A central question for this blog is whether the value of culture can be measured by government in monetary (or other) terms, or if it is ‘priceless’ and beyond measurement. But why ask this question in the first place?
We live in a financial climate where all areas of public services face scrutiny. Supporters of economic valuation of the cultural sector believe that monetised evidence is the surest way to demonstrate past successes and to secure future funds. The language of economics is the logic of government: if the cultural sector does not speak in these terms it will suffer. Economic or other quantifiable measures of cultural value may be crude, but over time will become more sophisticated, including measures of the impact of the arts or heritage on happiness and wellbeing, for example.
A case for exceptionalism?
Opponents argue that the cultural sector is different from other areas of public spending, and that the language of business and markets does not fit. There is a different rulebook – if there is a rulebook at all – and the value of culture transcends blunt economic measures. Indeed, for this very reason, public investment in the cultural sector should be without strings.
But can we realistically maintain that public funds be asked for and spent without accountability? Why should funds be given to a museum or a library rather than to a hospital or a school? Is to want evidence of cultural value the height of philistinism, or a wider concern that, for example, government spending will bring high quality arts experiences to those who would otherwise be excluded?
Never the Twain?
This blog thread poses many questions, and I hope that you will provide some comments. But I wonder if the argument needs to be as polarised as I have presented it? It would be great to hear from people working in the cultural sector – with large-scale or small-scale enterprises – about how you best demonstrate the value of what you do.
Do only economic measures make sense? Are you pragmatic, and speak whatever funding language you need to? Are there novel ways of demonstrating cultural value that other areas of government could learn from?
Share your views on these questions or other aspects of measuring cultural value via the comments section below.
Dr Claire Donovan is a Reader in the Health Economics Research Group at Brunel University, London. ‘Measuring Cultural Value (Phase 2)’ is jointly funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, and the DCMS.
This interactive blog seeks to stimulate discussion across the cultural sector on the very idea of measuring cultural value. Dr Claire Donovan is an academic working at DCMS to write a report on this issue, and wants to know what you think. Can the value of culture be measured by government in monetary (or other) terms, or is it ‘priceless’?
Receipt image used with permission from Adrian Lander Photography