Cultural Capital: The Rise and Fall of Creative Britain

How money, politics and managerialism turned a golden age for culture into lead

Britain began the twenty-first century convinced of its creativity. Throughout the New Labour era, the visual and performing arts, museums and galleries, were ceaselessly promoted as a stimulus to national economic revival, a post-industrial revolution where spending on culture would solve everything, from national decline to crime. Tony Blair heralded it a “golden age.” Yet despite huge investment, the audience for the arts remained a privileged minority. So what went wrong?

In Cultural Capital, leading historian Robert Hewison gives an in-depth account of how creative Britain lost its way. From Cool Britannia and the Millennium Dome to the Olympics and beyond, he shows how culture became a commodity, and how target-obsessed managerialism stifled creativity. In response to the failures of New Labour and the austerity measures of the Coalition government, Hewison argues for a new relationship between politics and the arts.


  • “A brilliant analysis of the way that the intrinsic value of art was undermined by a Blair-led government’s attempts to control creative production and turn it into an instrument of social engineering. It is a timely warning about the dangers of political interference and a rallying cry for art to both be publicly supported and maintain a hard won independence. Art needs this independence from power in order to show us to ourselves in ways that the media and politics never do and never can.”
  • “Long Britain’s best chronicler of culture and political policy, Robert Hewison turns his unflinching gaze on the New Labour era, a time of targets, access and excellence for all, complete with the National Lottery, Cool Britannia, the Millennium Dome and the 2012 Olympics. It’s not a pretty sight, and his findings of folly, incompetence and vanity will entertain and disturb readers in equal measure. They should also embarrass any politicians and arts administrators who retain a degree of self-awareness.”
  • “This is essential reading for anyone who has the slightest interest in the funding of the arts in this country.”
  • “Hewison’s analysis of how a golden age turned to lead is highly authoritative, well argued & conceptually robust.”
  • “I could hardly put it down: so forceful, lucid, objective, blackly funny, deeply depressing and URGENTLY NECESSARY.”


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