One could argue that public funding is the backbone of culture in Europe. We could also argue that the level of support given from several European countries to the arts is fantastic compared to other rich nations whose governments cannot be bothered. But the system is not perfect, and decisions made by government organisations on what arts and culture they deem worthy of supporting can reflect the narrow tastes of decision makers and entrench discrimination. In order for public funding of the arts to be a tool of democracy and support a vibrant and varied arts scene, there needs to be consideration for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the selection and distribution process.
Let me explain, we earned payment for our work and sent a piece of it to the State in taxes, the State can then support artistic voices to enrich our lives, the people who contributed this hard-earned money to a global public budget. The burning question is who should get to decide who gets the spoils: should it be the People or should it be appointed individuals whose own sense of culture often revolves around opera, expensive paintings, and the tastes of capitalist patriarchy? Of course some public cultural workers have been to a techno club or a hip hop concert before, however that ratio is almost certainly not in keeping with what the People consume as art. The elitist tastes of those in charge of distributing the funding create an initial barrier to the democratic process of that funding satisfying those who paid for it.
Another barrier to this democratic process is how hard it is to navigate the process of funding applications. In recent years, there has been some progress with more funding decisions made by rotating panels of people rather than the same individuals and newly accepted methods of applying such as video applications for people who find it easier to speak than write, but another giant leap is needed for members of the public to understand the ins and outs of getting funding. This means those who have connections tend to get a bigger slice of that cake budget, and this is without even considering the icing on the cake that nepotism can be.
Talking about nepotism, the line might sometimes be thin and easily crossed between elitism, favouritism, nepotism, and all the way to (indirect) embezzlement. There are regular cases, some make it into the press, most do not, but personal bias and interest, or even corruption, definitely play a big part in the lack of DEI in cultural public funding. Sure, it is difficult to fully put aside one’s own tastes when awarding cultural funds; we are only human after all. So how about having diverse cultural workers and experts who can then distribute the funds to a wider range of artists and projects? Again, some institutions try and have diverse decision panels, but this is not yet the norm and most of the decisions are still predominantly made by white middle and higher class folks who believe in heteronormativity and do not even seem to know that trans people exist (as observed in most Creative Europe projects and texts, including “expert” reports that insist on mostly representing heteronormative men and women), or in some cases still promote a majority of cisgendered white men as the 2023 German Haus at SxSW or the 2022 edition of The European Music Business Task Force (both with over 60% cis men and 90 to 100% white), or that hip hop and EDM do not belong in a cultural ghetto but ARE culture for a significant part of the population contributing to these public funds.
In the past four years, I researched cultural funding, especially EU funding that is mostly managed by Creative Europe, and in the past two years, I have actively communicated with these institutions to ask why racialiased and queer communities are systematically erased or ghettoised, and why women still do not constitute 50% of fund receivers among other discrimination-related topics, based on actual projects and numbers. The communication had to go to the EU Commission complaint department of the Ombudsman as few responses were received. To this day, and although all information should be public by law, we still do not know who was in charge of the £334,000 Metaverse “online rave” event flop. We also don’t how the wasted funds will be paid back to us, why EU self-proclaimed gender experts refuse to acknowledge the existence of non-binary and trans people, or why, despite the EU having roughly 12% of its population qualified as racialised, the total cultural budget ending up in the pockets of racialised artists and organisers falls well below 12%.
Besides global DEI issues due to corruption and grand-scale irresponsibility, there are more and more cases that surface publicly about localised occurrences of discrimination, for example the Berlin Music Commission case. This specific case has a follow-up you can learn about in the two-part podcast broadcast via dublab community radio, based in Los Angeles and featuring Grinderteeth, Janishia Jones, Keychange, Mixmag’s Marcus Barnes and Patrick Hinton, and a few more explaining their side of the story or giving practical solutions to how DEI can finally become part of public funding for an improved democratic process of tax money re-distribution and to support the culture that can make us better as a People and happier as individuals.
Artwork by Infinite Livez, check out his Bandcamp store