The contemporary cultural policy of the Republic of Poland is an intentional and systematic intervention of central and local governments in the field of culture and its industries. Cultural policy is based on the welfare state model and combines the state’s responsibility for fostering cultural development and preserving national heritage with market reality and digital revolution. It can be characterised by a high degree of decentralisation, in which a substantial amount of responsibility for supporting and financing culture lies with local authorities. The whole system provides a guarantee for a relatively stable operation of a high number of public cultural institutions.
Both the goals and principles of the cultural policy in Poland are formulated in accordance with standards established by democratic European states. As the other EU member states, Poland is free to develop cultural policies in its own way, without the unification of cultural institutions, setting their own goals and determining priorities. Poland implements this autonomy to the full extent, which can be especially observed in case of assigning new priorities to cultural policies, whose characteristics are strongly determined by the political programme of a ruling party in a given period.
The current goals of Polish cultural policy are:
- Preservation of national and cultural identity;
- Assurance of equal access to culture;
- Promotion of creative output and high-quality cultural goods and services;
- Diversification of cultural offer, taking into account the variety of social groups.
The current principles of Polish cultural policy are:
- Decentralisation of decision-making processes regarding the organisation and financing of cultural activities;
- Fostering community participation in decision-making processes by organising expert panels and initiating public discussions regarding possible solutions for key problems;
- Ensuring the transparency of decision-making processes;
- Applying the principle of subsidiarity: decisions concerning culture are made by those, to whom they pertain. Central authorities cannot make decisions concerning local affairs instead of local governments, unless they have been specifically authorised to do so.
We can identify two basic periods that characterise the development of Polish cultural policy in the last 75 years. Both are directly linked to the political system implemented in Poland during each period, i.e., the period 1945-1989 was characterised by real socialism and the period from 1989 onwards is characterised by parliamentary democracy and a market economy.
Distinguishing features of the first period include limited sovereignty, a one-party system and a planned economy. Cultural activities were organised under a system characterised by a high level of centralisation, institutionalisation and a monopoly of state property. The decision-making process regarding the development of cultural activities was strongly politicised and the creative arts were subject to political censorship. The principles of cultural policy were created by both the Ministry of Culture and Arts, and the Cultural Division of the Central Committee of the PZPR (Polish Communist Party). At the same time, the growth rate of public cultural expenditure was higher than the growth rate of the GDP, which gave the state legitimacy to act in this field. The “Fund of Development for Culture” was established in 1982 as a means to secure this position. Between 1982 and 1989, expenditure on culture within the overall state budget rose from 1.25% to 1.81%. This relatively high level of public funding for culture enabled wider access to cultural goods and services and a feeling that professional stabilisation for artists’ working conditions was being achieved.
In the beginning of the second period – since 1989 – Poland has undergone a process of political and economic transformations, while the state re-established its new responsibilities of a social nature. Those responsibilities were formulated in the preamble to the Constitution of the Republic of Poland.
The major changes which have taken place in the cultural sector since 1989 revolve around the following principles:
- The implementation of the right of freedom of artistic creation, education and use of cultural assets, as well as to conduct scientific research and announce their results, granted by the Constitution (1997).
- The creation of a new legal framework, allowing to organise and conduct cultural activities within a market economy (Act on Organising and Conducting Cultural Activity of 25 October 1991, with later amendments and annexes; Act of Law on Associations of 7 April 1989, with later amendments and annexes; and a number of other legal solutions).
- Changes in the public responsibilities for culture came in the wake of a more general process of decentralisation of state powers and the subsequent reform of several laws.
- The decentralisation of power of the public administration concerning culture – transferring the majority of cultural institutions from the central government to local governments, operating at three levels: provincial (Voivodeship), district (Poviat) and municipal/communal (Gmina). The responsibility for local cultural activities and the establishment of local cultural institutions is shared between the provincial, district and municipal administrations.
- The privatisation of the majority of cultural industries, previously owned by the central (socialist) state.
- A true eruption of civic organisations in the cultural sector – in the 1990s, foundations and associations started to be formed. However, despite their growing potential, they are still not regarded as real partners of local government administrations or the state in the field of culture (e.g. as agencies to distribute public funds).
- Efforts were made to prepare Poland for gaining access to EU funds, especially the EU’s Structural Funds. In this context, emphasis has been placed on developing regional approaches to the development of culture (2003-2004).
- The awareness of the significance of culture as a development factor is increasing in the face of dynamic socio-economic and technological transformations. Categories such as cultural industries and creative industries appear. The concept of the creative economy is being defined, in order to highlight the creative component in production, not only for symbolic goods, i.e. cultural goods. The scope of public funding has been expanded. Currently, it refers to the main cultural domains together with cultural and creative industries. This can be seen, for example, in the subsidy programs of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.(2018).
- Since 2018, after years of absence in both government policy and public debate, the topic of developing a support system for artists, creators and performers is back on the agenda. Currently, government research-based work on a new law on professional artist rights is pending. It is worth noting the participatory nature, which means that artistic circles are broadly included in its development.
Main features of the current cultural policy model (in the profile authors’ opinion)
After 1989, culture and its management in Poland underwent substantial changes, as already touched upon above. In the 1990s, the transformation from planned to market economy, as well as administrative reforms, have extorted a series of adaptation processes within the cultural sector, many of which could be described as radical in their nature. Even though those processes could not be considered as the result of strategic thinking regarding cultural development, but rather as by-products of the administrative changes that Poland had undergone, they still brought many positive effects.
On the one hand, cultural stakeholders, such as artists, creators, performers and producers or managers, engage freely in the discussion regarding innovative methods of cultural management, cross-sectoral partnerships or the economic importance of culture. They operate and create within various cultural fields and industries, expressing their passion through civic engagement and activities, applying new technologies and constantly developing the third sector in Poland. Drawing examples from international models, they actively search for and utilise diverse financial resources, including EU funding and private donations. On the other hand, the decentralisation of cultural administration allowed all levels of local governments to focus on strategic planning in the area of cultural development.
Overall, Poland and its citizens have been successful in adapting to the new political, economic and administrative reality. They actively seek and implement solutions to such contemporary challenges as globalisation or the economic crisis, including those challenges arising from the notion of a globalised culture. Can we expect more? Perhaps yes, however, in the context of those changes, we certainly experience a great amount of satisfaction. Yet, when we look back from 2020’s perspective, many more systemic changes in the cultural sector could have been implemented in accordance with the original framework of Polish cultural policy and the new legal system.