Art is to Culture as Baseball is to Sport: the ‘Arts Plus Swindle’

Deborah Mills, a leading researcher and analyst of cultural planning in Australia, wrote a wonderfully rich and revealing article in 2002 entitled Cultural Planning – Policy Task Not Tool. After a decade of cultural planning in Australia, the paper examined why many cultural plans had failed to realize their promise. The claim had been that cultural planning would reposition culture on local government agendas with equal status to planning for land use, transportation, social and economic development. Why then had cultural plans not realized this status?

One of the main obstacles is tied to what Deborah Mills called ‘the arts plus swindle.’ While many cultural plans claimed to be dealing with a wide range of cultural issues and resources, in actuality the primary focus of the plans was on a relatively narrow range of arts issues.

This false equation of the arts and culture been a personal frustration of mine for many years. To say the arts and culture is like saying baseball and sport or cardiology and medicine. For years I thought I was alone in feeling this confusion was a major contributor to marginalizing culture in planning and public policy. Several years ago (to my relief) I found that my colleague Jon Hawkes, author of the influential The Fourth Pillar of Sustainability: Culture’s Essential Role in Public Planning has long shared this frustration; his analogy broccoli and vegetables.

Language matters. A growing trend in Canada today is acceptance of cultural resources as a term to represent a wide range of cultural assets and activities in communities. The language of cultural resources also communicates immediately that culture has and important role to play in advancing economic and broader community development agendas.

Over a number of years I developed the Cultural Resource Framework (CRF) that I am proud to say has been embraced in a wide range of municipalities across Canada to guide cultural mapping and cultural planning. The CRF does not ‘invent’ new categories but rather combines accepted definitions of cultural resources in a larger framework. For example, the examples of categories of creative cultural industries and creative cultural occupations are how Statistics Canada defines the cultural sector in the Canadian Framework for Cultural Statistics. Examples cited of natural and cultural heritage resources are shaped by how legislation (in Ontario the Ontario Heritage Act and Ontario Planning Act) defines natural and cultural resources to guide municipal planning.

The CRF is not intended as a ‘one size fits all’ model for all communities. Rather, each community must decide themselves what they choose to define as cultural resources. However, the CRF provides a valuable point of reference for communities to begin these discussions.

Cultural Resource Framework – Source: AuthentiCity: A Division of MDB Insight