Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Paul Nagle.
In yesterday’s post, I spoke about the need for our cultural community to participate in international cultural policy discussions. And today, ICSCS received an email from Dr. David O’Brien of the Department of Culture Media and Sport in the United Kingdom, expressing interest in our work (news travels fast - gotta love the internet!) and bringing our attention to a recent report that his agency produced on strategies for dealing with the quandary of valuing the benefits of the arts Measuring the value of culture: A report to the Department for Culture Media and Sport .
He also sent along a link for a 1/31/2011 news story, published in a London School of Economics blog called British Politics and Policy at LSE, which I have excerpted below. It not only illustrates the fact that arts workers around the world have a common struggle, but it points out that we have something to learn from other sectors as well, in this case the environmental movement, which has come up with imperfect, but workable valuations for benefits derived from a healthy ecology. Read…
The arts and cultural sector faces ‘apocalyptic’ cuts in austere Britain. But new ways of looking at economic value can help to make the case for culture
“The prospects for the arts and cultural sector have been described in apocalyptic terms, with cuts to national and local funding for the arts coming at a time when private sector funding and individual philanthropy is dwindling. The reduction of state support has been described by Sir Nicholas Serota as a potential ‘Blizkrieg’ on the traditional mixed economy of arts and cultural funding, and requires rethinking the way arts and cultural funding is valued.”
Lessons from the Green Movement
A recent report by Missions Model Money encourages the sector abandon their suspicions of economics and embrace microeconomic valuation techniques. The Green Movement has taken this approach by developing the field of environmental economics. Running alongside the development of scientific consensus on major environmental issues, environmental economics has made aspects of our natural world that we wouldn’t usually associate with price and money visible in governmental cost benefit analysis. This isn’t to say that all decisions are sensible, or that they reflect the advice of environmental science. But at least the Green Movement now has a way to talk to central government in its own language.
The arts and culture sector can tread the same path as the environmentalists but it will take a bit of a leap of faith. After being told, regular as clockwork since the early 1990s, that the arts and cultural sector needs a new way of ‘proving’ its worth, there’s a danger that a comment like ‘learn to speak economics’ will be greeted with a resigned shrug and seen as another box to be ticked, with another consultant’s fee to be paid. Another issue is that the language of economics isn’t easy: techniques like ‘willingness to pay’ surveys or ‘subjective well-being income compensations’ require expertise to carry out and interpret so they make sense. But they add another layer to the arts and cultural sector’s answer to the economic question.”
So now, through these blogs, I have established some fundamentals for our principles of inquiry. We at ICSCS believe that in order to create a new and more effective narrative of culture’s critical importance to human society, we need to conduct multiple lines of inquiry: We need to look beyond our borders; we need to look beyond our sector; we need all sorts of streams of research and data: literature reviews, data assembly, surveys, discussions, ethnography and artistic interpretation, even though we can’t see at this moment how they might all eventually be synthesized into a cohesive argument for the arts. The first task is to open our minds to possibilities beyond those we have already thought of. The next task is to use our talents as artists, our ability to think in non-linear ways, to imagine what does not yet exist and to make visible what is known but not yet seen, in order to decipher together the meanings and applications of all the new ideas we will be discovering together.