How should policymakers account for the value of art?by Patricia Kaszynska / April 28, 2013 / Leave a comment
Given the widespread agreement that culture matters, it is astonishing how difficult it is to say why. The discussion seems to veer between emphatic assertions that art has truly “transformative” effects and more specific claims that the UK has the largest cultural and creative sector in the world relative to GDP, accounting for more than 7 per cent of the economy. Neither position seems to convince the public in a satisfactory way. The Cultural Value Project—a two-year, £2m research initiative funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council—seeks to address this blind spot. The objective of the project, officially launched in March, is to develop new perspectives on this old question.
For nearly three decades, the value of cultural and artistic activities has been measured by government in instrumental terms: economic impact; urban regeneration; improved educational attainment; better health; reduced unemployment; curtailed reoffending rates; and so on. While these might well be plausible registers of the benefits of culture and art, they are hard to evidence. Putting culture into the straitjacket of predefined outcomes and targets has led to crude oversimplifications, and this has provoked a backlash from those keen to “salvage” the arts from the tyranny of instrumentalism. Yet, the default position of many of those criticising the traditional policy approach is equally unsatisfactory. Far too often, anti-instrumentalists have argued that cultural experience belongs solely to the realm of the ineffable. This, in some extreme cases, quasi-mystical insistence that no concepts used in other areas of life co…