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Culture is Not an Industry

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In partnership with Manchester University Press

Culture is at the heart of what it means to be human, but 25 years ago, the British government rebranded art and culture as 'creative industries', valued for their economic contribution, and set out to launch the UK as the creative workshop of a globalised world.

Where does that leave art and culture now? Facing exhausted workers and a lack of funding and vision, culture finds itself in the grip of accountancy firms, creativity gurus and Ted Talkers. At a time of sweeping geo-political turmoil, culture has been de-politicised, its radical energies reduced to factors of industrial production. Justin O’Connor’s book Culture is Not an Industry is about what happens when an essential part of our democratic citizenship, fundamental to our human rights, is reduced to an industry.

Justin argues that art and culture need to renew their social contract and re-align with the radical agenda for a more equitable future. Join him to discuss this powerful vision for change.

'Imaginative culture - art, stories, decoration, styles - is how we anticipate the future and feel our way into it: our antennae. Treating culture as an industry, subject to the crude rules of neoliberalism, doesn't make any more sense than treating healthcare the same way. Justin O'Connor's brilliant book argues for a holistic, ecological vision of culture in which it is seen as an essential part of the maintenance of a functioning society.' - Brian Eno

'In an era of culture wars and governmental disdain for "Mickey Mouse degrees" and anything that can't have a price tag placed on it, and in the aftermath of the millennial era when post-industrial towns were supposedly transformed by giant sculptures, Justin O'Connor makes a brave and important argument that culture - high and low - is important for its own sake.' - Owen Hatherley, author of Clean Living Under Difficult Circumstances.


Justin O'Connor is Professor of Cultural Economy at the University of South Australia. His books include Red Creative: Culture and Modernity in China (2020) with Xin Gu and Reset: Art, Culture and the Foundational Economy (2022).

Part of our 2024 festival strand


How should our society overcome inequalities of race, gender, sexuality, income and disability?