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Valuing Culture

October 17, 200517 October 2005

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This discussion paper, prepared for a June conference in London (U.K.), argues that more attention must be paid to “the fundamental contribution that cultural institutions can make to our quality of life at the deepest level”, rather than instrumental arguments based on the economic, social, psychological, personal and civic impacts of the arts. For this to happen, the paper argues that policy makers and the arts community must refine instrumental arguments and find common language to explain the intrinsic cultural purposes of artistic activity. The author sees cultural organizations as “blunt and often unproven instruments of social and economic policy”.

A more balanced understanding of arts organizations’ roles, responsibilities and limits would “place economic and social arguments in a wider context and ensure that those arguments are examined and demonstrated rather than simply asserted”. Clearly, it will not be easy to shift the policy emphasis to intrinsic cultural purposes, as “these cultural purposes are themselves varied and that very variety means that a range of criteria is needed to inform public investment decisions”. In addition, the reliance on “measuring policy success through statistical data” would have to be lessened. Recent anecdotal evidence seems to show that economic and cultural arguments can make a powerful combination. See, for example, the recent increase in North Carolina’s arts funding despite the Governor’s initial recommendation of a sharp decrease in funding (Independent Online,

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