European inventory of
societal values of culture


Cultural participation of citizens has been an important dimension of contemporary cultural policies since the 1960s and 1970s. In a narrow sense, the term refers to the different ways and forms in which citizens access or create cultural goods and experiences. Alternative terms describing the same phenomenon include ‘arts participation’, ‘involvement in arts and culture’, ‘participation in cultural activities’, ‘participation in cultural life’, and ‘attendance and cultural consumption’. Their usage depends on the different foci of various cultural policies and research agendas, as well as on different linguistic and cultural traditions. However, what most cultural policy makers have in common is the belief that without participation of citizens in cultural life, cultural and artistic events and processes have very little public value.

Initial descriptions of cultural participation included discussions about active and passive participation, the first referring to activities such as amateur performances and productions and the latter to theatre and cinema attendance or museum visits. However, it is hard to define a precise limit between these two dimensions of cultural participation, especially when it comes to activities such as reading books, listening to music, or playing video games. Namely, all these practices obviously include some activity on the part of the user of cultural content. Furthermore, digital forms of culture (e.g., open platforms) are merging the production and consumption of culture in new ways, changing our understanding of co-creation.

These new media and social realities represent a challenge to cultural policymakers, in that they need to rethink the traditional mechanisms of distribution of funds as well as the previously established approaches to the assessment of achieved results. An additional consideration is the emergence of new forms of political participation, coming about in the 21st century as a response to the perceived ‘democratic deficit’ in contemporary politics and aimed at a renewal of democracy in a broader sense. Such bottom-up initiatives have resulted in a renewed interest in promoting cultural participation, but this time also demanding an active role of the citizens in the governance of institutions and cultural programming.

This new participatory agenda has in the meantime become a part of numerous governmental and institutional strategies. However, new standards in the field still need to be developed. While some practitioners have warmly welcomed and intensely promoted the ‘participatory turn’ in cultural policy, others have questioned ‘the participation myth’ and criticised the new trend of ‘participationism’.

Nonetheless, despite all the challenges and ambiguities surrounding the notions introduced above, there is a consensus among the experts that the direct and indirect impacts of culture on local development and well-being are largely achieved through cultural participation. The results of research undertaken within the Invent project suggest that cultural participation is strongly correlated with openness and tolerance. Likewise, it is hard to dispute that high levels of cultural participation and social support for culture create more social cohesion and public involvement. (MP)


See also:  Democratization of culture; Well-being; Amateurism; Digitalization and cultural policy