‘To be Shared by All:’ Democracy and Decentralisation at the Arts League of Service, 1919-37

Activity: Academic and Industrial eventsConference, workshop or symposium


I gave a talk at the 2018 20s30s Network Workshop, 'Publics'. My abstract was as follows:

Formed in the aftermath of the Great War, the Arts League of Service (ALS) was inspired by the belief that the ‘benefits to mankind of education, culture and art were to be shared by all’. Its Art and Drama committees sought to broaden public interest in and access to the arts via exhibitions, lectures, conferences with trade unions, sales of cheap reproductions and a group of travelling players who performed in village halls across Britain. It described itself as a ‘propagandist agency’, seeking to promote the arts among audiences of different classes, manufacturers, public bodies and legislators.

This paper will give a brief introduction to the pioneering – and all but forgotten – work of the ALS, aiming to place it in a broader context of efforts to improve public taste in interwar Britain. It will consider the ALS alongside other organisations and institutions aiming to educate, inform and (sometimes) entertain the public, such as the BBC, London Underground, General Post Office, British Council, Royal Society of Arts and Artists International Association. In doing so, I will ask what such groups meant by the singular term ‘the public’, questioning whether organisers and policy-makers saw themselves as part of this mass or not. In other words, it will investigate the extent to which such groups participated in cultural paternalism, seeking to impose a top-down vision of what art and culture should look like onto an unsuspecting public.
Period19 May 2018
Held atKing’s College London , United Kingdom