“The general value of arts and culture to society has long been assumed, while the specifics have just as long been debated. Try to imagine society without the humanising influence of the arts, and you will have to strip out most of what is pleasurable in life, as well as much that is educationally critical and socially essential.
When we talk about the value of arts and culture, we should always start with the intrinsic – how arts and culture illuminate our inner lives and enrich our emotional world. This is what we cherish.
Life without the collective resources of our libraries, museums, theatres and galleries, or without the personal expression of literature, music and art, would be static and sterile – no creative arguments about the past, no diverse and stimulating present and no dreams of the future.
Of course the inherent value of arts and culture is, in part, a philosophical assertion that can’t be measured in numbers. Quantifying the benefits and expressing them in terms of facts and figures that can evidence the contribution made to our collective and individual lives has always presented a problem, but it is something that arts and culture organisations will always have to do in order to secure funding from both public and private sources.
But while we do not cherish arts and culture because of the impact on our social wellbeing and cohesion, our physical and mental health, our education system, our national status and our economy, they do confer these benefits and we need to show how important this is.
We need to be able to show this on different scales – on individual, communal and national levels – so that we can raise awareness among the public, across the cultural, educational and political sectors, and among those who influence investment in both the public and private sectors. We need this information to help people think of our arts and culture for what they are: a strategic national resource.
We also need this information to see where the impact of our work is felt, and where we don’t yet reach. We want to understand how we can do better, so that arts and culture can be truly enjoyed by everyone.
As this evidence review shows, there is a considerable body of research literature available – but there are also many gaps. There is a lack of data, for example, about the economic benefits of museums
and libraries, and about the importance of the arts to the creative industries, particularly in regard to innovation.
We lack longitudinal studies of the health benefits of participation in arts and culture, and comparative studies of the effects of participation in the arts as opposed to, say, participation in sport.
We cannot demonstrate why the arts are unique in what they do. And when it comes to crime, we have little knowledge about the effect that participation in the arts may have on reducing the numbers of people who re-offend.
In some areas, such as the environment and sustainability, and science and technology, we have a general lack of suitable research – yet these are areas in which our own experience and common sense tell us that the arts play an essential educational and communication role.
We won’t solve this problem overnight; such studies take time. But if we can work together, we will in time articulate a new language of cultural value that will help all of us to understand better the essential contribution that the arts make to our lives.
This evidence review is an important stage in making ‘the holistic case’ for arts and culture – the argument that arts and culture have an impact on our lives in complex, subtle and interrelated ways, and that each benefit relates to a cluster of other benefits.
This was also the theme of last year’s series of seminars we organised in partnership with the Royal Society of the Arts, ‘Towards Plan A: A new political economy for arts and culture’.
We know there are similar projects. Both the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Cultural Value Project and the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value will be reporting in 2015. We will work closely with both of these.
But for the first time, the Arts Council will also be committing substantial research grants to plug some of these gaps in our knowledge. One of the main problems is finding the framework and language with which to express these benefits – creating the right lens through which this transforming ghost of art, everywhere but often invisible, at last shows up as an identifiable presence. But we’ve a lot more work to do in just learning to ask the right questions. In particular we will be looking to form partnerships with the higher education research departments, drawing on their specialist knowledge, facilities and links across the cultural sector.
We won’t solve this problem overnight; such studies take time. But if we can work together, we will in time articulate a new language of cultural value that will help all of us to understand better the essential contribution that the arts make to our lives.”