CONTEXT AND GOALS
For Haute-Garonne Council, culture is a vital part of its political action. It has ringfenced its culture budget, organized more than 200 cultural events and increased grants. This was facilitated by the law dated August 7, 2015 on the ‘new territorial organization of the republic’ (known as the NOTRe law), which clearly redefined the competences of each local authority. However, part of the population still had little contact with the cultural offering and the region’s overall policy on this issue lacked clarity. Haute Garonne Council thus decided to update and better structure its cultural policy consistent with the local cultural realities and citizens’ aspirations, and with its ‘Departmental Charter for Citizen Dialogue’ (2017) that sets out a commitment to shape new policies together with local citizens.
“I wanted to open the dialogue on our cultural policy to citizens, because culture is all about openness. It is a force for emancipation driven by encounters and exchange, by recognition and respect for others.
Vice-President in charge of Culture
The consultation process spanned several stages: first, an original and amusing questionnaire during the summer to find out about citizens’ cultural practices and their visions of culture. This was followed by a citizens’ consultation, which took an informal conversational approach with five ‘cultural aperitif’ events held across the area in November. There was also a professional consultation with three meetings of 400 cultural stakeholders from across the spectrum (librarians, dance troupes, theater directors, cultural mediators, associations, etc.). Finally, there was a full co-construction process – the first of its kind in France in the cultural realm – with a citizens’ conference for in-depth analysis and work on the materials produced during the consultations and dialogues, and to return a collective opinion.
OUR ADDED VALUE
The goal for Haute-Garonne Council was to enable a broader audience – in terms of number and diversity – to access the cultural offering, and for as many citizens as possible to embrace the diverse cultural practices that make the area so vibrant.
Cultural policy is rarely open to participation in France. The cultural landscape has been subject to major change since the departmental and local authorities took on a key role following national territorial reform, alongside citizens and local stakeholders.
This aspiration to shape cultural policy jointly with stakeholders and civil society is coupled with a wish to get elected representatives and local services (culture, citizenship, sport, tourism, social, education, disability, family) involved internally in the project. With the cooperation of all these parties – elected representatives, services, civil society – it is hoped that cultural policy becomes “more effective, fairer and more inclusive” (Departmental Charter for Citizen Dialogue).
The entire procedure was carried out at a sustained pace to keep up a momentum and avoid any dip in energy. The aim was to produce a “shock” effect for the department’s cultural policy and for partner-stakeholders.
At the public meetings, it became clear that a change in attitudes and practices was necessary in many areas (accessibility, diversity of the offering, education, communication, recognition, etc.) to achieve the goal of “culture together”. It is something that certain stakeholders are already engaged in as they change the way they involve and meet audiences. The definition of “culture” was also questioned, so that activities that do not currently fall within the scope of culture can be taken on-board.
Numerous proposals and recommendations were made in response to the needs expressed: some of the responses were inspiring and others highly operational, and all of them were legitimate in that respect. Haute-Garonne Council is very grateful for the contribution made by local people and has committed to taking their recommendations into account in the strategic guidelines for its cultural policy.