Assorted links

Leave a comment

by Jon

Too many interesting things in the last couple of weeks, too little time to blog. So here are some assorted links that may be of interest.

– For those campaigning against changes to higher education funding in the UK, Alex Tabbarok and Tyler Cowen have some posts at Marginal Revolution that make challenging reading. This one on puppetry is particularly good. Statistics of the type quoted make the economic case for an arts education a tough sell. Other arguments are much stronger, as Tabbarok suggests, and his new book on Innovation will be one to read.

Proof that there is value in an artistic education, albeit only for a given definition of value… Should we be surprised that the biggest gains accrue to men?

– Artsblog have been doing one of their periodic blog salons on arts and business. As ever, the content is mixed, but there is some good stuff in there. Repeat after me, though – Creativity does not equal Innovation.

– The Jack of Kent blog is written by David Allen Green, one of the UK’s best and highest profile skeptics and here he writes about art, art exhibitions and the value of thinking for yourself. As ever the comments are extremely high quality.

– Robin Hanson writing that the psychic value of an artwork depends on the direct physical connection to the artist.

– Public subsidy for solar power is causing controversy. I’m not entirely clear on the balance of funding for this scheme, but it is a fascinating way to wean an arts organisation off public money.

– Mitt Romney made headlines when he pledged to cut arts funding by 50%. This is a compelling read on what the pledge says about him and why it is likely to fail. I would ask: why 50%? What is so special about 50% that it’s become the percentage of choice for attention-seeking right wing politicians?

– Finally, an interview with me in Swedish in a Swedish newspaper. We talked about cultural policy, arts funding and the impact the recession has had on both. I have no idea what it says, so I’m choosing to believe I come across very well.

Advertisements

An interview with John Kreidler – Part II

1 Comment

By Jon

A few weeks ago we featured an interview with John Kreidler conducted when launched the online cultural modelling tool, Medici’s lever. In this second interview, we asked him what insights the lever had provided, one year on, and talked about the wider implications for cultural policy and arts funding.

How has Medici’s lever fared in the year or so since it was launched?

My fondest hope would be for Medici’s Lever to advance a conversation within the worldwide circle of cultural policy thinkers about the underlying dynamics of arts and culture, and about appropriate interventions that might lead to greater public engagement in active cultural expression. Also, a significant objective is to provide a useful platform for training a new generation of cultural policy thinkers and activists.

So far, the progress toward these objectives has been slight, but that result is neither surprising nor disappointing. When Steve Peterson (systems engineer) and I set out four years ago to produce Medici’s lever, we were inspired to formulate what we hoped would be a ground-breaking logic model of the dynamics of arts and culture, to translate this model into a working simulation, and then to devise user interfaces that would make the simulation understandable to two select audiences: Cultural policy experts and students. Finally, we were determined to make Medici’s Lever available on the Web as a public-domain simulation whose programming was fully transparent and open to further development by anyone wanting to expand upon our work. All of this has now been accomplished except, for technical reasons, we have not yet been able to make the model’s detailed programming available online. For the moment, we have to be content with distributing hard copies of the programming.

Still, some movement has taken place. Quite recently, I have been contacted by a U.S. university that previously used Cultural Initiatives’ 2001 policy simulation, entitled “Great Cities”, for students in its arts and entertainment management program. The university may now move on to Medici’s Lever. Also, few months ago, a Geneva-based agency of the United Nations asked me to make a presentation in the Philippines that would incorporate Mecici’s Lever.

Readers of this blog are invited to try Medici’s Lever at http://forio.com/broadcast/netsim/netsims/Medici/medici-home/index.html and to post comments on this blog, or to me personally at jdkreidler@sbcglobal.net

Those are ambitious objectives – no wonder you invested so many resources in developing in the model. Did you have a strategy in mind for raising awareness of it? And did you anticipate spending as much time and effort as you have after the development phase was finished?

Actually, the resources invested in Medici’s Lever were modest, certainly by the standard of commercial game simulations. The cost was in the vicinity of $60,000, and the two principal workers on this project spent, on average, a few hours per month over the four years that elapsed from project conception to completion.

Early in the project, we had employed an experienced Silicon Valley game designer to create the user interfaces for Medici’s Lever, on the premise that a flashy interface would attract a broader audience, but this approach required the development of original software that was expensive, time-consuming and risky, so after a year it was abandoned. At the project’s conclusion, discussions were held with a California-based public arts planning and funding agency that had an interest in promoting Medici’s Lever to advance its own agenda. The idea was to give Medici’s Lever an organizational home, backed by marketing and staff resources that would continue to support it. Even though these prospects did not materialize, we were still able to place Medici’s Lever on the Web, which provides a vastly more accessible platform for users than the CD-ROM format of our original Great Cities cultural policy simulation, which was produced in 2000-2001.

In the end, I believe that we have created a sophisticated and insightful simulation/logic model that is presented online through a bare-bones, and at times humorous, game interface. As I said previously, the audience for this package is narrowly focused on cultural policy makers, funders and students, so over the past couple of years, I have been promoting Medici’s Lever to my professional contacts who are connected with these groups. Still, I am looking for an organization that would have an interest in serving as home for Medici’s Lever and could promote it broadly.

From your own experience and talking to others who have used it, what are the main insights you think the tool provides?

The best that one can hope to achieve with Medici’s Lever is that users will begin to appreciate that the arts and culture are embedded in complex systems. Once this appreciation materializes, it has significant consequences for those in a position to influence cultural policy. Awareness of the existence of underlying systems requires an effort to understand the complex dynamics of these systems: Does X influence Y, what is the nature and amount of this influence, and does this influence feed back in some way from Y to X? I am afraid that many do not want to expend this effort, because it requires the abandonment of entrenched theories of how culture operates, and often the crucial breakthroughs in understanding can only occur through years of experience and research. A high-ranking official of the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts once said to me, “This systems approach to arts policy gives me a headache. All I want is to stay in Washington and give money to artists and arts organizations. All considerations other than quality are irrelevant.” Many of my former colleagues in the domain of pubic and private arts funding share this view. Providing resources to artists and arts organizations can be a rewarding career by affording opportunities for advancing your own tastes in art, and exercising your ability to leverage funds from other sources that choose to follow your inspired decisions. This world view might seem, at worst, harmless, but the discipline of systems thinking teaches that:

Any entity having the ability to intervene in a system is more likely to cause harm than good if this intervention is made without reference to the complex behavior of the system.

Doctors, presumably, understand the dynamics of human physiological systems, auto mechanics understand mechanical systems, and environmental scientists understand natural systems, so why shouldn’t cultural policy makers, including funders, have some basic understanding of cultural systems? The initial step is to appreciate that systems exist, and Medici’s Lever may promote this fundamental awareness. However, I never underestimate the ability of policy makers in all fields to deny the very existence of underlying systems in favor of simplistic expedients. The current debate in the U.S. over global warming is a great example because it shows how senior elected officials can deny the very existence of environmental dynamics that have been the subject of extensive research for more than 30 years.

I would also hope that Medici’s Lever offers some substantive insights gleaned from my own research and experience. These are described in the text accompanying the simulation model. For anyone ambitious enough to wade into the model programming, all of the systems logic is transparent and open to question and debate. So far, I am not aware of anyone who has taken up this challenge.

Given that so many cities, states and authorities in the USA, UK and beyond continue to strip away their funding for the arts, do you think those insights are well understood?

Taken in isolation, decisions to reduce arts funding do not necessarily show any more understanding of cultural dynamics than decisions to increase arts funding. Hypothetically, a decision to decrease arts funding might be found to have overall positive outcomes. Whatever the direction of the funding, up or down, the questions are: Do we understand the systems in which we are intervening (funding is one form of intervention), do we believe that we can affect changes that are likely to yield net positive results, what specific outcomes, both positive and negative, do we expect, and are our interventions reversible so that we can restore the system if the results turn sour? If this line of thinking has been fully implemented, policy makers then have a basis for evaluating whether upward, downward, or unchanged funding or other policies are merited. In the U.S., the Federal Government’s housing policies of the 1950s and 1960s are sometimes cited as an example of actions that were well-intended as a means for decreasing urban poverty, but were not systemically informed, were irreversible, and resulted in a multitude of negative results including higher poverty, crime, illiteracy and dissolution of families. One prominent U.S. arts funder has quietly confessed that its attempts to “stabilize” prominent arts institutions actually resulted in their destabilization through unintended escalation of their fixed costs, though this result was viewed as reversible, and then led to an ambitious and more systemically driven effort to correct the problem.

My knowledge of public funding of the arts in the U.K. is limited, but in the U.S. the defunding of the arts in many jurisdictions is due, in some measure, to the failure of cultural policy makers to demonstrate that funding has yielded a strong net increase in noncommercial cultural goods and services that are broadly desired and consumed by the American public. The quantity of consumption is a much more forceful rationale for public support, in the arena of U.S. politics, than improvements in quality, which tend to be difficult to prove and prone to allegations of elitism. Viewed from this perspective, I believe that public libraries, parks and athletic activities are generally in a better position, as cultural institutions, to make a case that they are serving broad publics, in comparison to performing and visual arts organizations. Here in California, I hear vigorous public expressions of dismay about proposed funding reductions for state parks, municipal libraries and public broadcasting, but almost no protests about performing and visual arts cuts.

Do you think it si possible to make good (or better) quantitative arguments in favour of arts funding? Here in the UK they are sometimes viewed unfavourably because it is believed that the quality (or intrinsic value) of the work is sacrificed in order to appeal to a wider demographic or because of the second order benefits funding the work will bring.

The debate over intrinsic versus instrumental justifications for public funding of the arts in the U.S. has been fairly intense for at least the past half century, but with a few caveats, I am decidedly on the side of the instrumentalists. My personal life is a very different matter. There, intrinsically motivated choices are paramount in my selection of what dance performances to attend, what books to read, and how to craft a piece of sculpture, though instrumental considerations, including convenience and cost, inevitably come into play. The same is true of other realms of culture: What sports to play, what religions to observe and what clothing fashions to acquire. By extension, it seems reasonable to me that private funders, including individuals, foundations and corporations, can make whatever intrinsic cultural judgments they might choose, with or without reference to practical considerations.

Governmental funding is a different matter. For many reasons I am skeptical about intrinsically-based public policy decisions about art, just as I am skeptical about governmental decisions about religion, athletics or fashion. In a democratic society, the central question is whether a given policy, including funding, will yield an appropriate return of public goods, services, or other benefits, which is mostly an instrumental cost/benefit equation. Ultimately, individuals will make their own decisions to partake of these public goods or services based on their own evaluations of intrinsic and instrumental merits, but I find it hard to accept that government should, in effect, make pre-emptive decisions of what is best for the public based solely on evaluations of quality. In the U.S., this approach has tended to result in the anointment of a small cadre of professional artists and organizations who receive a disproportionate amount of the funding and recognition, leaving others on the fringe. In many instances, there is little, if any, consideration given to the public’s interest or attraction to this anointed art, and not surprisingly, this indifference to public demand has been a contributing factor in the stagnation and decline of public arts funding in the U.S. over the past decade.

To be fair, public funding for a select, often elite, core of professional American artists and arts institutions is a similar phenomenon to governmental patronage and protection of many other professions, including medicine, law, teaching and law enforcement. Professions tend to accumulate political power, to protect those within the boundaries of the profession, and to label those practicing outside the profession with a long list of pejoratives including “amateur”, “unqualified” and “low-quality”. In my view, governmental policies that focus intensively on judgments of quality tend to lead almost nowhere except to bolster the various professions within the art world and to satisfy the cravings of a narrow band of the public, mostly defined by high income and educational attainment.

Far more satisfactory would be systemically conscious public policies aimed at enabling the broad public to gain maximum benefit from artistic and other cultural experiences, with quality being an ingredient, but not the sine qua non, of policy formulation. “Medici’s Lever” is one version of how systemically conscious policies might be constructed, and of the mostly quantitative measures that might be used to measure effectiveness. Within “Medici’s Lever”, a healthy cultural environment is defined by three factors, the most important of which are widespread public literacy in the arts, and building on this literacy, extensive public engagement (amateur participation) in various forms of artistic expression, including singing, all forms of dancing, writing poetry, drawing, and much more. The point of literacy and engagement in artistic expression is not that they necessarily lead directly to great works of art, but rather that they have the capacity to bring high levels of meaning, gratification and civility to individuals and communities, all of which can be detected and in some ways measured, and employed more effectively to secure governmental support than quality-based assertions, which are beyond measurement.

The third factor incorporated into the logic model underlying “Medici’s Lever” is the production of publicly available artistic goods and services, mostly supplied by professional artists and institutions. Certainly, these goods and services are significant within a well-balanced artistic domain, but “Medici’s Lever” incorporates the view that this professional sector will be best supported only when a sufficient foundation of public literacy and engagement has been achieved.

While I take the view that quantitative measures of benefits are most appropriate for formulating and evaluating public arts funding and other policies, I also recognize that some purported benefits may be overstated. For several decades, studies of various state and metropolitan areas in the U.S. have tried to show, for example, that public expenditures on the arts produce high multipliers for generating tax revenues, restaurant income and assorted other commercial revenues. These studies are then used to advocate for higher public investments in the arts. Naturally, this same investment multiplier rationale has been used in virtually all other domains of public policy, including education, urban renewal, crime prevention, parks, and health care, and seemingly very few studies use the same methodology. The end result is that many policy makers have become jaded by the claims resulting from these studies.

Nevertheless, as I have said in response to a previous question, rigorous logic models using quantitative data have come to be widely applied in many fields of public policy, most notably in economics, environmental affairs, military planning and health care. Significantly, all of these fields embody both quantitative and qualitative elements. If the arts are to be taken seriously in the public sector, then they need to apply similar rigor. “Medici’s Lever” sets forth a nascent logic model that suggests that the arts can bring widespread meaning, gratification and civility to individuals and communities, while also making a secondary (and hopefully not overstated) contribution to education and the economy. It does not promise world peace and happiness for all

In the previous interview, we touched on the importance of ‘market makers’ and the flows between the levels of the pyramid within Medici’s lever. Earlier this year, Arts Council England has focussed its core annual revenue grants on organisations that ‘directly produce or present work’. This has left intermediary bodies, audience development agencies and those that play particular strategic roles (notably focused on Business) on reduced budgets or reliant on one-off funds. The Arts Council itself will have to reduce its administrative budget by 50% over three years, drastically reducing the development work it can do itself. Do policy shifts of this type seem ‘systematically informed’ to you?

Historically, Arts Council England and its predecessor, the Arts Council of Great Britain, have exercised a more systemic view of the arts than arts councils in the U.S. According to one version of that history, the early beginnings of the Arts Council of Great Britain grew out of a somewhat instrumental imperative: Bolstering morale in the air raid shelters of London by providing concerts during the Blitz. I would venture a guess that public morale was a more important objective than musical quality.

Regarding the specifics of your question about the recent actions of the Council with respect to its core annual revenue grants, I can only answer your question with a two-part, question: Does Arts Council England have a logic model of how the arts function in England, and informed by this model, are the recent funding decisions intended to yield the greatest, most enduring benefits to the broadest public?

Incidentally, the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts recently announced a request for proposals for the formulation of a logic model of how the arts operate in this country.

With the NEA’s request in mind, what are you future plans?

With regard to the NEA’s announced plan to formulate a logic model of the arts, I have communicated to their staff the existence of Medici’s Lever, and have offered to aid their process as a volunteer. One of the consulting teams competing for the contract to produce this logic model has requested my permission to use parts of the Medici’s Lever logic model in their application to the NEA. All of Medici’s Lever is in the public domain (no copyright), and anyone is welcome to copy or modify it to suit their own views of the arts universe.

As for my future, I am happily retired and occupy my time with welding steel sculpture, making furniture (a craft I studied in Totnes, England with Christopher Faulkner) and growing grapes. Medici’s Lever probably represents my last concerted effort to build a computer-based logic model of the arts, though I will continue to write and lecture on this subject.

An Interview with John Kreidler – Part I

2 Comments

By Jon

2010 saw the launch of the beautifully named Medici’s lever – a web based tool designed to model the dynamics of cultural policy in an urban environment.

John Kreidler (and not Lorenzo de Medici)

Medici’s lever is not the brainchild of any one person, but John Kreidler, who introduced it with a guest blog at Grantmakers in the Arts, was its principal architect. John was heavily involved in the San Francisco arts funding scene for two decades before becoming Executive Director of Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley. Medici’s lever emerged from that project.

Pressures on cultural budgets in the USA and UK meant that the launch was timely, as did the announcement that Londonderry would be the UK’s first City of Culture. If anything, changing circumstances have made the model more relevant.

An earlier incarnation of Bad Culture featured an interview with John at the time, which is reproduced below. We will be catching up with him again in the next few days to find out what’s happened since.

Bad Culture (BC)- John, thank you very much for agreeing to this interview. Perhaps you could start by telling me about your time working for the Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley? It was, on the face of it, a unique venture and opportunity to develop a regional and urban cultural policy from the top down.

John Kreidler (JK) – Cultural Initiatives was unusual in several respects, most especially because it was founded with the idea of implementing the key features of a ten-year cultural plan for Silicon Valley, and then expiring.  The inspiration for this plan came from an exceptionally popular and talented political figure, Susan Hammer, the Mayor of the City of San Jose (population just under one million).  Although Mayor Hammer provided the initial leadership for the “20-21 Regional Cultural Plan”, most of the content for the plan was bottoms up, coming from hundreds of arts leaders, artists, educators, community leaders, business leaders, and via polling of the public at large.  The plan was completed in 1997, when Silicon Valley was reaching its apogee of world leadership in technology, and it was widely believed that an era of cultural ascendancy could soon follow.

Given Silicon Valley’s extraordinary concentration of technology and wealth, one might expect that its cultural plan would focus on the crown jewels of high culture: World class performing arts and museums.  Instead, the plan’s highest ambition was to restore “standards-based sequential arts education” in the region’s public schools.  In large part, this objective was derived from public opinion polling, which found that quality arts education had, by far, the broadest public support of any cultural objective in Silicon Valley.  The original poll in 1997 found that 90% of the adult population of the region supported this objective, and near-identical results were found in two later polls.  In addition to arts education, Cultural Initiatives also invested considerable work in the founding of an arts and technology festival, in researching the cultural dynamics of the region (including artists, professional cultural institutions, amateur groups and public demand for cultural goods and services), and in popularizing the notion that cultural policy could be relevant to the region’s quality of life.

My tenure at Cultural Initiatives began in 2000, three years after its founding, and continued until December 31, 2006, when operations ceased at the ten-year mark.  At this point, arts education programs had been upgraded in 75% of the region’s elementary schools by providing the schools with funds, which were raised from nongovernmental sources, teacher training and curriculum development.  When Cultural Initiatives terminated at the end of 2006, our arts education staff was transferred to a governmental agency, the Santa Clara County Office of Education, along with $700,000 to continue operations in 2007.  All of the research generated by Cultural Initiatives, including two books written by cultural anthropologists on the region’s amateur cultural groups, continues to be available at http://www.ci-sv.org/

BC – How did the experience at CI-SV differ from your previous (and extensive) experience at the San Francisco Foundation?

JK – The two decades I spent at the San Francisco Foundation were similar in many ways to my seven years at Cultural Initiatives.  My work at the Foundation involved making grants to nonprofit cultural organizations in five counties of the San Francisco Bay Area, but also allowed time for research and writing.  In 1985, the Foundation embarked on an effort to train its staff in the techniques of systems thinking as a means for better understanding the intended and unintended consequences resulting from its funding policies.  This training set me on a course of building computer simulations of cultural organizations, then constructing simulations of the cultural dynamics of entire regions.  While these simulations were helpful for advancing the Foundation’s policies, they proved to be weak vehicles for communicating to an outside audience of arts leaders, funders and policy leaders.  Accordingly, I began a period of research and writing that sought to express, in more conventional ways, the insights that I had gained from systems modeling.  The result was an article, entitled Leverage Lost: The Nonprofit Arts in the Post-Ford Era, which was published in 1997 (http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/lost.html).

The work at Cultural Initiatives also entailed the processes of making grants, researching and writing.  The chief differences were that as the director of Cultural Initiatives I was expected to be a public leader, and also expected to raise the funds used to make grants and cover operational expenses.  Fortunately, Silicon Valley’s two iconic foundations, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, made the task of fundraising relatively easy.

BC -How would you describe the Medici’s lever project?

JK – Upon joining Cultural Initiatives, I saw an opportunity to use systems modeling in a way that had never been possible at the Foundation.  Given Silicon Valley’s prowess in technology, its fascination with rational numbers-based thinking, and its leading position in video games, why not produce a computer game that provided a platform for thinking about the region’s cultural future?  Partially inspired by Sir Peter Hall’s great book, Cities in Civilization, Cultural Initiatives set out to produce a simulation model that combined culture with the social and economic dimensions of Silicon Valley’s destiny.  The result was packaged as a game in which the player attempts to implement a suite of policies to achieve an optimal future.  This game/simulation, entitled  “Great Cities”, was released in CD format and distributed for the next six years throughout Silicon Valley and beyond.  Along with Cultural Initiatives’ other research and publications, “Great Cities” helped to advance the view that cultural policy had relevance to the region’s success, on par with the more accepted domains of economic and social policy.

Despite its utility, “Great Cities” had the disadvantage of not being presentable on the web.  Although Cultural Initiatives had funds available to produce a new and hopefully more captivating version of “Great Cities” at the time we ceased operations at the end of 2006, the technology was still not available for a web version.  Nevertheless, independent work proceeded from 2007 to early 2009 on an entirely new logic model, now named “Medici’s Lever”, with the expectation that in-development software soon would become available to make a web version possible.  This expectation was realized when isee systems, a company based in Lebanon, New Hampshire, published its “NetSim” software in 2008.

The point of “Medici’s Lever” was to provide a parting gift from Cultural Initiatives to the field of cultural policy.  “Medici” contains three modules, two of which are games designed to assist with the education of cultural policy students, while the third is presented as an online laboratory that allows the user to simulate conditions in a real or imagined region.  The first game, “SJ Renaissance”, picks up where “Great Cities” left off, and is populated with characters and plot lines commonly found in Silicon Valley. The plot and characters for the second game, “Viamare Culture” were created by Amy Kweskin, a San Francisco-based arts consultant who spent several years living in the U.K.  The point of this module was to reach a more global audience.

BC – Was it always the intention that something like ‘Medici’s lever’ would form the final project of CI-SV, or did the need for such a project arise from your the experiences?

JK – As Cultural Initiatives’ closing date approached, the major imperative was to complete work on the tasks specified in the regional cultural plan, especially the transfer of the organization’s arts education reform program to the auspices of a permanent governmental agency.  “Medici’s Lever” became the last project by default, mostly due to the unavailability of software for web-based simulations prior to 2006.

BC – Medici’s lever is described as an attempt to “develop a more comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of arts and culture in a regional setting”. Is it your experience that cultural policy dialog underestimate the complex interactions involved?

JK – On the basis of my experience in the U.S., I have long believed that cultural policy is overly simplified.  In the formative years from 1965-1975, it was the position of the U.S. government and several leading private foundations that increasing the supply of high quality arts would result in a commensurate increase in public demand.  Coincidentally, a similar view seems to have been adopted in the Netherlands, where the government eventually concluded that the supply of subsidized arts was substantially exceeding public demand.  In various places and at various times, I have also observed policies based on the notions that arts developments in decayed cities will achieve broad economic renewal, that the intensity of regional cultural expression will stimulate business creativity, or that arts activities for youth will reduce crime.  While all of these policy perspectives probably contain elements of real causality, I would like to believe that there is a more fundamental way of understanding the dynamics of culture, ideally a model capable of aspiring to the subtlety of Einstein’s quest for a unified theory of physics.  At the heart of the logic model of “Medici’s Lever” is a causal paradigm that may edge toward a “unified theory” of cultural dynamics:

1. Cultural learning begets cultural knowledge;

2. Cultural knowledge is the basis for personal and communal          forms of cultural expression and passion;

3. Cultural expression and passion form the basis for the consumption of professionally produced cultural goods and services.

While my experience, research, and the research of others tends to support this view of a progression from cultural learning to cultural consumption, I would also acknowledge that the model can flow in the opposite direction, that sometimes supply can promote demand and ultimately stimulate the desire for new forms of cultural knowledge.  The more powerful dynamic, however, is from learning to consumption, and this dynamic is not only valid for the arts, but also for other forms of cultural activity, notably athletics, and probably for religion as well.

BC – You are very frank about the imperfections of the modeling in Medici’s lever. You state in your Grantmakers in the Arts blog that ‘We make no pretense that simulations can be predictive or free of the biases of their authors’ and in the model itself that ‘no model of an organic system can be fully comprehensive, much less predictive’. Given these limitations, do you think it can still be of use to policy makers?

JK – An economist at the Rand Corporation, the famous American think tank, once said to me that cultural policy will never be taken seriously in the U.S. until it can advance serious comprehensive models.  Such models, he said, have come to be commonplace for economic, environmental, labor, agricultural and defense policies.  Fields of public policy lacking in models, he said, tend to be marginalized in the hierarchy of governmental policies.  He was also quick to point out that no model is ever right, meaning that no model can ever be truly predictive.

Unreliable predictability, however, does not mean that policy makers should avoid simulation models.  To the contrary, models can often provide productive ways to experiment with alternative policies, to assess possible risks and unintended consequences, and to identify gaps in research.

The time and resources spent on “Medici’s Lever” are vastly short of those invested in, for example, a typical geopolitical simulation crafted by the Rand Corporation, but I hope that “Medici’s Lever” will serve to illustrate a way forward, and also help to guide a new generation of cultural policy research.

BC – One of the game modules is based on the award of European City of Culture to the fictional city of Viamare. In a fortuitous turn of events, Londonderry has just been named the first UK City of Culture. At this quite early stage, what steps would you advise the organisers to take? How do you think they could use Medici’s lever?

JK – My guess would be that the organizers of the European City of Culture in Londonderry have mental models of what they expect to achieve.  Oftentimes, individual organizers have varying or conflicting models, so it can be useful to capture these in some explicit fashion, perhaps in writing or in a graphic format (a full-blown computer simulation would not be needed).  The point would be to improve the extent of consensus on what is expected, to achieve a unified model, and to minimize unforeseen/negative outcomes.  For example, we the organizers, as a result of the European City of Culture, will be delighted if tourism increases, creative industries will move to Londonderry, and longstanding tensions between Catholics and Protestants are further eased.  In Silicon Valley, we would be especially pleased if each of these objectives was connected to a numeric measure.  The value of this exercise could be enhanced by describing as explicitly as possible the mechanisms by which each of these objectives would be implemented.  Tourism, for example, might a function of marketing, transportation, security and accommodations.  On the downside, tourism might also generate traffic congestion, drains on public services, and even a long-term decline in tourism if expectations of the European City of Culture are not realized.  I confess that I have been associated with a few festivals that would have been better left undone.

Of course, for all I know the Londonderry leadership is thoroughly united in their mental models.  If so, they might still find value or amusement in playing the “Viamare Culture” module of “Medici’s Lever”.  Within this module, five characters are vying to become the director of Viamare’s European City of Culture, each with a distinctly different mental model.

BC – Could you give me some more details about how you went about building the model? How heavily did you rely on cultural policy research and/or the views of practitioners?

JK – “Medici’s Lever” came about through the intersection of several influences.  Under the auspices of the University of Wisconsin, National Arts Strategies and Cultural Initiatives, a dozen American cultural policy practitioners were convened in 2003 to contribute to a “map” of how culture operates in both the commercial and noncommercial sectors.  Largely through the work of Andrew Taylor, Director of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration at the University of Wisconsin, this map was assembled, published and distributed around the U.S.  Separately, Cultural Initiatives was conducting research within Silicon Valley on the cultural habits and tastes of the adult population, on the condition of artists and nonprofit cultural organizations, on the amateur arts sector (with special emphasis on the region’s massive immigrant population), and on the cultural views of leaders from business, academia, religion and civic affairs.

All of these ingredients were distilled, beginning in 2005, into the logic model underlying “Medici’s Lever” by Steve Peterson, an expert teacher and consultant in systems engineering, and by me, a veteran of cultural policy thinking since graduate school.  We are happy to provide a complete diagram of this logic model, and the accompanying programming, to anyone who requests it, at no cost.  Nothing is hidden, toujours full transparency.  In the interests of promoting cultural policy modeling, we are also supportive of anyone who wants to devise alternative models based on “Medici’s Lever”, as long as Cultural Initiatives receives due recognition as the originator.

The logic model is common to all three modules of “Medici’s Lever”, two of which involve plots and characters.  This dramatic content, or “game interface” in the parlance of video gamers, was added after the logic model was in place and can be easily modified to suit different audiences or languages.  In addition, we wanted to enliven “Medici’s Lever” with video, music, spoken language and more graphic content, all of which were embedded in the original “Great Cities” CD, published by Cultural Initiatives in 2000.  The tradeoff would have been greatly reduced response times through our new platform, the web.

BC – I’m interested in the detailed assumptions that are built into the logic model, and how accurately they reflect real life. Specifically, can you explain how the following aspects work:

  • the multipliers

JK – Multipliers (or levers) are elements of a model that can provide a net result of greater magnitude than the sum of the inputs.  A simple example of a multiplier is an interest rate: An investment of one pound can yield one pound five pence in one year.  When using the modules of “Medici’s Lever”, it will become apparent that policies yielding short-term returns may yield substantially diminished returns in future years.  The obverse is also true: Low initial yields may lead to more substantial returns in future decades.  Policy makers in all fields often have trouble envisioning long-term gains and risks.

  • the two-way, interactive flows between the parts of the pyramid

JK – In the parlance of systems dynamics, an action may have a one-way linear effect, or the relationship may be “bidirectional”.  In the core of the logic model, people who are culturally active and passionate in their individual and social lives will stimulate producers to generate appropriate cultural goods and services, but at times, extraordinary and novel cultural goods and services may stimulate demand from consumers.  The history of arts, athletics, religion and fashion is littered with the carcasses of producers that fell out of favor with consumers, and so it goes today.

  • the market makers

JK – In the middle ground between producers and consumers are the market makers, practitioners or agencies seeking to establish efficient markets for the delivery of cultural goods and services.  Festival organizers, performing arts presenters, literary agents, and art dealers are all examples of market makers.  Although market makers may be influential multipliers in the dynamics of regional culture, they are often ignored by policy makers and funding agencies.  “Medici’s Lever” provides an opportunity to experiment with this lever.

Surviving Picasso – revisited

1 Comment

By Jon

A couple of weeks ago I posted about an economic impact assessment commissioned by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA). The report was produced by Chmura Economics and Analytics of Richmond into a Picasso exhibition run by the VMFA earlier this year. The report estimates the exhibition delivered benefits of $26.6m to Richmond, where the VMFA is based, and a further $3.4m to the rest of Virginia. These are seriously impressive numbers.

At the time, I wasn’t able to comment in detail on the report as I couldn’t locate it, but Geoffrey_Crayon was kind enough to provide me with a link.

So, here are some thoughts about the report and the analysis it contains.

  1. Sample size – There were 230,373 visitors in total to the exhibition, although it isn’t clear how the VMFA calculated the figure (it’s likely to be based primarily on ticket sales). The Chmura analysis is heavily predicated on a survey they undertook showing that 94% of those attending the exhibition cite it as their primary reason for visiting Richmond. But this is based on a sample of just 404 visitors, or 0.176% of the population.  This simply cannot be considered representative and renders speculative any conclusions drawn.
  2. Cost of the exhibition – Programmatic spend makes up around $4m of the total, but it is a weak measure of economic impact. You have to spend the money to put on the exhibition so even if no one visited or spent any money, there would be some sort of an economic impact. And the greater the cost of staging the exhibition, the greater the impact… The programme budget is an input – part of the cost of generating the outputs the analysis is trying to measure. The benefits to Richmond and Virginia will be greater if these costs can be minimised, since they free up resources to be spent elsewhere. Spend on employment is somewhat different, but it’s only really useful if jobs were created solely because the exhibition was on and for the period it ran. It’s also worth asking whether and where the fee for Chmura consultants’ services are included!
  3. Attribution – It’s not possible to say that there was a wider economic boost to the area as a result of the exhibition without ruling out any other possible revenue generating events at the same time in the same area. And even accepting that the primary reason for visiting was attendance at the exhibition doesn’t mean that all of the economic benefits of a visit can be attributed to the exhibition. The exhibition may simply have dictated the timing of a trip that would have happened anyway, or been the primary factor among several.
  4. Negative impact of the exhibition – This point is related to the second one, but any comprehensive assessment of the exhibition’s impact has to at least consider the possibility that there were negative effects. This might be reduced spend on the Richmond’s other amenities because residents bought tickets to the exhibition instead. Or the additional cost of cleaning up litter or mending the roads because of the number of visitors. Or take the comment, found deep in the appendix, that those whose primary reason for visiting Richmond was the exhibition spent less than those who had other motivations. It’s at least possible that the exhibition reduced the average amount visitors spent in the region.
  5. Negative fiscal impact – Another possibility is that tax income to the local and state governments was negatively affected. The VMFA does not charge an admission tax, but the analysis includes tax revenue from  other venues where the attendees primary reason for visiting Richmond was the exhibition. Well, there is also likely to be lost tax revenue for those who attend the Picasso exhibition instead of alternative venues.
  6. Opportunity cost – The initial Art Law blog reported that a fee paid to the Musee National Picasso for loaning the exhibit. One imagines it was sizeable, and such a fee could have been spent in myriad ways. Without knowing what alternative courses of action were considered, and what relative benefits they might have delivered, the $30m benefit quoted lacks real context.

I don’t mean to sound overly critical as the report is no better or worse than similar pieces of analysis and there may be sensible responses to the issues highlighted above.

But the really disappointing thing is, I’m sure that the exhibition was a massive success & brought all kinds of benefits to the region and those lucky enough to see it. Certainly, I would have loved to visit, although I probably wouldn’t travel Virginia from the UK primarily for that purpose.

By attempting to do an analysis of this kind but not doing it comprehensively, the real value of the exhibition gets lost amid the noise.

(Thanks to Leila Davids for her input on some of the finer points)