State Funding of the Arts in England: An Assemblage in Action

Wilson, Jane Margaret (2019). State Funding of the Arts in England: An Assemblage in Action. PhD thesis The Open University.



The starting point for this thesis is the issue of measurement in cultural policy in England, why it has proved so difficult to measure value or demonstrate the impact of the arts in ways that meet the needs of government, and why it was that large-scale sample surveys were adopted in the early 2000s to address this issue.

Using a combination of Foucauldian and Actor Network Theory I argue that difficulties in measurement are built into a highly robust arts funding assemblage that developed in the late 1940s and 1950s. This assemblage has within it a particular, historically contingent, definition of culture, a definition developed out of the Romantic tradition and one which is highly resistant to measurement. I show how, during the formation of the assemblage, a series of stabilising institutional entities were brought into being, linking together art-form definitions, art-form specialist organisations, and the means by which state funding is distributed. The findings of an archaeological interrogation of the Taking Part Survey (set up to measure the impact of national government investment on cultural engagement) are used to inform an analysis of the Annual Reports and Accounts of the Arts Council of Great Britain (and its successor body Arts Council England) from 1945 through to the development of the survey. This analysis demonstrates how a particular definition of the arts and culture was embedded and naturalised within the organisational structures of the Arts Council and then successfully carried forward into the sample survey. Finally, I argue that adopting a context specific, theoretically informed and historically contingent, managerial administrative approach to the definition of culture combined with the use of the technologies of big data, could open up more productive routes into measuring impact.

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