Creative Economy & Cultures of Production

Reconceptualising the Public-Private Partnership in Cultural Policy: The Insights from the Historical Research of UK Film Policy

Takao Terui

To fully understand the culture, media and creative industries, the public policy for them is a fundamentally essential issue. That’s why I have been exploring cultural policy as my doctoral research theme.

I began to be particularly intrigued by the practices and history of UK cultural policy since I moved to Coventry and started my MA at the University of Warwick. What impressed me most is the collaborative relationship between the public and private sectors, which can be identified as an institutional tradition in the UK. In ideal policy cases, we can point out that, whereas the private business contributes to realising public interests, the government provides private actors with the infrastructure and freedom as a coordinator. My academic interest is to investigate the model of the public-private partnership in cultural policy and elucidate how the successful collaboration between the public institutions and private business can be realised.

To study the public-private collaboration in cultural policy, I have been researching the history of UK film policy as a central theme of my PhD. As it has been identified as both cultural symbol and economic commodity, the film has attracted the interests of both the governments and private companies from the very beginning of the twentieth century. As a result, film policy provides valuable cases of the public-private negotiations. But why do I have to research history instead of the contemporary topics related to our cultural landscape?

For me, the historical imagination is critically important in the present context because the criticism on the business and market is so dominant that makes difficult to consider alternative understanding about this issue. The group of critical researchers claim that the series of reforms characterised as deregulation, privatisation, and marketisation have undermined both the public sector and civil society since the 1980s. This tendency, they argue, is problematic, especially in the cultural policy, because it prevents us from appreciating the non-commercial value of culture and protecting its autonomy. In this context, critical research tends to focus on delineating the destructive impact on cultural policy and cultural sector caused by the introduction of the ethos of the private business.

While these researchers problematise the destructive consequences in the present, I have been examining the roles of the private enterprise in the film policy before these contemporary trends. The history of the British film policy teaches us that the private business contributed to realising educational and cultural policy to achieve public welfare in a unique way. How should we understand these non-commercial commitments by the trade? Did the private sector cause damage to public culture as it is denounced now? What was the relationship between the public and private sectors in these cases? My doctoral thesis aims to explore these questions and demonstrate the alternative model of the collaboration between the public authority and private business in UK film policy.

I am currently carrying out multi-archival research about the early history of the British Film Institute (BFI) as my PhD pilot study. Since its establishment in 1933, the BFI has played a significant role in supporting educational and cultural activities related to the film. As the BFI is commonly understood as an institute for the non-commercial aspects of the film, its relationship with the private business is relatively overshadowed. The existing research has described the BFI-trade relationship by using negative vocabularies such as “fear” “tension” “hostility” “pressure”. It implies that preceding scholarship tends to understand the relationship between the BFI and private sector as polarised or confrontational. However, the investigation of historical materials shows a more nuanced relationship between the Institute and film business. To unpack this issue, I have traced the process of negotiation between the interest groups of the film industry and non-commercial stakeholders including educationalists, film critics and policymakers.

The preliminary archival research demonstrates that, although film trade primarily concerned about their economic interests, their activities were not necessarily driven by fear or hostility toward the public sector. In contrast, they attempted to realise the public benefits by providing their resources and knowledge about the film industry. These supports from the film business was invaluable for the BFI to realise its cultural and educational goals including the construction of its film library and film archive. More importantly, the commitment of the film trade enabled the BFI to achieve its independence from the central government. In this sense, the case of the BFI exemplifies the collaborative relationship between the business and public sector. For my PhD project, I will continue exploring the critical moments of the British film policy and examine how the business and public sector attempted to realise the mutual benefits in establishing national film policy.

I am going to make more detailed presentations about this research project at the MECCSA (Media, Communication and Cultural Studies Association) Conference (2020, January) and ICCPR (International Conference on Cultural Policy Research) Conference (2020, September).

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