This article seeks to reveal the limitations of state-initiated arts and cultural projects as well as spurious notions of ‘empowerment’ by examining them in terms of homogeneity, universality and technocracy. It focuses on issues of instrumentalism with the arts and explores how state-initiated ‘community engagement’ programmes like Creative People and Places may effectively reproduce state agendas linked to social capital theory and thereby to neoliberalism. It asks a series of questions: Whose values really underpin cultural value? Who are ‘we’ and who are ‘we’ trying to ‘engage’? Whose culture are ‘we’ trying to (re)make and why? Do ‘we’ need new infrastructure; more managers? Do people in areas of low cultural engagement have their own forms of culture that some may just not consider ‘cultured’? If cultural democracy offers a different view of people power, so why is it loathed by the state?