Impact and Effect: Contested Cultural Values
It’s taken me a few days to blog about a Research and Knowledge Exchange event I attended last week at Creative Scotland’s swanky Waverley Gate premises in Edinburgh. The title of the event was research and knowledge exchange in the Creative Industries: Impact and Effect and it was a joint effort on behalf of the Institute for Capitalising on Creativity (St Andrews University) and Strathclyde University. The running order is available here:
I’m not going to take you through each presentation but instead try to draw out the most interesting themes that emerged from the event and the discussion that ensued. For me, the overriding theme was contestation. Specifically, contestation over the appropriateness of the existing criteria used to value cultural activity. A few of my tweets from the day emphasise the absence of agreement the issue:
It’s important to stress that the audience was not naive to the requirement to ‘measure’, or even to demonstrate an economic return for the investment of public resources into the arts and cultural sector. Rather, there was a sense that increasingly standardised ‘checklist’ models of assigning value were too blunt a tool. Although presenting findings on the economic impact of the Edinburgh Festivals, Ulrike Chouguley of BOP Consulting provided an interesting angle on the ‘value’ of these internationally renowned events, suggesting that cultural experience emerged as the most important driver of economic impact. She also challenged existing conventional wisdom in relation to the concept of additionality because, for small festivals, local spend (which is important to their activities) is not captured and, yet, might be of fundamental importance to the contribution of the festivals socially and culturally. That discussion led me to comment that we should be focusing more on return on objectives (ROO) rather than return on investment (ROI) as a more holistic method of evaluating the success of a particular event or cultural activity. Of course, for this to be possible, there needs to be a productive dialogue with those policy makers and political leaders who shape the meta-narrative around the value of any public investment and I’m not suggesting that will be easy – particularly in a period of intense scrutiny on public resources. That said, if arts and cultural organisations are currently unable to make their case effectively because the language and method of legitimation is alien to it, then something needs to be done. With the marketisation of arts and culture and just about everything else, it cannot be a surprise to anyone that we are tied into a phrase regime of ROI.
However, one presentation at the event provided an alternative way of looking at the role of arts, culture and creativity – one that foregrounded the importance of people, place and community as a means of (eventually) providing a sustainable economic model. Professor Alan Pert, of the University of Strathclyde’s Centre for Community Practice (CCP) and NORD talked eloquently of a local campaign to save the Govanhill Baths in the Southside of Glasgow. Most striking was the way in which research, arts and culture and policy makers interacted in the course of a successful campaign to re-open this historic community resource despite originally being the victim of the test of ROI by Glasgow City Council. By demonstrating the centrality of this communal space to the people of this ward and working closely with them to develop the capacity and confidence to overturn the original decision to close the pool, a bright new future is being ‘created’. Art, music, festivals and other creative practices are at the heart of the Govanhill project and, somewhat ironically, the local council is now contracting with the CCP to provide services in the area – perhaps a demonstration that cultural institutions need to play the long game in persuading governments of their value to people and to places.
All in all, the event was thoroughly enjoyable and left me with a set of questions that I hope you can help answer:
- How can arts and cultural organisations influence the criteria upon which they are judged by funders and policy makers?
- How can arts and cultural organisations make the case that they should be judged on their objectives and not simply on narrow judgements of return on investment?
- How can arts and cultural organisations secure greater public understanding of the value of their activities in light of competing calls for public resources and the prevailing economic imperatives
Note the absence of a checklist to capture your responses…