A missing municipalist legacy: the GLC and the changing cultural politics of Southbank Centre

Spring 2020
DOI: 10.3898/SOUN.74.02.2020

The Southbank Centre tends to minimise its inheritance from the GLC - reflecting a wider practice of silencing alternatives to neoliberalism.

This article analyses key moments in the cultural history of Southbank Centre and focuses on two important legacies, one which is widely celebrated and the other marginalised. It discusses the 1951 Festival of Britain and the ways in which this heritage permeates recent and current working practices at Southbank Centre, and compares this to the mostly silenced legacy of the policies of Ken Livingstone’s GLC towards participatory arts and accessible public space. Drawing on a wide range of interviews, it argues that Livingstone’s GLC’s radical arts policies and high profile funding galvanised participatory arts at Southbank Centre, and the launch of the Open Foyer Policy in 1983 promoted democratic access to the site. This historical example of the potential of municipalism is mostly missing from discourses of cultural workers for Southbank Centre today. The prevailing silence on this period of municipal socialism is part of a wider silencing of alternatives to neoliberal capitalism.

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