Themes: Our Creativy Diversity
A new global ethics
A commitment to pluralism
Challenges of a media-rich world
recasting cultural policies

Policies for Cultural Creativity
Néstor García Canclini


The theme of creativity lost ground in the 1990s. This change was due to developments dating back to the middle of the century, when people began to distrust creativity or lose interest in it. On the one hand, social scientists and social historians showed how artists depended on the production and distribution systems which provided the context for their innovations. The ‘creative’ act was analyzed primarily as the product or culmination of community experiences and the history of social practice and preferences. Even when engaged in breaking with established convention, artists who sought to communicate their investigations had to take account of their public’s habitual type of perceptive approach and imaginative outlook as structured by society (Becker, Bourdieu).

Secondly, after the effervescence of innovation in the 1960s (happenings, street art, the importance attached to gesture in the plastic arts, improvisation in music and the performing arts), which carried inventiveness and originality to extremes, the avant-garde impetus came to a halt. In the 1970s and 1980s the visual arts were decidedly boring, as if creativity had reached a ceiling. Post-modernism abandoned breakaway aesthetics and set out to reinstate a variety of traditions, taking the past as a reference and model rather than inventing entirely new forms. It was, however, above all the expansion of art markets, with the changeover from cultivated minorities of amateurs and elites to a mass public, which reduced artists’ creative independence. Their investigations were then subject to marketing rules, international distribution and dissemination by electronic communication systems. (Hughes, 1993; Moulin).

The third factor diminishing the importance of creativity in cultural policies was the reduced cultural role of states and independent art movements, and the reshaping of public and private policies to comply with business criteria. Instead of the originality of the created and exhibited object, stress was laid on the potential return on capital invested in exhibitions and theatrical productions. The vital question was no longer ‘what is new in this work or this art movement?’, but ‘will this venture pay for itself, and generate income and prestige for the sponsoring firm or government?’. It is becoming increasingly difficult for artists to interest sponsors if they cannot offer them media coverage and material or symbolic benefits.

Creativity retrieved

While these trends persist, in recent years creativity has been regaining ground both aesthetically and in other fields. It has been given significant recognition in what were formerly known as the applied arts: graphic and industrial design, advertising, photography, television, lavish show business events and fashion. Artists working for weekly newspapers, producers of video clips and designers of new fashion trends all search for new forms and for hitherto unknown ways of combining texts, images and sound. An artist’s market prestige depends on whether his or her signature, or that of the company employing him or her, can regularly surprise the public by offering novelties which distance them from their rivals and their own past.

For the ‘fine’ arts, some writers suggest that the loss of creativity may be a mainstream phenomenon of artists working for circuits of art galleries and museums having their headquarters in New York, London, Paris and Tokyo, who have succumbed without protest to persuasion and the ‘ephemeral media image’¼ ‘the general decline in educational standards’ and ‘the state of ceaseless agitation, with continually reduced expectations’, to be observed in these metropolises. (Hughes, 1992) In their search for new creative sources, the museums of these cities look to minorities in their own countries and the arts and crafts of peripheral societies; they mount exhibitions which reveal the ‘splendours’ of these cultures (the Metropolitan Museum) and invite art lovers to view the amazing iconography of the ‘magicians of the soil’ (the Pompidou Centre). But this should not lead to a facile opposition between an effete First World and a creative Third World, since - as we shall see below - these occasional outbursts of glorification do not alter the imbalance and structural inequality between these two worlds, all the more difficult to overcome given the growing impoverishment and dwindling capital available for culture in peripheral countries.

Moreover, creativity is now gaining recognition in a wider sense, not only as the production of new objects or forms but also as the ability to solve problems in other than purely ‘cultural’ terms. Growing importance is now being accorded to the ability to generate new educational methods, technological innovation and new kinds of industrial organization, and to make scientific discoveries and apply them in an original way to local needs. Both in normal teacher training and in refresher courses, praise is heaped on creativity, imagination and the ability on one’s own to find one’s bearings in a rapidly changing world (Chiron).

The question is, can creativity be a subject of policy? Yes, if - as happens in these cases - it is spoken of in terms different from those used by those who pursue aesthetic ideals. Neither in the arts nor in any other field should we imagine that the creator is like a god conjuring something out of nothing. Creativity emerges from the knowledge and proficient use of the acquired skills or achievements of others. It can also be seen as a collective phenomenon in the productive process, to be ascribed not to a film director or an outstanding designer, but to a team as the result of teamwork by complex groups with separate but complementary activities (Becker). Creative acts are destined to find their place in the reorganization of communities, business success, the role of honour of a university or a new television channel. As stated in the UNESCO report Our Creative Diversity, creativity is taken to mean not inauguration in the absolute, but ‘a vision of what is possible’ (p. 88).

Logically, from this standpoint, the act of creation does not necessarily mean a break with tradition. There may be continuity with a society’s historical heritage, with the practical rules governing a discipline or an art, and above all, in cases where the heritage is viewed as the continually reinterpreted deposit left behind by the moving stream of history. Intellectual or aesthetic traditions are not regarded either as ‘correct thinking’ or as reflections of reality, but as open-ended symbolic constructions. Historians and anthropologists look on the past as an arena in which to exercise their creativity by imagining new interpretations; this enlarges their freedom to make use of the past and to open up the folklore and customs of bygone ages to hitherto undreamed of possibilities of expression. This viewpoint is reflected in innumerable exhibitions, television programmes and videos which in recent years have offered imaginative reinterpretations of historical periods of an individual country or disseminated the culture of others (the museums noted above, the Mexican National Museum of Popular Cultures, a number of BBC series and broadcasts by the Franco-German television channel ARTE, etc.). Artists employed by galleries and museums, and makers of videos for mass distribution, evoke at one and the same time images from different periods and discordant aesthetic trends; they do not see traditions as being codes of rules to be observed but as a range of possibilities with which to experiment.

However, this freedom of creation and interpretation is exercised in a context of restrictions and resistance. For example in music and literature, many artists are rejected by their fellow artists and art promoters for their unorthodox ideas. Rejection may take the form of being outlawed for ‘cultural incorrectness’ (by defenders of the traditional tango, who for decades repudiated Astor Piazzola and other innovators, or folk musicians or jazz musicians who deny any aesthetic value to attempts by rock groups to merge different generations); it can even result in exile or death threats (Salman Rushdie, persecuted for his creative interpretation of Muslim traditions). The above-mentioned UNESCO report notes other constraints on creativity: while some religions have given importance to economic and technological progress - since Max Weber, Protestantism has been the best known but not the only example - in certain Asian and Latin American countries they act as constraints by subordinating the economy and technology to obligations to the community, the accumulation of production to wasteful ceremonial expenditure, and consumption to the dictates of thrift and frugality. Sometimes the strength of traditional lore prevents the disintegration of communities violently subjected to the demands of modernization, but the fundamentalist application of traditional beliefs usually engenders further violence and exclusion, and hampers the necessary spirit of innovation or any kind of adaptability to change. In other cases, the creativity of firms or voluntary associations is bogged down by authoritarian governments which prohibit independent radio stations or technological innovation programmes.

One should also note the harmful effects of recent innovations such as technological discoveries which are diverted towards developing the armaments industry, or which increase air and water pollution, or cause large-scale unemployment when combined with economic policies which ignore the social needs of the majority. The risks involved in the possibility of manipulating genetic codes, and the use of medical and psychological advances in violation of human rights, create a whole set of danger zones in which creativity does not appear to be the best way to employ or regenerate natural and cultural resources. Here we must analyze creativity in the context of the new conditions of interculturality, globalization and the reorganization of the links between nature and society, and between local traditions and regional and worldwide integration processes.

Another look at the opposition between public/private, national/foreign

Some of the changes in the ways in which creativity is promoted stem from the redistribution of power between private and public activities. In the West, firms have chiefly encouraged the arts and literature as patrons guided by the ideals of art for art’s sake and the freedom of individual creation of modern schools of aesthetics. Sponsors naturally sought prestige, and sometimes benefits other than those purely symbolic, but they declared that their support for creators had no motive but generosity and no aim but that of furthering the development of intellectual works (Moulin, 1992). Private sponsorship of culture began to change with the growth in the number of art dealers, the rise of a mass public, and the expansion of cultural industries in which private capital took the lead. Foundations are now being increasingly set up by individuals or families to support activities which are non-profit-making or non-self-financing (theatre, opera, biennial exhibitions), but private actors have played a decisive role in cultural development, chiefly in forming the taste of the general public. They do not confine themselves to encouraging creativity by means of grants or support to individuals, but combine this traditional form of patronage with major company investment in institutions and community cultural programmes reaching out to a wide audience. There are television channels which have their own museums and journals offering culture and entertainment; and computer firms which provide programs of documentation on the historical heritage and visual experiments. Investment in higher culture links up with investment in the mass media and high technology industry. The industrialization of much of the production of cultural goods and messages, and the incorporation in the mass media of music, texts, festivals and folklore images, strengthen the control of powerful private sectors over areas of public interest. In some cases this leads to co-operation between governments and firms: art or design exhibitions in state museums sponsored by private institutions, and television transmitters which pay their dues from the proceeds of the viewing time assigned to government bodies or universities for cultural broadcasts. These examples, with examples of competition or conflict between private and public actors, show that the dividing line between them is not as clear as before (Brunner, García Canclini, 1996; McAnany-Wilkinson, Yúdice and documents of the Council of Europe and the Catalan legislative assembly which are listed in the bibliography).

In the national field, most states at present confine themselves to administering the historical heritage, both tangible and intangible, ranging from great monuments to vestiges of folk culture (language, music, festivals and traditional dances), i.e. the features which differentiate one nation from another. This continues to be worth while to the extent that even different ethnic groups and regions feel united in a more or less shared heritage. But many countries lack the financial resources to investigate and restore archaeological sites and historic centres, or create museums and publications to preserve their memory and spread information about them. European countries and countries in Latin America such as Mexico and Peru, which were among the first to make progress in this field, succeeded - long before the mass media and tourism - in rescuing the handicrafts of ethnic groups, along with music and a certain amount of regional lore, from being exclusively bound up with local life. But the major challenge now facing governments is to redefine their indispensable if not very imaginative role in relation to the agents which have been remodelling identities over the last few decades, namely the mass communication technologies based on transnational productive systems and paradigms.

We now come to the second major change in cultural policies which affects the development of creativity, i.e. the new configuration given to local cultures by globalization and regional integration. A broad sector of artisanal and mass media production continues to express national cultures and circulates only within the country concerned. However, many symbolic activities requiring substantial investment (radio, television, discs, videos, opera tours, music and drama groups) are organized in national circuits on the globalized lines of the financial and communication markets. To appreciate the difference from the situation only 20 years ago, it will be recalled that at that time the presentation of cultural policies raised a key dilemma: they must either admit imported products and messages and promote interaction with trends in international art and thinking, or protect and give impetus to endogenous production. Some African and Asian artists in countries emerging from lengthy periods of colonization, and Latin American artists seeking to keep abreast of the cosmopolitan modernization and independent industrial development of their societies, perceived a conflict between what was national and what was foreign. Some of them were confident that international avant-garde innovations could be integrated into local cultures; others considered that symbolic ‘customs’ mechanisms should be set up to block foreign encroachment, and that the resources of each nation should be invested in strengthening their independent progress. Taken to extremes, these options proved unworkable for the technological, economic and symbolic restructuring of cultural markets.

Let us now look at the new conditions under which cultural policies are required to develop, not only in theoretical debates but also by way of the innovative experiences of recent years. The aim is to find new ways of focusing the development of creativity on (a) innovative uses of the visible and invisible heritage, and cultural diversity; (b) regional forms of integration and the creation of transnational circuits for art, culture and the media; and (c) co-operation between government bodies, private firms and independent institutions.

Cultural heritage and creativity in a period of globalization

Historians have shown that the rise of nation-states, with their own independent political, social and economic projects, was the essential prerequisite to the modern idea of a cultural heritage (Florescano). Romantic nationalism, which established music, folklore, literature and the visual arts as the core of national traditions, opposed the culture of each country to universal culture, and often reduced the latter to the Eurocentric heritage. The lifestyles, thought and creativity of other continents were taken over partly by anthropology and partly by nationalist movements in non-Western countries.

For some decades now, this opposition between national cultures and universal culture has been existing side by side with attempts to bring them both into harmony. One example is to be found in the UNESCO texts declaring local and national cultural property to be the heritage of humankind. But the processes of innovation through modernization and interaction with other societies, speeded up in recent decades, have now moved into a new register - that of intercultural confrontation. At this stage we must consider what can be done by government and international bodies.

1. The modernization of societies with rich historical heritages creates conflicts which are difficult to solve in connection with the innovations generated by urban development, cultural industries and tourism. These three processes are often viewed as the main enemies of traditional identities, historic monuments and customs. Any responsible cultural policy must take into account their attendant risks, especially when associated with the ‘deregulated’ mercantilization of social relations. But one can also recognize in them sources of creativity, regeneration and social growth.

Within these changes it is essential to link up private activities governed by the accumulation of capital with state regulation in the public interest and with broad consultations of social movements and everyday users. Private exploitation of the natural and the urban environment, if left to follow its own course, leads to increasingly voracious property speculation and the growth of private forms of transport, to the detriment of the historical heritage and the interests of the majority. But just as there is no single type of private capital, there is no single private strategy for the heritage. There is thus no point in generalizations which simply label the behaviour of the agents involved as ‘neo-liberalism’ or ‘market interests’. The deterioration that has taken place in all continents in natural and built-up environments is due partly to the fact that companies of all kinds - industrial, real estate and tourist firms - make use of the heritage entirely as they choose, with conflicting sectoral approaches. The contradictions between their interests are all the more destructive when there are no government programmes to define the meaning of the heritage for society as a whole and regulate economic development in line with community interests.

As documented in various studies on Europe and Latin America (Council of Europe, Florescano, García Canclini), private action cannot be summarily described as merely an attack on the heritage. There are real estate firms which appreciate symbolic values when they enhance economic value, and support the preservation of an historical urban district so as to increase the value of the dwellings situated in it. There are tourist firms which respect the visual effect of historic buildings, even if they introduce architectural or functional modifications for profit-making reasons which would impair their cultural significance if they were not controlled by the public authority concerned.

It may be that the links between commercial interests and creativity are more ambivalent in the case of traditional folk cultures. Examples of the cultural policies followed in India, Brazil, Mexico and other countries show that this duality of interest cannot be solved simply by rejecting any commercialization of traditional crafts and festivals. It cannot be denied that in poor areas where the inhabitants’ only option is to move out, the integration of crafts into the urban and tourist markets makes it possible for large numbers of the indigenous and peasant population to remain in their communities and revive their productive and cultural traditions. The problem is not so much to change the design and function of items of pottery or textiles, as to change the ways in which products are put on the market. Any policy in support of the artisanal heritage would be ineffective if devoted solely to safeguarding and preserving traditional techniques and styles.

A similar case is the protection of the historical heritage and urban creativity. Just as effective action to develop crafts today calls for a cultural policy combined with radical socio-economic changes to the living conditions of indigenous and peasant populations, the regeneration of historic centres calls for much more than their maintenance ‘as museums’; action is effective only if at the same time it tackles the structural crisis of large cities, mass migration and the injustices suffered by the poor.

In recent years population growth, the uncontrolled spread of urbanization and the spoliation of the environment have given rise in huge metropolises in all continents to social movements concerned with rescuing districts and buildings or maintaining the amenities of urban life. Since the 1985 earthquake, noteworthy progress has been made in Mexico City in social organization and participation. Neighbourhood groups have devised new forms of solidarity and worked out community solutions in association with architects, town-planners and public bodies, giving priority to the reconstruction of dwellings in keeping with the local lifestyle while also preparing to assume aesthetic responsibility for the ‘historic value of the town centre’ in relation to ‘all the services necessary for a decent life’. The earthquake crisis, and similar crises created elsewhere by alarming levels of pollution, have set off public debate in Mexico City, Santiago, Los Angeles and Tokyo, in which the media, in particular the press, have brought together and organized the expression of the concerns of society.

However, these concerns are not shared by all sectors of the population or over any length of time. Social organization and mobilization tend to peter out as a crisis recedes. Even people’s interest in the heritage varies depending on inequalities in the ways in which they benefit from the city. It stands to reason that the working classes, prisoners of inadequate housing and beset by the struggle to survive, feel little involved in the preservation of symbolic values, especially those which are not their own. Even as regards their own cultural capital, the lower income groups are wavering or indifferent, almost as if they adopted the disparaging attitude of the ruling group towards so-called popular culture.

Here Our Creative Diversity comments significantly on the benefits and risks of creativity in the search for unconventional uses of open spaces in towns, individual building initiatives and informal commercial tactics. These may represent useful discoveries in the struggle for existence and resistance to domination, or may be merely clever devices which provide no structural solution to meeting needs and which further impair the quality of life in towns (p. 219).

Sometimes creativity exercised with the responsibility of citizenship is limited to minorities grouped in new urban and environmental popular movements which are slowly beginning to change the political agenda and extend the debate to cultural development. The change to be observed in these sectors has three features: (a) the issue of the surrounding natural and urban heritage is not regarded as solely a government responsibility; (b) it is realized that if society does not mobilize for the heritage, few governments will of their own initiative link it with the present-day daily needs of the population; and (c) effective safeguarding of the heritage also means taking it into democratic community ownership, that is to say, creating the material and symbolic conditions necessary for all classes to share it and enter into meaningful contact with it. An effective policy to preserve and develop the heritage can be achieved only by promoting creative uses of historical assets. In addition to researching the past and creating museums, we must develop replacement strategies: we must convert fine town houses into cultural centres, and film and televise broadcasts of folk festivals with commentaries to explain the significance which makes them more than simply spectacles. Planned on these lines, such activities to be successful must be co-ordinated by government bodies, private firms and voluntary associations.

2. The interaction brought about by globalization policies between a host of societies with different traditions has changed the relations between national cultures and creativity in the space of a few years. As far back as 1978, the clear-sighted filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard suggested to Mozambique the production of a film to be entitled Birth of the image of a nation, an obvious reference to Griffith’s masterpiece, Birth of a Nation. Godard’s proposal was that the film company, Sonimage, should suggest that Mozambique take advantage of its audiovisual situation to study television before it existed, and before - even if it took 20 years to do so - it had invaded the entire social and geographical fabric of Mozambique. By this he meant seeking out the image, the desire for imagery (the willingness to remember, to make recollection a starting or finishing point, a line of conduct, a moral or political guide, with one single objective in view, that of independence). It meant studying this pursuit of the image or images and how to broadcast them by radio or cable. Studying production, once and for all, before distribution arrived on the scene to take it over. Studying programmes before fixing them in a mould, and also including in the frame the viewers, who would have no idea that they were behind the television (drawn into it) and not, as they thought, facing it¼ Birth of the image of a nation would recount the history of all these momentous relations between a country still without television and a small video team from a country swamped with television¼ The birth of an idea, a forum, a people¼ The birth of a new memory to this people, an independent event (quoted by Mattelart, 1978, p. 91).

Godard’s fanciful ‘anthropological’ idea of studying Mozambique before its world of imagination was remodelled by television corresponded to a stage in the internationalization of culture, when the opening of geographical frontiers was limited by strict regulations and customs barriers in order to protect the material and symbolic production peculiar to each country. By contrast, globalization, which disseminates the production of goods and messages, causing us to interact with each other by means of satellites and through movements of capital and populations, has rendered frontiers permeable and created other challenges (Arizpe, 1996; Giddens, Ortiz).

Faced with the effects of the opening up of the economy and culture, some countries extol local traditions and choose to construct alternatives to development based on the complete independence of individual nations, religious movements, indigenous ethnic groups or minorities who are discriminated against. This is happening in areas controlled by Islamic fundamentalism, the fundamental evangelical movement in the United States, neo-Incan movements in the Andean region of Latin America and neo-Mexican and neo-Maya groups in Guatemala. It can be argued that the history of the sufferings inflicted from outside on peripheral societies and minorities leads them to place exaggerated value on their own resources and particular ways of organizing society and government. However, this attitude makes it difficult to develop coherent policies.

At the end of the twentieth century, nations and nearly all ethnic groups are economically, politically and cultural integrated in the modern world, or are experimenting with intensely hybrid processes which produce a complex heterogeneity. Even ethnic groups with strong linguistic and societal continuity have throughout the centuries discovered the financial advantages of selling their agricultural produce and craftwork on national or international markets, migrating to other regions, and adopting modern skills, practices and forms of entertainment. From the cultural and aesthetic viewpoint, a number of authors note that isolated ‘literal representations’ of each individual identity usually generate repetitive art, as evidenced in the stereotyped monotony of Mexican-American and neo-Mexican art (Ramirez). The inferior status ascribed to craftsmanship and the naive style, as opposed to ‘great art’ and technological innovations, and the excessive ritualization of traditional emblems and situations, can have a passing attraction for the more traditional sectors of the group concerned and for an outside public of New Age enthusiasts or lovers of the picturesque. But the encapsulating of ‘one’s own’ identity in such solipsistic representations usually drops the shutters on formal innovation and cross-cultural interchange, which are prerequisites for creativity and critical thought in a globalized society. Notwithstanding the political, cultural and aesthetic value of the work of some of the artists in these particularistic movements, for cultural policy the crux of the problem can be stated as how to move on from separatist demands in defence of differences, which in the long run perpetuate inequality and foster discrimination, to a shared recognition of individuality and heterogeneity in symbolic investigations which are capable of cross-cultural communication.

The obstruction or inhibition of cultural creativity by fundamentalism is not only to be seen in societies at a lower level of economic development. In the United States, where the multiculturalism created by mass migrations from all continents fosters rich hybrid forms such as jazz, a number of government policies aim at neutralizing the mixture. It may be that ‘affirmative action’, i.e. setting quotas in proportion to the population of each group for entrance to universities and job appointments, was useful at one stage in the struggle for rights by offsetting previous instances of exclusion and injustice. But as noted by Robert Hughes, the continued application of the quota system in the policies of museums and foundations ended up in confusing aesthetic research with the propagation of slogans. Hughes argues that we must find a locus for art in which it will not be suffocated by the opinions of those fearful of change. He cites on the one hand the strong disapproval and the cutting off of funds when the United States National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) sought to cease exhibiting Andrés Serrano’s provocatively rude works and Mapplethorpe’s nudes; and on the other, pressure by multiculturalists who, as champions of differences of race and gender, subordinate creativity to political correctness.

Multiculturalism, viewed from the separatist point of view, leads to each group entrenching itself in its own language, customs and exclusive heritage, and calls for risk-free cultural policies which discourage creativity. It is worth noting Hughes’s remarks that all that is necessary is to earmark the scant funds allocated by governments to things that no one will object to: folk embroidery, high-priced basket-work, native dances of South-West Alaska, Amerindian basketry and woodwork, canoe-building in the Pacific islands or the Appalachian interpretation of how to play the banjo. He cites a recent NEA brochure indicating the warm and affectionate relationship that has grown up between the government and isolated nostalgic local cultures since the work of Mapplethorpe and Serrano. Is anyone going to quarrel with the NEA for making a grant to a craftsman in the outskirts of Seattle who is giving a course to inculcate ‘self-esteem’ in students by teaching them to carve beavers in cedar wood in Kwakiutl style? Obviously not. Multiculturalism and cultural diversity, as understood by some government agencies and a growing number of private foundations, are indulging in harmless hobbies. These produce a small number of works which, aesthetically speaking, might set a challenge to, refine, criticize or in some way call in question the status quo. The aim is to appease the populist mentality, which is content with the easy job of ‘defending differences of race and gender in the arts’ rather than tackling the arduous quest for excellence. Most of the ‘art’ resulting from these programmes is a medley of kitsch produced on politically correct lines. People like it for the same reasons as they like postcards with rhymes and sentimental drawings of birds. It makes them feel good. In this way, one can of course devise an exalting cultural programme using sociological and statistical criteria and backed up with the usual references to ‘affirmation’. This links up perfectly with the evangelical tradition of American cultural life, and the idea that the individual can be morally improved, elevated and transformed into a better citizen through the production or consumption of art. But the art inspired on these lines can be, and frequently is, trivial to a degree (Hughes: pp. 213-214).

How can one incorporate creativity in policies concerned with the cultural heritage? One basic principle is to rescue not only the ‘genuine’ heritage of a society but also that which is culturally representative of groups and their development and renewal processes. We should regard processes as more important than objects or the ability of objects to remain intact and unchanging, even if they are important because they reflect the history of the creative growth of a society or group, and its future potential. This approach to the question is the key to overcoming the opposition between government bodies solely interested in preservation and private actors who put financial gain before cultural values and the interests of the producers themselves.

In an era of globalization, when the products which express a nation’s creativity can be appreciated by the members of many other societies thanks to the mass media and mass tourism, but can also be misappropriated, both physically and symbolically; when they can be commercialized without any benefit to their creators, and when they can be re-utilized for purposes other than those for which they were intended, responsibility for the heritage goes beyond the sphere of individual states (Price).

The idea of the ‘heritage of humankind’ may become more relevant and substantial despite the turmoil of globalization, but it must be defined by means of policies co-ordinated by those concerned with the transnational utilization of goods and messages. The question is how to take action in respect of the improper traffic in such goods and messages, and how to stimulate uses which will make for greater understanding between peoples.

UNESCO and other international bodies should broaden their field of study and action so that the intangible heritage, the most vulnerable form of individual and collective creativity, can be protected in the same way as great historic monuments. We must also consider not only time-honoured deposits of culture (music and long-established literary texts) but also the spheres and circuits which make it possible for collective and individual creativity to develop; we must renew educational programmes, advise artists and artisans how to manage their products and defend their rights in worldwide market conditions; and open up for general discussion the uses for tourism, advertising and commercialization of the discoveries and symbolism of peoples. Cultural creativity should form part of the government policies being incorporated in free trade and regional integration agreements. We should regard it as a cultural aspect of European, American, Africa and Asian citizenship, or perhaps better still as a transverse dimension of all areas of international human rights.

A reformulation of the heritage to take account of its social uses, not merely from the protective point of view, as a safeguarding action, but as an overall view of the ways in which each society takes possession of its history, may have more appeal for the purpose of involving a large number of groups. We must not reduce our supporters to a collection of archaeologists or historians, whose eyes are set only on the past: we must interest civil servants and teachers, those who are concerned with building the present, indigenous populations, peasants, migrants and all the sectors whose identity is continually undermined by the globalized exploitation of culture. This approach to cultural policy would surely help to strengthen nations, not as an abstract or fundamentalist idea but as one which will unite and give cohesion to social groups seeking to achieve a better quality of life, in co-operation with other societies.

The intercultural repositioning of artistic creativity

Throughout the twentieth century, many artists and writers have worked abroad, away from their countries. Works of value as paradigmatic interpretations of Latin American, African and Asian identities have been produced beyond the frontiers of these continents, or at least of the countries in which their authors were born. Examples are the founding texts of the Latin Americans Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Oswaldo de Andrade and Octavio Paz, and African and Asian writers and film-makers from Leopold Senghor to Satyajit Ray, whose great works have been produced in a dialogue with other cultures. This list becomes endless if we include the tens of thousands of creative workers from the Third World who now live in the First World. Moreover, these creators feel that they are not exceptions but rather participants in the mass migration of their compatriots among whom they live in their country of adoption. Thus alongside recognized mainstream art we have international exchanges of popular crafts and music. It is not surprising that here and there these arts incorporate into their production an inflow of innovations from other cultures, and that their codes of origin dialogue freely with transnational aesthetics.

The multicultural redefinition of creative practices has become the general rule for artists and artisans at the crossroads of different societies. Guillermo Gómez Peña, a successful Mexican author who has lived for the last 20 years in New York and Los Angeles and travels extensively, writes: ‘As artists in duty bound to be responsive to many different communities on both sides of frontiers, we have developed horizontal strategies for mobilizing from one country to another. This crossing over between contexts gives us as it were the alchemist’s touch; we have continually to change our aesthetic strategies, our cultural recipes and even the mix of the English and Spanish languages. Depending on the content, we can be more or less humorous, experimental or bicultural’ (Gonzalez y Gómez-Peña, p. 18).

This way of perceiving the relations of many Latin American, African and Asian artists with the United States and Europe is far from being the imitation of admirers or merely the encounter of the Manichaean opposites of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. It is a borrowing, an adaptation, a conversion from different national histories and circumstances. In this way, the insights discovered from life in large cities find their place in the specific forms and patterns of different cultures. These artists seek to identify key interlocking mechanisms or hinges, points of flexion, areas of doubt or uncertainty, where art can help to imagine possibilities which no commercial standardization could ever foresee.

How do cultural policies keep in step with these new processes? Recently, in Europe, new lines of action have been drawn up to take account of the fact that the actors chiefly involved in cultural policy are no longer nation-states. Miquel de Moragas writes that the machinery of nation-states has undergone three losses: through privatization, decentralization towards regions, autonomous entities and local authorities, and the transfer of responsibilities to supranational European Community bodies (Moragas, p. 57). European economic integration has been accompanied by the creation of continent-wide programmes of education and policies to defend the common cultural heritage and ‘European audiovisual space’. While care is being taken to respect each region’s internal diversity, common policies are being elaborated to protect independent development from the audiovisual and communication giants of the United States and Japan. The lengthy accumulated practical experience of European countries, and their legislation on the role of the public sector, have helped Community bodies not only to draw up declarations and recommendations but also to establish rules making it an obligation for states to promote books and the reading habit, defend copyright and regulate the growth of the audiovisual sector.

The audiovisual sector is given priority. As in other continents, there is a strong trend towards privatizing public-sector bodies such as postal services, television and telecommunications, but states have agreed on common normative frameworks for the distribution of European programmes and the establishment of minimum requirements for all member countries as regards content and the limits to advertising. The MEDIA, Eurimages and Eureka programmes have been created to develop audiovisual industries in Europe and promote high-definition television and common regulations for television satellite transmission. These policies are sponsored in order both to defend identity and to take into account the important part played by cultural industries in economic growth, job creation and the construction of more participatory democratic societies. While these are only a few examples, we should not forget that progress in these policies is based on research into all cultural dimensions, from the economics of production and distribution to consumer habits and tastes, to a greater extent than in any other region. This contributes to the public and democratic debate on these programmes, since information on costs, profitability and ratings is not only available to state industries or government departments, but is also published and easily accessible to the different public opinion sectors concerned.

For the development of new links between artistic creativity and social and economic life, much consideration has also been given to the ability of private firms to innovate and assimilate artistic experiments. This trend can be appreciated in other high-development areas such as the United States and Japan, but is even more pronounced in European countries such as the Scandinavian countries, Germany and Italy. The inclusion of plastic artists and photographers among graphic and industrial designers, and in dynamic sectors such as fashion and advertising (for example experiments with furniture for new housing, street furniture for squares and other public places, controversial advertising campaigns such as that by Benetton) indicate lines for the expansion of creativity in addition to those provided by museums and the support of the art-loving public. As noted in the Council of Europe’s report on Culture and Development, In from the Margins, these public and private policies show that artists can keep themselves abreast of the everyday work of design engineers, researchers and impresarios. Kenneth Galbraith, with other writers, noting the valuable contribution of artistic innovation to the success of Italian design, argues that artistic creativity is now a key component of economic life and industrial progress (1983, quoted in In from the Margins, page 45).

In various regions, transnational integration and free trade processes are changing artists’ possibilities of social and economic integration. Europe is the most advanced case, in keeping with its long history of integration. But even in zones where these regional developments began only in the 1990s, new situations are now being created, owing to action by both government bodies and independent associations. MERCOSUR, which comprises Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, sponsors intergovernmental activities, in particular exchanges between cities. In 1997, the Buenos Aires week in Porto Alegro and the Porto Alegro week in Buenos Aires were opportunities for tens of thousands of spectators to attend theatre, dance and music productions from the other city, and were followed by a continuing flow of exchanges. Independent art groups and cultural centres from the same countries had already created a MERCOSUR cultural network, which, at its first meeting in Bahia in 1996, and the second in Buenos Aires in October 1997, gave rise to exchange circuits for producers of different arts, put on shows from each country for the local population and set up joint study groups on the changes required to urban and national cultural policies, new financing methods and interaction with different types of public. Analysis and investigation are a necessary component for streamlining exchanges in the light of the specific socio-cultural conditions of the participating countries and for improving each society’s knowledge of others: even between neighbouring countries artists - and still more so the public - are unaware of the very names of creators in the other country. A Uruguayan promoter of culture has said that the little that is known by Uruguayans about Argentinian and Brazilian art is acquired in some cases from discs produced in New York. In conjunction with economic agreements coming from ‘upstream’, these networks, administered directly between producers and local promoters, aim to make sure that the creation of a market for artistic performances improves the flow of reciprocal knowledge, intercultural understanding and the conditions in which artists can survive while reaching out to wider audiences. All this has multiplier effects: as seen from a study of their copious files of press cuttings, these independent groups achieve extensive media coverage in the different countries for the encounters organized in each of them.

In the NAFTA or North American Free Trade Agreement countries (Canada, United States and Mexico), there are also original experiments for promoting creativity on an intercultural basis, such as that conducted by the Mexico-United States Cultural Trust. In 1991, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Mexican National Fund for Culture and the Arts (a government body) and a Mexican bank, the Bancomer Cultural Foundation, set up a bi-national body to develop cultural exchanges between these countries. At the same time, throughout the twentieth century, geographical proximity and reciprocal interests have encouraged writers, plastic artists, film-makers and scientists in one country to work and settle for short periods in the other. The growth in communication by radio, television and more recently the electronic media continues to create a vast flow of exchanges. This interaction has been asymmetrical, reflecting the unequal economic and socio-cultural development of these two countries. Asymmetry is specially noticeable in contacts of another type, namely mass migration from Mexico to the United States, where the differences and difficulties of interaction between the two societies give rise to well-known conflicts. Encounters and collisions have become more important in the last 15 years, ever since the economic opening up of Mexico and globalization trends have given greater weight and influence to these exchanges.

Although NAFTA was devised purely as an economic instrument laying down no rules for social or cultural relations, it has promoted reciprocal interest in and communication between the societies of its member countries, and also educational and scientific agreements and cultural exchanges. The Trust gave impetus to this process by granting annual financial support to bi-national projects for libraries, publications, music, dance, museums, visual arts, media art, drama and cultural and interdisciplinary studies. The 2,144 applications made between 1992 and 1996, 283 of them approved, attest the marked impact of this initiative on two countries which, despite the intensity of their exchanges, were not in the habit of producing joint programmes, partly owing to the lack of cultural institutions and sponsors. Observation of the annual developments in this co-operative enterprise and the criteria adopted by the Trust in allocating grants gives an idea of the difficulties experienced by many applicant artists and institutions in devising bi-national programmes, overcoming stereotypes in the perception of the other society, and relating artistic and cultural activities to the different customs of each country and each of its regions. In interviews with beneficiary artists and institutions, coinciding views were expressed on the usefulness of these experiments in ‘interactive collaboration’ and the preparation of artistic scenarios in daily contact with the other partner. It was suggested that, in addition to making grants, the Trust should organize workshops, symposia and other activities to promote greater knowledge of one country’s culture by all types of public in the other. This would help to define differences interculturally, stimulate ‘community and ethnic grassroots arts’ and promote multicultural reflection and experiments which are cold-shouldered by the market or traditional institutions. It was interesting to note that these encounters, besides generating shared experiences between varied cultures, succeeded in studying differences with the same approach to diversity and creativity.

Another significant feature was the value placed by each society on the art of the other. While Mexicans and Latin Americans in general come to the United States as the citadel of the most developed artistic and scientific positions, many United States citizens and institutions tend to admire Mexico’s past but refuse to consider Mexico’s art production as holding its own in the world today. Folk culture is seen as what is representative of Mexico. A number of the artists interviewed made the critical comment that Mexico’s international exhibition, Thirty centuries of splendour, shown in 1992 and 1993 in New York, San Antonio and Los Angeles, covered no art later than the 1950s. Miriam Kayser, Director of International Relations in the National Board for Culture and the Arts, said categorically that for the United States, as elsewhere, ‘the figureheads of Mexican art are pre-Hispanic - Frida, Diego, Orozco and Siqueiros’. How to change this relegation of Mexico to the past and bring to the fore recent cultural creativity and research is a vital issue for overcoming prejudice and encouraging different national communities to gain deeper knowledge of one another.

The protection of intellectual property, striking a balance between imported and endogenous production, and educating people in supranational citizenship, are other problem areas which call for more energetic and coherent action by international bodies, and also action in the context of free trade and regional integration. Going beyond the limits of cultural policies restricted to action within national borders, these experiences show how progress can be made at different levels. A minority may restrict creativity to individual activities, but respect should be shown for these activities in the way they are promoted; at the same time we should explore new possibilities for increasing the potential of the work of individuals, groups and peoples in the sphere of intercultural relations. The age-old opposition between the particular and the universal is now being restated in many intermediate spheres - regional conventions, inter-city networks, transnational art firms and organizations - where creativity needs to develop free from the trammels of bureaucracy but backed up by effective policies.

The cases studied above present specific ways of creating intra- and interregional policies to deal with more localized dilemmas arising from globalization. It is in the transnational field that technological advances are being made which are rapidly changing the conditions governing the exercise of creativity and the communication of its results: satellites, electronic communication and the computerization of economic, financial, scientific and cultural information. Yet it is precisely here that the bodies representing public interests are least well equipped. The structure of the public sphere continues in almost all cases to be coterminous with nation-states. Some experts therefore stress the urgent need for more balanced interaction between the public and private spheres in supranational processes, ranging from control over the destructive effects of the innovations described above to the dissemination of, and provision of more equitable access by all countries to, the progress being made in scientific, technological and artistic activity (Moragas, Parés y Maices, Roncagliolo, Yúdice).

Néstor García Canclini is an anthropologist and head of the programme of studies in urban culture at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Mexico. He has been a Professor at the Universities of Stanford, Austin, Barcelona, Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo. He has published twenty books on cultural studies, globalization and the urban imagination and his book Hybrid Cultures (1995) was chosen by the Latin American Association to receive the first Ibero-American Book Award for the best book about Latin America.

"Recasting cultural policies"
Jean Barthélemy
Bennett & Mercer
Néstor García Canclini
Cliche, Mitchell & Wiesand
Jérôme Huet
Britt Isaksson
Lofti Maherzi
Sally Jane Norman
Michiro Watanabe
pijltje.gif (895 bytes) A new globlal ethics
pijltje.gif (895 bytes) A commitment to pluralism
pijltje.gif (895 bytes) Challenges of a media-rich world
pijltje.gif (895 bytes) Recasting cultural policies
General introduction
recasting cultural policies