhibition explores the ‘digital descendants’ of the diary, and I’m addicted to my phone and social media so I’ve realised how connected I am to these newer manifestations of the diary form.

Has anything surprised you in terms of the content of Dear Diary, and what is your favourite part of the exhibition?

Yes! The most surprising element is probably Kenneth Williams’ ‘Bum Chart’ – which records his bowel movements after surgery. Although shocking and funny, it is also interesting in terms of ideas around privacy and self.

On a more personal level, I am really interested in post-human studies, so the ideas within the exhibition around prosthetic memory are really exciting. For example the exhibition asks questions about how now we seem to almost upload parts of our mind and memory to a machine.

Why should students come to Dear Diary?

Well, firstly, the exhibition is free, which is so great, and it is based at the Strand Campus – so easy for King’s students to get to: they can even pop down between lectures or during their lunch break.

In terms of the content, there is such a variety of objects and artworks on display. One of our gallery assistants, who is a King’s student herself, described the exhibition as ‘accessible’, as diaries are something that everyone can relate to, even if they don’t actually keep a diary themselves. Even if you don’t keep a written diary, you might well use social media and different apps which keep track of your life.

Thinking about my time as a King’s student, I almost see the content I produced during my course as a type of academic diary. The opinions I formed and the essays I wrote in an academic context are indicative of my life and, in a way, this work becomes like a type of diary or record of thoughts and interests.

Thinking back to secondary school as well, I remember we all had planners where we would have to write down when our homework was due and anything else we wanted to keep track of… It would be really interesting to find my old planner. Perhaps after students have seen Dear Diary they will feel inspired to share their own planners or diaries, that’s something I would love to see.

Dear Diary: A Celebration of Diaries and their Digital Descendants is on in the Inigo Rooms, King’s College London, Somerset House East Wing from 26 May – 7 July 2017, Weds–Sun, 11.00-17.30. Entry is free.