A right to art

12 June 2004, England

A 'Right to Art' is enshrined, simply and straightforwardly, in the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But what does it mean in the contemporary world? Can we still talk about 'rights' in this way, and if we can, how is 'the right to art' dealt with in policy and in practice? In particular, how can we raise the appreciation and status of visual art in contemporary society in order to give greater meaning to such a universal right?
In this Demos report, written with the support of the Visual Arts and Galleries Association (VAGA), John Holden and Robert Hewison argue that as a signatory to the UN Declaration the British government has a responsibility to make this aspiration a reality and that:

  • Current policies preach the principle of universal access to visual art, but this is not being achieved in practice.
  • Not just cultural policy, but educational policy must address the problem of society's lack of visual literacy.
  • The contribution of visual artists to the economy is underestimated and misunderstood.
  • To encourage visual literacy and the exercise of the right to art, a new language must inform public policy.
  • That language is the language of public value, where the instrumental drives of social and economic policy find a new context in the moral, creative and collective values expressed by the right to art.