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“Cultural Democracy”, like many cultural policy themes, has different meanings, relevance and importance depending on the political, economic, cultural and social contexts in which it is applied.
“Democratising culture” – implementing strategies to increase access to and the dissemination of ideas and values – has certainly been aided by the arrival of the internet, but it remains those with resources, with networks, with expertise and historical privilege, who are best able to assert their values, ideas, beliefs and ideological assumptions: what hopes then, for a more democratic world order, in which everyone – or at least the majority of people – may be able to project their views, traditions, values and perspectives into the “global market of ideas”?
My reflections on this theme will be informed by my South African experience, by my serving as part of UNESCO’s technical facility on the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, and my work within cultural policy across the African continent. I will begin this reflection with reference to my home country, South Africa, as a metaphor for the world.
Mike van Graan is President of the African Cultural Policy Network and works as a playwright. He graduated from the University of Cape Town with an Honours Degree in Drama, and was appointed as an Honorary Professor in this Drama Department in 2015. He was Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin in 2016/2017.
Van Graan has served in leadership positions in numerous arts and culture NGOs.
After South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, he was appointed as a Special Adviser to the first minister responsible for arts and culture. In 2011, he was appointed by UNESCO as a Technical Adviser to assist governments in the Global South.