Cultures and crises discussed by academics and arts leaders

Nations are “always in crisis”, a former director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts has argued, as he praised the arm’s-length system of public funding embodied by the Arts Council, which meant that artists did not have to be polite or grateful to governments.

January 21, 2012

Ekow Eshun made the remarks during a debate at the University of Sussex, part of a series of ‘Sussex conversations’, bringing together academics and leading figures in the world of culture and heritage.

“Pretty much every nation is always in crisis,” Mr Eshun said. “The arts are good at embracing dissonance and acknowledging the awkwardness of our national culture. All true art is controversial and raises hackles.”

Also speaking at the event on 19 January were Sir Neil Coussins, former chairman of English Heritage, and Dame Fiona Reynolds, director-general of the National Trust, who spoke about the preservation of Britain’s industrial heritage and a “mixed economy” approach which had led to “a democratization of heritage and the validation of non-expert views”.

Peter Boxall, professor of English at Sussex, raised questions about “whether the nation as an organizing framework is losing some of its power”.

“Some of us think of ourselves as living in Brighton and in Europe”, he explained, with the national dimension much less important.

Dr Boxall was also sceptical about Mr Eshun’s argument: “If the purpose of art is dissonance and difference, it is hard to imagine a government framework to achieve that,” he said.

A member of the audience raised questions about restitution and the “dark history” of National Trust houses built on the profits of slavery.

Another challenged the speakers to say more about reconciling the tensions between the preservation and progress, and the difficulties of talking about “the national heritage” and “our culture”.

Mr Eshun responded that, as someone from a Ghanaian background, “I deliberately use the phrase ‘our culture’ to stake a claim to where I want to live, against those who want to exclude me. There’s nothing passive about the phrase – it’s a statement of intent.”

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Assistant Recruitment - Human Resources Office

University Of Nottingham Ningbo China

Outreach Officer

Gsm London

Professorship in Geomatics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Professor of European History

Newcastle University

Head of Department

University Of Chichester
See all jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

A face made of numbers looks over a university campus

From personalising tuition to performance management, the use of data is increasingly driving how institutions operate

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands

As the country succeeds in attracting even more students from overseas, a mixture of demographics, ‘soft power’ concerns and local politics help explain its policy