As Grayson Perry has observed, “most people want to fit in with their tribe in some way or another, so they give off signals, whether it’s with their clothes, their behavior, their car, their whatever, and gain status . . . and the signals are an unconscious display of who you are and where you want to be.” But let’s be honest, at its fundamental level, a lot of our consumption of ‘culture’ in today’s society is about status as much as it is delight in creativity. We all participate in and consume culture and we hope that our accumulation of knowledge, behaviours and skills will demonstrate our cultural competence and so our standing in society. It’s subtle and causes great anxiety amongst the white middle classes.
You may have read that Felicity Huffman, a highly successful American actress pleaded guilty this week to taking part in a bribery scheme to get her daughter into a prestigious US university. Her efforts to increase her own status and her daughter’s social and cultural capital led her to break the law. Being smart, getting the grades, it isn’t enough when social and cultural capital is at stake.
This demonstrates the disturbing power, and inequality inherent in cultural capital. In Britain, the value placed on culture, as a society, is still heavily steeped in the white Western tradition. Though we celebrate our multi-cultural society, our value system is still playing catch-up. If it were a game, you’d score more points for going to see an exhibition or opera in London than you would an outdoor film screening in a park near your home. But what if you were in that film? What if the film celebrated your recognised talent as a kathak dancer, and your skills had been passed down through generations in your family?
Over the next two years, we will be exploring these questions in a dialogue between artists and residents of Queen’s Park, Bedford. At the Venice Biennale this year, the world’s most celebrated international art event, Ghana has burst onto the scene with its own national pavilion, designed by David Adjaye. Adjaye commented, “that Ghana’s cultural capital in the world is not being celebrated.” The same could be said for many of the different cultures within Britain.
Annie Bacon, Creative Producer
Image: Cat Lane 2018