Reform artists

Readers' views No 246/247, December 2004-January 2005
OECD Observer

Dear editor, In trying to understand the economy, employment participation, productivity, and so on, you seem to focus your attention on traditional office or factory-bound jobs, whether full or part-time. But what does the OECD have to say about the creative arts and culture, which are also productive trades and industries?

Indeed, in our day and age, these activities are supposed to absorb a large part of our lives. And they are not just trades in their own right, but generate huge revenues for a whole range of goods and services, in tourism, transportation, home entertainment, etc. This makes the arts an international economic issue, which surely OECD governments and experts should get together to examine. It would be a challenge for you.

The artists and performers that drive this trade lead working lives that do not seem to fit with normal employment or public policy conventions. They work intensive hours and, even in between festival seasons, they need to practise, develop, hone and learn, as well as staying alive. Normal market-based or social policy solutions simply do not seem to suit, as art and culture are not products that can be bought and sold like detergent.

This is not easy to resolve, as shown by the difficulties France has been having in reforming budgets for arts employees over the last couple of years. If the French of all people cannot seem to find a breakthrough to finance employment in culture and the arts, who can? The bottom line is that such divisions between the arts and government can advance the cause of neither politicians nor artists, with the public losing out most of all, as shown by the cancellation of the Avignon festival in 2003.

The exception culturelle is not about any particular country, but rather, a particular form of trade that operates internationally. It is a powerful attraction: just look at the way tourists from the US have, despite unfavourable exchange rates and “political” sensitivities, started flocking back to Paris, to visit Saint Sulpice church, the Louvre and other monuments, all because of a cultural trail mapped out in a best-selling novel, The Da Vinci Code.

Some people may be wary of the delicate interface between globalisation and culture, but someone has to address it. It seems to me that an organisation like the OECD, which is appropriately based in one of the world's cultural capitals, and whose members are all developed countries with large arts and cultural sectors, embracing the Americas, Europe and Asia, should take a hard look at this public policy area and help governments solve these problems. After all, some of them are partly conditioned by your own advice on restraining public finances.

—R.J. Doyle, Paris, France

©OECD Observer No 246/247, December 2004-January 2005

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