Value of arts and culture to people and society

I have just read this forward by Sir Peter Bazalgette  from a report from Arts Council England and thought it was worth uploading because it starts to discuss the value of the arts not just from an economic perspective.
In my mind it is important that we can justify the arts and culture to people and society in terms of other values.
I know how important participation in the arts is to the older people I am currently working with in Scotland.
In The Kingdom That Danced     The full report is at the end of this post.


“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.

In The Kingdom That Danced

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.”

Art As Action


We are organising last minute details for our conference that is happening tomorrow

I am trying to stay calm but things are moving so fast and, on a limited budget, it is hard to keep things on track.

But in terms of the big picture I think it should be good. We have some great speakers and an amazing group of people coming. It will be, as they say, a good and lively debate.

I am speaking for ten minutes in the morning and have been thinking about what I might say. I will be very optimistic  about the people engaged with this conference. We have such a good cross section of people from many different sectors of the community, the arts, local authorities, charitable organisations, people working in areas of health and well-being and academics. A lively mix. But I am quite concerned about the way we currently work together, how we organise ourselves and how the funding works etc. I have a nagging suspicion that we could work better together and we should consider each other as complementary partners and not forget who we are working for.

I am currently working for a group of people who are living pretty chaotic lives. I am based in a homeless hostel in Newcastle’s West End. Sometimes it can be depressing. I work to try and take people’s minds off the things that trouble them – which can lead them into taking an excess of drugs or alcohol to dampen the pain that I imagine they feel. I hope that by introducing some creative projects into their lives that, maybe for a time, they will see an alternative to the deadening of their minds, their emotions and their creative spirits.

I have worked here for two years now and I know it has been useful for some people that I have been around. Many people have told me that their relationship with the arts has given them something extra, something that their support workers, the probation service  and the health workers cannot give them. It is a privilege to see the the progression that some people make with their lives and working with them teaches me about resilience and determination and the joy of the simplest thing. Sometimes I see people make incredible progress only to then see them fall back into their old ways. That makes me really sad.

But I also know the arts have helped some of them to grow – helped them in their battles with addiction- helped them feel better about themselves – helped them to live healthier lives – helped them to progress to independent living – helped them look at the world differently with more optimism – helped them to see a brighter future for themselves – helped them to lift their spirits when they have felt depressed and helped them in more ways than iI can imagine.

I believe the work will also have saved money for local authorities across the country and national governments. In the age of austerity governments and local authorities have a duty to consider what the arts are able to do.They should accept the finding of many reports that tell them that the arts are extremely good value for money. That they are helpful in creating better  lives for all citizens.

We must change the attitudes of the people in positions of power  that believe the arts are irrelevant – because they are simply wrong.

I hope our conference goes a little way to helping us achieve this goal.