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This article is taken from PN Review 3, Volume 4 Number 3, April - June 1978.

Apprehensive Applause Michael Schmidt

LORD GIBSON retired from the Arts Council Chairmanship with considerable bravado. His last report, and the issues he and Mr Roy Shaw, the Secretary-General, highlighted in their press conference on 28 October 1976, are pointedly controversial. Their declarations should relieve the alarm that some people working in what the report calls the 'traditional arts'-people who do not find 'the concept of "quality" irrelevant'-have felt in recent years. For the Arts Council has in this report declared itself unequivocally against 'cultural democracy', a doctrine muzzily enunciated in various periodicals-including the New Statesman-and pursued desultorily in some of the regional Arts Associations. Lord Gibson said,


[Cultural democracy] is the belief that because standards have been set by the traditional arts and because those arts are little enjoyed by the broad mass of people, the concept of quality is 'irrelevant'. The term cultural democracy has been invoked by those who think in this way, to describe a policy which rejects discrimination between good and bad and cherishes the romantic notion that there is a 'cultural dynamism' in the people which will emerge if only they can be liberated from the cultural values hitherto accepted by an elite and from what one European 'cultural expert' has recently called 'the cultural colonialism of the middle classes'.


This passage describes an attitude not uncommon, an attitude based not on cultural evidence but on ideological imperatives. There are 'cultural experts' who sit on the Arts Council's own General ...


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