Helen, backstage, Merlin Theatre (The Glance) 1996
Wendy McMurdo

The Changing Room, Stirling
14 July – 28 August 2004

The Right to Art: making aspirations reality - Demos essay commissioned by VAGA [added 7/7/04]

Written by John Holden and Robert Hewison the essay is available on the Demos website: www.demos.co.uk/catalogue/righttoartreport

Contemporary visual art in Britain is enjoying unprecedented levels of public interest. Yet for too many people, art - in its many guises and with all that it offers - can still be seen as ‘for others’ and not for them. This poverty of cultural engagement and ambition cuts across society.

Demos argue that:

  • Current policies preach the principle of universal access to visual art, but this is not being achieved in practice.
  • Not just cultural policy, but educational policy must address the problem of society’s lack of visual literacy.
  • The contribution of visual artists to the economy is underestimated and misunderstood.
  • To encourage visual literacy and the exercise of the right to art, a new language must inform public policy.
  • That language is the language of public value, where the instrumental drives of social and economic policy find a new context in the moral, creative and collective values expressed by the right to art.

Published at a time when culture is being debated not only in terms of its contribution to wider social, economic and political agendas, but also in terms of its intrinsic value and how that might be measured, VAGA hopes that these ideas will become part of a shared language and re-enforce the argument for 'cultural entitlement' as a right not a privilege.

The question is now what responsibilities would recognition of public value bestow on Government, how might these responsibilities be reflected in policy and what might the arts themselves need to do to meet the intellectual and practical challenges of a right to art.

The Right to Art Steering Group:

  • Nick Dodd, Director Sheffield Galleries & Museums Trust
  • Vicky Dyer, Central Lobby Consultants
  • Stephen Foster, Director John Hansard Gallery, University of Southampton
  • Sue Grayson Ford, Director Campaign for Drawing
  • Peter Jenkinson, Founding Director Creative Partnerships
  • Catherine Lampert, Chair Visual Arts and Galleries Association
  • Sandy Nairne, Director National Portrait Gallery
  • Tim Marlow, Broadcaster and Exhibitions Director White Cube
  • Andrew Wheatley, Director Cabinet Gallery
  • Hilary Gresty, Director Visual Arts and Galleries Association
  • Les Buckingham, Researcher Visual Arts and Galleries Association

This group represents a coalition of VAGA members and colleagues from across the visual arts and museum sectors.