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Culturelink review, no.32/November 2000 - contents - imprint - archive

Cultural Policy Issues in the American West


Cultural policy is a lively subject of discussion and debate in the western parts of the United States, whose myth of colonization has spread throughout the world and is now being inundated by succeeding waves of information technologies. The debates are serious and concerned, and the subject is seen as one that is not yet sufficiently developed but is badly needed. This was the central preoccupation of the Symposium on Cultural Policy in the West, held at the Aspen Institute, Aspen, Colorado, 6-8 October 2000. The symposium was organized by WESTAF (Western States Arts Federation), a non-profit arts service organization dedicated to the creative advancement and preservation of the arts. It serves the arts organizations of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

The Dossier contains the presentations of several speakers at the symposium, who focus on some critical aspects of arts and culture policy in the West and in the United States as a whole. The points under discussion include the absence of arts education in schools and the search for forms of education suitable for young people (Delgado); the shortcomings of both market and governmental mechanisms for the allocation of quality cultural products (Izumi); lobbying and advocacy of arts among the politicians who make important budgetary decisions (Dorf); and finally the specific historical, ethnic and cultural diversity and political variety of Hawaii (Coffman).

This cross-section of views cannot, of course, do justice to the wealth and complexity of the present situation in the American cultural policy, but it does point to at least two of its specific features. The first is the dissatisfaction among American cultural experts with the attitudes of the public and private spheres towards the values of art and culture. What the powerful culture industry in America offers is certainly not what they are looking for. The second point is an evident lack of interest in adapting European and other cultural policy solutions to American needs. These policies have been built on other, mostly state-controlled, experiences. They are now rushing headlong into market-governed solutions, but the Aspen symposium issued a clear warning against moving to another extreme. Is there a solution outside these extremes that would be best for culture. Is it possible to build a "republic of culture" that would be governed by artists and experts and that would attract increasingly large numbers of increasingly well-educated people (as, we assume, imagined by the conservative critics of both libertarianism and state dirigisme).

In cultural thinking and policy, America looks the way that Alexis de Tocqueville saw it at the time of early democracy. It is still learning inductively, empirically, from its own successes and failures.

Vjeran Katunarić

Contact address:
Vjeran Katunarić, Professor of Sociology
Department of Sociology
University of Zagreb
Ivana Lucica 3
10000 Zagreb


  • Introduction
    by Vjeran Katunarić
  • Making Arts Relevant: The Challenges Confronting the Arts
    by Fernando Delgado
  • Misdirected Efforts: Conservatism and the Arts
    by Lance T. Izumi
  • Western Senators Against the Arts: Passion or Politics?
    by Michael C. Dorf
  • On the Edge in the Middle
    by Tom Coffman