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Cultural Value Project

August 24, 201624 August 2016

Social and economic benefits of the arts and culture

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This report summarizes the findings of 70 specially-commissioned research studies regarding the value of culture in the United Kingdom – “the difference to individuals, society and the economy that engagement with arts and culture makes”.

Working outwards from the individual experience of culture, the report outlines many components of cultural value, such as:

  • Shaping reflective individuals, by generating “greater understanding of themselves and their lives, increasing empathy with respect to others, and an appreciation of the diversity of human experience and cultures”.
  • Producing engaged citizens who vote, volunteer, and may “articulate alternatives to current assumptions and fuel a broader political imagination. All are fundamental to the effectiveness of democratic political and social systems.” However, the report indicates that there has been “very limited evidence about the success” of government programs designed to build influence and trust internationally.
  • “Peace-building and healing after armed conflict, helping communities to deal with the sources of trauma and bring about reconciliation”.
  • “Supporting healthier and more balanced communities”, especially via “small-scale cultural assets – studios, live-music venues, small galleries, and so on” rather than major building projects.
  • Economic impacts, although the report “questions the significance and at times the quality of economic impact studies”, arguing that “the distinctive contributions of arts and culture to the economy” are “the ways in which arts and culture feeds into the creative industries, supports the innovation system, and attracts talent and investment to places”.
  • Improving health and wellbeing, supported by “powerful evidence” into topics such as “dedicated arts therapies, the use of art and design to produce better healthcare environments, community arts interventions to improve social inclusion and mental health, and the benefits of engagement for older people and also for those suffering with dementia”.
  • How arts in education underpins “learning, such as cognitive abilities, confidence, motivation, problem-solving and communication skills”.

Key challenges in understanding the value of culture include “inequality of access to arts and culture”, the wide variety of settings and modes of engagement in culture, as well as the “growth of digital technologies, which not only provide new ways for people to connect with cultural institutions but also new ways to experience commercial culture”.

The report also considers methodologies used to measure cultural value. As noted by the authors, “identifying what happens in cultural experiences is not an easy task”. In this context, the report calls for a “wider application of evaluation as a tool within the cultural sector itself” (not just for accountability). It also argues for increased standards of rigour in cultural research and “multi-criteria analyses and a range of [research] approaches”.

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