By Dawn

Bad, it seems to me, is a small word with a big meaning. It implies a judgement. Something defined as ‘bad’ is generally to be avoided. It is one of those words whose roots are not clear and was relatively rare before 1400 when the term “evil” was more common. Culture is ‘one of the two or three most complicated words in the English Language.’ (Raymond Williams)

So, here we have a potent combination. The unmentionable meets the indefinable! This is why I am here – it is a multidimensional concept that gives plenty of scope for exploration. It is also an interesting challenge to suggest there might be such a thing as bad culture.

My interest in it comes as a practitioner, a reformed policy maker, a researcher and someone who is often directly affected by it. My place in this gang of four, at this point in time, seems to me to be to consider how we make judgements about culture and who drives that agenda. Recent research (Moxham, 2010) into the wider nonprofit sector suggests that most of what happens under the banner of evaluation is driven by the policy makers/funders and the notion of accountability.

There is much claimed in the name of cultural evaluation and for me it is often the home of more that is bad than good. It is also somewhat of a puzzle in that it seems to remain almost universally dismissed or associated with a particular requirement that is forced upon arts and cultural organisations. All too often my involvement in evaluation programmes has shown that what is really required is an advocacy document (i.e. to demonstrate ‘good’ culture) not an in-depth reflection or analysis that might inform future practice. Not something that might be remotely linked to genuine learning. It is a site of many paradoxes that I hope to explore in the coming months.

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