Robert HewisonCultural Capital: The Rise and Fall of Creative Britain

Verso, 2014

by Dave O'Brien on December 19, 2014

Robert Hewison

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[Cross-posted from New Books in Critical Theory] How did a golden age of cultural funding in UK turn to lead? This is the subject of a new cultural history by Robert HewisonCultural Capital: The Rise and Fall of Creative Britain (Verso, 2014) charts the New Labour era of cultural policy, detailing the shift from the optimism of the late 1990s to the eventual crisis of funding and policy currently confronting culture in the UK. The book identifies the faustian pact between government and cultural sector, as increased funding came at the price of delivering economic and social policy agendas and responding to bureaucratic forms of management.  The book uses a range of examples to illustrate this problematic bargain, from the disasters of the Millennium Dome and The Public, through an analysis of the 2012 Olympic Games. Alongside the range of cultural policy projects discussed is an exploration of the infrastructure, in particular the government departments and public bodies, which are at the root of the failure of British cultural policy between 1997 and today. These failures, including how policy did little or nothing to broaden the base of consumers for state sponsored cultural institutions, are set against the need to renew the meaning and purpose of culture in government. Written with a sharp wit and full of intriguing commentary on the personalities of the key players, the book is essential reading for anyone keen to understand why Britain continues to struggle with the idea of cultural policy.

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