The discussion of the so-called “instrumentalization” of cultural institutions and programmes has been a key focus for the cultural policy, museum and heritage studies literatures over the past few years. This article will challenge the historical accuracy of claims that “instrumentality” is a recent “threat” to the management and funding of culture. Rather I will argue that historically, instrumental cultural policies have been policies of production. Further, through an analysis of the terms of the “instrumentalization debate” in relation to museums I will show that there is no consensus in the understanding of what constitutes instrumental or intrinsic functions. The “instrumental/intrinsic” dichotomy is too simplistic to allow grounded critical engagement with the real complexities of cultural institutions and programmes. Finally, I argue that in order to work critically with institutions, policies and programmes it is necessary to engage with the practicalities of their arrangements. To do so is to recognize the complexity of institutions which are often internally divided. While commentators simply continue to de-construct the “instrumentalist” cultural policy agenda, the reality is that some cultural institutions continue to pay, at best, lip service to the political imperative to become more inclusive. In this social and political context, critical engagement, which is grounded in the practicalities of culture's administration, is crucial if we are to develop analyses that seek to understand and contribute to the development of programmes that break with the elitisms which have characterized cultural programmes in the past
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