I’ve been thinking about that John Holden video I posted a few weeks ago that touched on redefining the value of arts and culture, and have been observing how the three deeply interrelated forms of culture he describes—publicly-funded, commercial and homemade—are played out in the community where I live.
Holden writes in his 2008 report Democratic Culture: Opening Up the Arts to Everyone
“…that the upsurge of home-made culture in the last thirty years, brought about by the easy and inexpensive access to tools that allow anyone to publish a book, sell music, produce a video and then spread it freely around, “…should not blind us to the fact that access to publicly funded culture is still very limited, with only 4 per cent of the population enjoying the arts regularly. There is a thin line between defending quality and erecting barricades against outsiders, and it is not always clear where that line is. Sometimes ‘maintaining standards’ just means preserving status.”
I’ve been privileged to get to know a wonderful group of local musicians, artists and writers who might be called “defenders” of homemade culture and the need to preserve its character and accessibility, and who believe in the power of such culture to heal and build community. It’s been inspiring to see a group get together to record the songs of an aging musician who has never cut a record or another organization soliciting and installing a cooperative mosaic project in honor of two cultural icon in the community as well as to see a fledgling street entertainment program springing up, replete with actors, dancers and musicians of all types popping up on the streets of the downtown on weekends.
What this is telling me is that even though giving people greater opportunity to create, perform and experience culture in the “homemade” way rather than forcing them to either succeed or consume traditionally-judged or competitive forms of culture may dilute the “quality” of the cultural experience in some way, a flourishing homemade culture offers benefits far beyond “high standards.” Allowing people to express themselves through the arts and share it with others in more ways can only promote a greater sense of personal and community well-being that is far more valuable than revering arts and culture that only 4 percent of the population are enjoying and denigrating the proliferation of homemade culture.
I like this post I found on a blog appropriately called “Homemade Culture.” The author defines it like this:
“homemade culture…spontaneous. free to participate in. communal. homemade culture has fingerprints not corporate branding. it is not mass produced. it is impermanent. adaptable. makeshift. made of the materials at hand. local. non-commercial. ad hoc. improvised. small scale. lively. energetic. made with and out of the stories of everyday people. fitting. imperfect. quirky. loose. always political, even when it’s not overtly so, because it challenges the notion that culture is “produced” by our paid culture-manufacturers and only “consumed” by folks like us.
because we’ll meet our neighbors. because we’ll finally understand what our grandmother meant when she said we should learn the piano so that we can entertain our friends by playing and singing songs on a Friday night. because we’ve fallen asleep at the wheel. because it’s good to play. because in it we will find small truths.”
Thank goodness for folks that understand the value of maintaining all the different forms of culture. Hooray for the defenders of homemade culture and the small truths they preserve!