The Changing Status of Difference: Cultural Policy 1970 to present


Chair: Mike Phillps
Respondent: Andrew Dewdney

  • Munira Mirza, Director of Policy, Arts, Culture and the Creative Industries, Greater London Authority
  • Sandy Nairne, Director, National Portrait Gallery
  • Lola Young, independent consultant, Cultural Brokers
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This recording is part of:

Art and Politics: Uncertain Practices
Programme D

Co-chairs: Mike Phillips and Victoria Walsh
Monday 16 March – Friday 20 March 2009

Three years ago the research project Tate Encounters set out a number of original research aims which explicitly bound together the spheres of politics and art. Indeed on many accounts, from within the recently established field of museum studies, the foundation and dynamic of the museum is essentially that of a politics of the public and as such the Tate Encounters research programme is fundamentally a study in cultural politics. Firstly it framed Tate’s role in holding the National Collection of British Art at Tate Britain as a practice of the political representation of nation.  Secondly, it framed government cultural diversity policy as a politics of civil society.

After two years of fieldwork Tate Encounters is in the process of elaborating a number of understandings about the ways in which Tate Britain produces and reproduces itself and its audience organisationally and how a group of voluntary participants with migrant backgrounds engaged with and made sense of Tate Britain as audience members. In this respect, Tate Britain has been understood as a cultural site and a potential ‘contact zone’ in negotiating transcultural, generational and class identities.

The project now aims to locate these emergent findings in the wider context of enumerating the recent history of the development of cultural diversity policy and to understand its politics and cultural outcomes. This programme aims to critically scrutinise the intellectual and political roots of cultural diversity policy through examining understandings of the politics of the policy process, and the ways in which museums responded to diversity policy. In addition, it wishes to look at the impact of a changing social demographic upon traditional cultural institutions in relationship to contemporary cultural forms of expression.

In more detail the programme. is interested in examining received thinking about multiculturalism, cultural pluralism and cultural diversity as a way of identifying both older limits and new possibilities for progressive cultural change. In doing this the project recognises the need to look at the ways in which such debates were informed by intellectual and practical thinking about race and ethnicity.