New Deal for Cultural Employment

By Carla Bodo

It is by now widely recognised that connecting culture and employment as a promising job reservoir in our post industrial countries (Delors, 1992) is not at all automatic. It is rather the outcome of robust and well devised cultural policies – with a clever mix of regulations and financial incentives in support of cultural activities and the cultural industries – carried out at the different levels of government: national, regional, local, as well as  European.
Two examples drawn from French and Italian historic precedents support such an assertion.
In France, we can refer to what has been called the “Jack Lang effect”: that is, a 40% increase in cultural employment between 1982 and 1995 – years in which this dynamic Minister was in charge for culture – ten times higher than the increase in total active employment (J. Cardona, 1997). As Cardona, who also mentions the active role played in this respect by local authorities, underlines “the strongest growth in employment occurred in those domains which depend largely on public financing”.
In the case of Italy, evidence drawn from Census data shows that the golden age for the cultural labour market was in the 1970s: a decade of huge institutional changes in cultural organisation, with the appearance of new actors and new funding sources on the cultural scene (creation of the regions, boom of the municipal cultural policy, creation of a separate Ministry for Cultural Goods). In this decade of transition of cultural activities from élite to mass cultural participation and consumption, the dynamics of cultural occupations has been uniquely positive: +75%, again more than ten times higher than the dynamics of the total active population (+7%).
Coming back from this glorious past to the present trends of stagnation and decline in cultural employment, attention should be drawn to the urgent need of a European New Deal, closely inspired by the experimental and idealistic Federal Arts Project (1935-39) of the Roosevelt administration. This would require, in the present situation, a strong boost to innovative policies in support of artistic creativity and technical skills in the visual and performing arts and in the cultural and creative industries, of appropriate competences in the conservation and enhancement of the historic and artistic heritage, and, last but not least, of intercultural competences aimed at fostering mutual understanding and social cohesion in our increasingly multicultural societies. A precondition would be a reverse in the negative trend of public financing of culture, made even more necessary by the present constraint in public finance: without such a reverse, trends in cultural employment will be more and more negatively affected. On the other hand, public authorities should be aware that without providing better opportunities and job prospects to cultural occupations, thus fostering the creative talent, in particular of the younger generations, European countries will be less and less able to counteract the present economic crisis and to face what has been called (Florida, 2003) the “great competitive challenge” of our time.

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