Professor Milena Dragicevic Šešić, UNESCO Chair in Cultural Policy and Management of the University of Arts in Belgrade

New Cultural Policy Essential

Cultural policy is today often led routinely and without much imagination from the government and various levels of state bodies

Milena Dragicevic Šešić

My interest in issues related to cultural policy began back during my studies, when various professors highlighted the state’s attitude towards creativity, from control and censorship to assistance and support. Dejan Kosanović, professor of film organisation, surprised us by talking about film as an industry that works for the benefit of the state or major film corporations. Back then we were so thrilled by the works of Fellini, Buñuel and Tarkovsky that we didn’t want to accept that film is a product.

It is thus no surprise that my master’s thesis dealt with the institutional system of the cultural policy of France, given that it is in France in particular that debates are held and solutions sought to many cultural policy issues.

The history of the theory of cultural policy in Serbia deserves to be written, because we were the first country in which master’s degrees and doctorates  were awarded in cultural policy was launched – Kultura

What I learned back then is that culture is a public good and that access to cultural goods should not be denied, rather – on the contrary – cultural policy is obliged to find ways and opportunities for every individual citizen to participate in cultural life in accordance with their own wishes and interests. The state must not favour that which is already favoured by the market, rather it is obliged to primarily support those minority cultural expressions, regardless of whether they are in the minority because they belong to a minority social group, or because the use of new expressive resources isn’t easily legible and acceptable for the wider audience.

Thus, on the one hand, cultural policy is today often led routinely and without much imagination from the government and various levels of state bodies, while – on the other hand – Serbia’s independent culture scene and numerous individual actors establish a domain of dialogue in which values clash and discussions are led about the true position of art in society, but also about the broader issues of the role of art in the realisation of transitional justice.

My last book, Art and the Culture of Resistance, which is dedicate to the resistance of the ’90s, speaks precisely about artistic actions and the organisations that lead this independent cultural policy, a policy that opposes the ruling norms of the nationalisation of culture, the abuse of culture, commercialisation, ‘festivalisation’ and commodification.

New studies are needed, and new analyses of cultural policies. In my book, which has unfortunately only been published only in French as Vers les nouvelles politiques culturelles, I strive to provide answers in order for an engaged practice of cultural policy to be established. Without much nostalgia, but with great respect, I recall the times when the cultural policy was an important social topic that had – in Belgrade and Zagreb – two centres of cultural policy, and through cultural and educational communities different cultural actions were led throughout the territory of the entire country.

The history of the theory of cultural policy in Serbia deserves to be written, because we were the first country in which master’s degrees and doctorates  were awarded in cultural policy, and wherein 1969 – the world’s first magazine for cultural policy was launched – Kultura (a magazine for the theory and sociology of culture and cultural policy) .

For 15 years already, the UNESCO Chair in Cultural Policy and Management of the University of Arts in Belgrade has had a master’s programme in English and French, with over 200 students from 30 countries worldwide have earned their master’s degrees to date. I consider these kinds of programmes as being key forms of cultural diplomacy (and not the multi-million-euro illuminating of Belgrade with New Year’s lighting) because the knowledge, values and perspectives that have been achieved in our community are spread, via the alumni, worldwide and themselves become pivots of future cultural communication.