Sustainable Cultures

The originating impulse for the third area of the RCF campaign is cultural responsibility.  From its inception the RCF needed to demonstrate that, although established as a developmental organisation for rural culture, our interests reach beyond the rural sphere.  In campaigning for cultural entitlement and funding for rural communities the Forum is not in competition with urban communities, or in any way critical of the cultural support provided for the cites.  In suggesting ‘Sustainable Cultures’ as a campaigning strand the RCF acknowledges an equal responsibility to address the many social and cultural issues that extend beyond the rural.   There is a compelling need for urban and rural communities to work together to support the Government and world agenda for environmental and economic reform, especially as regards sustainability.  This is one of the key cultural challenges facing society today, transcending all urban versus rural agendas.

The RCF is currently developing two main proposals:

  1. That DCMS and DEFRA consider jointly initiating a cultural strategy for environmental sustainability
  2. Consideration of a future cultural role or agenda for DEFRA

Cultural responsibility – thinking beyond the rural

For the Sustainable Cultures initiative to be successful it is essential to establish a coalition of rural and urban stake-holders and representatives from the professional arts, media, design and cultural sectors, willing to work together as a group to work on a national cultural strategy for environmental sustainability.   The proposal may be met with scepticism in some quarters, but such cross-sectoral coalitions for environmental sustainability are winning increasing public support.  One of the advantages to the RCF of bring a relatively small organisation working on the fringes of the statutory agencies is that it is sometimes possible to see areas of congruity between different Government initiatives and policy arenas, and help to make the connections.

Thinking the unthinkable – a creative opportunity 

The RCF makes no claims to lead on rural development or agricultural policy or, for that matter, on arts and cultural policy.  These are the responsibility respectively of DEFRA, CRC, DCMS and the Arts Council.  But, functioning as a catalyst, the RCF can put forward ideas, and if public support is stimulated, can put proposals forward to the Government Ministers and statutory agencies responsible pending further consideration.   The ecological and economic disruption predicted in the wake of accelerated climate change requires that Governments and peoples alike act together to prepare for the changes ahead.  This could mean having to think the unthinkable, more specifically having to re-think conventional policy and the institutional mechanisms of delivery, which is of course a matter as much for exponents of culture as for scientists or economists.

The Rural Cultural Forum is putting forward the following two proposals:

1. DCMS and DEFRA support for introduction of a cultural strategy for environmental sustainability?

DCMS and DEFRA are we feel well positioned to respond to proposals for a Cultural Strategy for Environmental Sustainability.  If it can be demonstrated that there is public, community, professional and political support for such an initiative, would the two agencies, at Ministerial level, be willing to take the proposal forward?

This need not be a major undertaking initially, and could be progressed as an inter-departmental dialogue, also involving some of the other leading stakeholders and statutory agencies (Arts Council, DECC, Environment Agency, Design Council, Natural England, NESTA, RIBA).   In the wider sphere some community and arts organisations are working to develop Sustainable Cultures partnerships, and some of the features of a delivery programme are already taking shape, only awaiting coordination and deployment as a strategic programme.   The Arts Council and the RSA for example recently launched an Art and Ecology initiative in which artists and scientists are working together to come up with creative and practical solutions to global warming.   The Rural Cultural Strategy too is designed to show how a cultural strategy for environmental sustainability could work in practice.

Artist and community action for culture-led sustainability initiatives

Two recent conference academic research papers also reveal the extent of artist and community action in developing new cultural narratives for community sustainability initiatives:
Culture and Sustainable Communities by Nancy Duxbury/M Sharon Jeanette May 2010and the forthcoming Sustainability and Contemporary Art; Art, Post Fordism and Eco Critique conference in March 2010, Central European University.

All that is required is leadership and guidance from our leading statutory agencies, that could start with the introduction of an inter-departmental or cross-sector debate on the proposal.

2. A New Cultural Role for DEFRA? 

Following on from this is the suggestion that DEFRA should consider reviewing some of their Environment, Food and Rural Affairs programmes from a cultural perspective.  This could be extended to exploration of creative ways of promoting bio-diversity, tackling climate change, changing the public attitude to waste and recycling, supporting sustainable rural communities, furthering the Creative Rural Economy, supporting healthy eating and safe food, and improving animal welfare standards.  The Forestry Authority, Natural England, the National Parks and The Environment Agency are all enlightened patrons of the arts, and they have employed a wide range of innovative arts projects in support of their public engagement and other objectives.  In this context the proposed cultural role for DEFRA is not as far-fetched as it might at first sound.

In the EU for example the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture has funded a number of cultural initiatives and related research in support of rural development. They also hosted the European Art and Agriculture conference, in Baarn in 2008.  In Italy, the ministries for Culture and Agriculture collaborated recently on a pilot marketing initiative promoting regional farm-produced foods and crafts in many leading Italian art museums.  The Spanish Ministry for Environment, Fisheries and Agriculture and the Ministry of Culture have recently agreed to co-fund the Tierra Adentro project, a three-year arts and culture-led Creative Rural Economy initiative to be developed on farms and in remote rural communities in Spain.

DEFRA in recent years, directly and indirectly, has been an important initiator and funder of innovative arts, media and culture programmes relating to its core programmes.  Although the Department might claim that it merely managed the LEADER+ programme on behalf of the EAGGF, the significant impact (social, environmental and economic) of rural arts and cultural projects funded via DEFRA and LEADER+ in the country far exceeded in rural areas that of programmes  by Arts Council and DCMS.  The kick-start to the Creative Rural Economy provided by the LEADER+ programme, and the effects on rural community creativity, have been extrordinary.   LEADER+ in some respects acts as a de facto cultural agency for rural communities, yet no comprehensive study has yet been made of the millions of pounds of arts and cultural investment provided to rural areas via DEFRA and EAGGF between 2001 – 2007.

A more recent example of DEFRA initiated cultural projects came through the Climate Change Fund programme (now part of DECC), which began in 2006 with £4.6 million, designed  ‘.. to raise awareness at regional and local level of the urgent need to tackle climate change..’ A number of leading artist groups and design-based organisations ((Harrison Studios/MMU, URBED,  Manchester) bid successfully for funding, and produced exhibitions and public art projects about climate change, some of which are still touring public galleries and museums throughout the country.

Sustainable Cultures Discussion papers

Background discussion papers relating to the proposals outlined in 1 and 2 above will be made available later in the year, and will be listed on this site under ‘Events’