What we can’t learn from the US (yet)…

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By Tina

It is rather common and understandable that people, businesses and governments see a success story elsewhere and want to replicate it closer to home. Perhaps this explains the recent public discourse according to which the UK should be aiming to reach the levels of individual charitable giving in the US.

There are subtle signs of this in the Giving White Paper, which references the US three times, as well as more overt discussions in countless reports and articles arguing both for and against using the US as the benchmark for future levels of giving in the UK. In theory, there would be nothing wrong with that – if anything, it’s good to be aspirational and to set high targets, especially when they underline a ‘worthy’ cause (namely increasing levels of charitable giving). In practice, however, any superficial exercise of comparing the levels of giving in the UK and theUS is unhelpful at best and demoralising at worst.

First the figures:

Just over half (56%) of the adult population were philanthropically active in the UK in 2010 (CAF/NCVO), as opposed to more than 80% in the US in 2002 (The Future of Philanthropy). Though even here we don’t have directly comparable figures, we clearly see a big difference relating to the penetration rates of philanthropy.

Furthermore, with some quick comparisons between the different sources, we find that per capita giving to culture in the UK stands at around £9, in contrast to approximately £22 in the US.* This is more than twice as much giving to the arts per person in the US than in the UK.

Next the caveats:

As this is in-line with the gap between US and UK giving overall, it exemplifies that the lower levels of giving in the UK are not specific to the arts, but rather a result of an overarching issue most likely related to the culture, ability or incentives for giving (or lack of). And then there are further questions relating to the culture (and necessity) of asking in both countries.

Finally, the questions:

Such questions are likely to shed more light into why the differences in levels of giving are so stark and why it is so difficult to compare:

How many cultural organisations are there in the UK and the US?

  • How much is received on average per organisation?
  • How many fundraisers on average do they employ?
  • How much is invested in fundraising (directly and indirectly)?
  • What percentage of US cultural organisations receive public funding?
  • What proportion of their overall income does public funding account for?
  • What proportion of the population engages with culture as audiences?
  • What proportion of the population gives to cultural causes?

Only when we start answering these questions (and more) will we be in a position to begin to understand why this massive gap of giving between the two countries exists and more importantly, how it can be bridged.

The latest figures on cultural giving in the US are now available here – please note this includes individual giving as well as funding from businesses and trusts and foundations.

*Calculations are based on the following figures/sources:

  • UK adult population: 39m (Office for National Statistics)
  • US adult population: 248m (US Census Bureau)
  • UK individual giving to culture: £363m (Arts & Business)
  • US individual giving to culture: £5.6b (Calculations on Giving USA Foundation)

Why bad culture?

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By Tina

The UK has by many accounts an excellent cultural provision, with exceptional arts organisations and first-class museums and heritage. So why are we talking about “bad” culture here?

The cultural sector is by no means perfect and its successes unfortunately do not always extend across the UK and to all organisations or cultural policy-making. One of the main reasons is because the UK has many and different cultural organisations, varying in artform, size, resources, reach, remit, and region. And these factors, in addition to multiple others, play an important role in how well organisations do (financially at least).

Bad culture, or bad cultural policies, ignore these factors and the impact they have on cultural organisations and their fundraising achievements. They also often fail to recognise that the sector does not exist in a vacuum and that it’s not just internal factors related to organisations themselves that determine their performance (in the business not artistic sense of the word).

Any research in this area therefore needs to seriously consider the implications that external factors also have for the sector, or risk overlooking the true intricacies at play when analysing and making sense of private investment trends in particular. Even private investment itself comprises different types and levels of giving from different sources and driven by different motivations – if not explored in detail it is unlikely (or potentially impossible) to get the level of insight necessary to translate into recommendations that will truly yield the “returns” people are hoping for.

Understanding that the sector is competing for people’s time and money, against a plethora of other options is therefore imperative. And placing cultural organisations in the context of the wider charitable sector is also necessary, as is thinking about the economy and what impact this is likely to have on business objectives for sponsorship, and disposable income for individuals. And this is all coupled with the voluntary and unpredictable nature of charitable giving in general, which in itself is likely to have ramifications on policies in this area.

My posts over the following months, will therefore aim to look at these issues (amongst others) in more detail. And in line with the purpose of this blog they will also interrogate relevant articles, reports and policy recommendations focusing specifically on the themes of private investment, particularly from businesses (sponsorship) and individuals (philanthropy and crowdfunding).

Time saver for artists?

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By Jon

Literally minutes of fun from this.


Not sure whether to view it as a rival or a likely source of material.

Time & Money

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By Jon

To my surprise, it was Benjmain Franklin who coined the phrase ‘Time is Money’ (although like most of Western civilisation he was simply repackaging an idea inherited from the ancient Greeks).

Since time is the most precious commodity we have, it provides an uncomplicated measure of how important something is. Not unreasonably, we conclude the more time someone spends doing something, the more valuable (or enjoyable or vital) they consider it to be. As a printer-scientist-statesman-author-cum-diplomat, Franklin certainly filled time with things that were important to him.

Back in April, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) released one of their periodic research notes entitled ‘Time and Money: Using Federal Data to Measure the Value of the Arts’. While this is now a couple of months old, it seems like as good a place as any for Bad Culture to start. Here is the opening sentence from the abstract:

This Note examines large datasets from multiple federal sources including the U.S. Economic Census, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), to arrive at monetary and non-monetary value measurements of the nation’s performing arts sector.

The Key Findings from this report are short and eminently readable, so I won’t repeat them verbatim here. Suffice to say that the report suggests Americans value the performing arts highly, due to some big numbers derived from the time and money spent on them.

Digging a bit deeper, the standard categories used in federal datasets are not designed to facilitate this kind of analysis in the arts. For example, the relevant category in the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey is ‘Admissions to movies, theatres and amusement parks’. I’m assuming that, in an ideal world, the NEA would disaggregate at least two of these subheadings from the numbers. (A similar issue arises if you try to quantify time spent in galleries. These are commonly subsumed into a general ‘Museums’ category, although it doesn’t doesn’t really come up here as the focus is on the performing arts).

On monetary statistics where direct comparisons can be made, the performing arts come out as less valuable than sports, and have mixed results when compared to movie-going. Drawing conclusions from such general and high level numbers is hard, but this kind of relative analysis is rarely done and is all the more interesting for it.

Section 3 presents summarised time use data, based on day long diaries in which people denote their activities. Here the performing arts look to be well attended and sociable. Again, the data is notable for presenting the kind of relative statistics that aren’t always available – performing arts attendance is done later in the evening than sports, while museum visits occur at lunchtime. More people go to the theatre than to a baseball game with their spouse.

The NEA has had a difficult few months (although it has a difficult few months every year at budget time) but irrespective of the merits of that debate, I’m a devotee of their research notes and reports. They generally contain interesting interpretations of reliable data, but don’t overstate the conclusions that can be drawn. This is not always the case in the cultural sector, hence the blog.

Where their methodology is imperfect, they are upfront about it. Where it is unclear whether data is showing correlation or causality, the NEA themselves point this out  the question (their comprehensive 2010 report on technology and engagement is a case in point). Time and Money is no exception, as they note the difficulties in each dataset and the inherent limitations of trying to assign value on temporal and monetary statistics alone.

That said, I’d like to a level of analysis above and beyond what they pesent here. The relative statistics are interesting, but I wonder about the possibility of assessing the level of separation between populations that attend sports, arts, movies and other cultural activities. To put it another way, in a Venn diagram showing attendance for each category, how significant is the overlap between the arts circle and the other cultural circles? To put it still another way, are we talking about a small number of Ben Franklin-types who engage in all types of cultural activity, or separate groups who engage in one activity but don’t stray across to others. I’m not sure whether it is way the dataset is collected that prevents this, or whether it is simply outside their scope.

The ‘Final Thoughts’ section is also of particular interest as a whistle stop tour through the benefits and difficulties of performing a quantifiable assessment of the value of the cultural activity. It looks at similar techniques and comes to similar conclusions as to the recent DCMS report Measuring the Value of Culture, although it is less dense and more accessible. I would love to see how the performing arts compare to sports, museums, TV watching and surfing the internet across different measurement techniques.

The ‘Final Thoughts’ promises a follow up report on Value Added methods of assessing the value of the arts. That promises tomake good reading, and we will certainly cover it here.

Finally, I note with satisfaction that an average of 0.5 million Americans write every day for personal pleasure, and that they write (on average) for 1.5 hours, generally in the evening. Alas, it isn’t possible from the data to tell how many are constructing poetry or prose, and how many merely doing something more functional.

Like blogging.

Bad Culture

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By Jon

Today we launch Bad Culture.

As our About page says, it’s a blog about cultural policy, the value of culture and cultural investment, written by four people with shared interests but different perspectives.

These are big and broad topics. But thanks to the heavy lifting done by Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science and Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy (among others) to spread the ‘Bad’ meme, the title should give some idea of where we’re going.

We’re going to write about the arguments used in cultural policy discussions, and the data and analysis that go with them. This is still a wide remit, so over the next couple of weeks each of us will be writing some thoughts on what ‘Bad Culture’ is about.

For me, examples of what others have written serve that purpose best.

Take Eleanora Belfiore’s essay about the disregard for truth in cultural policy debates. Drawing on the work of philosopher Harry Frankfurt, she illustrates what she sees as a prevalence of bullshit in various policy documents. The results are highly entertaining and, an example of where I hope Bad Culture will venture.

Or take John Kay’s criticism of economic impact assessments and what he sees as weaknesses in the evidence base being presented to him.

Or take Ben Eltham on the problems with piracy statistics that are being used to justify legislation and legal action.

Or finally, when in his book ‘Good and Plenty‘, Tyler Cowen asked why public funds spent on cultural provision are not better spent providing healthcare for Haitian children, he is highlighting that some arguments in favour of public subsidy for the arts are not actually very good. 

And therin lies the point. In all walks of life, some arguments are well-developed and well-evidenced, and some are not.

When the arguments in question relate to cultural policy, it’s the role of Bad Culture to try and work out the difference.

We hope you enjoy the blog.