PhD at the University of Strasbourg
Kevin Mats is currently working on a PhD thesis at the University of Strasbourg under the direction of Vincent Dubois. He is carrying out a research on the origins and effects of emergence of a local demand for methods of public intervention in cultural matters. His scientific interests are mainly focused on the transformation of local cultural policies in Europe, creative cities and culture as a vehicle for economic development.
(Re) Culture and local entities facing the crisis: limits and perspectives of the doctrine of economic development
The economic crisis of 2008 and the ongoing institutional reforms (RGPP) in France reinforce two phenomena that determine the production of local cultural policies: one is of material nature; the other one is mostly symbolic. On the one hand, we observe stronger cuts in local budgets allocated to culture, forcing local authorities to reorganise the allocation of funds. On the other hand, the failure of the cultural democratisation project leads to general disillusion about the role and the impact of cultural policies; all the more in the context of economic turmoil and at the moment when political parties tend to give up the issue of culture.
It is in this politically, economically and institutionally defined context of loss of legitimacy of local cultural policies, that emerges and gains popularity a new local imperative of economic development by culture, mobilised, inter alia, to confront the ongoing institutional reforms with a specific local skill. Since ten years, political initiatives adopting this perspective have produced dozens of reports, publications, strategic plans and conferences, where the use of concepts of “creative economy”, “cultural economy” and “creative cities” was operated imprecisely, often leading to confusion.
How to explain the success of the economic development by culture among local authorities? After a short overview of relevant academic literature published in French, we will focus our presentation on two French municipal initiatives – both launched in a big city – to examine the socio-political conditions giving rise to the doctrine of economic development by culture in the context of economic crisis.
The first case, that of the territorial development plan for 2020 promoting local “creative economy” as an engine of economic development, illustrates the lability and symbolic meaning of the doctrine. This initiative appears to be of mainly procedural and prospective nature, without clear understanding of its implementation or evaluation. In this case, the rhetoric of “creative economy” reveals a “fictional policy” drawing mainly on the rhetorical effect of “fighting the crisis with culture”, rather than on a project of transformation of local policy.
In the second case, the success of the doctrine is linked to one of its main strategic usages. In 2008, in order to avoid tensions due to the budgetary cuts, a cultural participative project put forward the economic development by culture as the main driver of culture on the municipal level. This participative initiative was also aimed at reinforcing the authorities’ control over the allocation of funds for cultural projects, avoiding – through consultative mechanisms – the claims of artists and other professionals of the cultural sector for public funding.
These two examples allow us to draw some conclusions, but also raise a series of further questions. First, it appears that political strategies in time of crisis contribute to the successful dissemination of the economic imperative in local cultural policies. Simultaneously, this doctrine symbolically increases the local authorities’ capacity to manage the crisis. Nonetheless, would it be appropriate to assume that defining culture as a local providential solution to crisis is inevitably a way to compete with the central authorities responsible for cultural policy? To conclude, we will discuss the impact of policies based on economic development by culture in time of institutional and economic crisis, captured between myth and reality.
Key-words: local cultural policy, economic development, crisis, political control.