Assorted links

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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.


Effecting an Impact

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by Jon

Efficient and informative post by Dr David McGillivray on a Scottish conference about research and knowledge exchange in the cultural industries.

Is it just me that gets excited reading about this kind of thing?

Size Matters – Matters of Value

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By Dawn

Cropped view of a pear and an apple side by side

Apples & Pears?

Is it possible that in the current economic environment smaller cultural institutions face the most uncertain futures?

There certainly seem to be a number of smaller arts organisations (turnover under £1m) that will have their public funding significantly or completely cut next financial year.

These tend to be organisations that have limited capacity to generate alternative funding streams. They do not have the tangible assets of their larger counterparts and are often unacknowledged for the research and development role they play.

Size Matters,’ the recent report by Common Practice and Sarah Thelwall of MyCake fame, attempts to surface some of these issues. I found it a good read. It is a well-considered and thoughtful piece that genuinely surfaces the concerns I have heard many smaller scale organisations raise. Issues that it seems to me are generally ignored.

There is a lot packed into its 41 pages, probably too much to do it justice in a single blog. It touches on:

  • The inability of many of the standard metrics around visitors, costs per head and earned income to capture the true value of these organisations
  • The misleading mismatch these metrics create in comparing large with small organisations
  • The lack of recognition of intangible assets
  • The lack of scope for development and growth
  • The poverty trap that many arts-workers in smaller organisations become caught in, and so on

Two things in particular caught my attention:

  •  The need to build a more sophisticated understanding of the concept of value
  • The notion of lifecycle assessment/investment

In developing a more nuanced understanding of value Size Matters suggests the need to consider: artistic; social; societal; and fiscal value. Opening up notions of value and measurement is something I very much support, as evidenced in my previous blog on Valuing Culture.

I do have a slight concern over the clarity of social as compared to societal value. I would offer sectoral rather than social, as it seems to refer to value created within the arts system itself. The report refers to this as an ecosystem but I find this metaphor can also be problematic, something for a later blog!

A number of examples are offered from Studio Voltaire, Chisenhale Gallery and Mute Publishing that illuminate the four interlinked values in practice.

“What we immediately see from these descriptions is that value accrues over the lifetime of an object or idea and that it does so in the four areas of artistic, social, societal and fiscal value in ways which are hard to separate out; indeed it is the fact that they are intertwined that is key to understanding how value accrues in an artwork.” (Size Matters: 26)

In laying out this approach to attributing value what follows is the challenging proposition (primarily for traditional funding sources) of deferred value. My understanding of this is that the four elements of value may be realised over different timescales, if at all in the case of fiscal value.

This is a particular challenge for the smaller organisations as they often serve as the catalyst for an artist or artwork but it is others in the system that then gain the full range of value. It is suggested that smaller organisations most often ‘forfeit two of the most measurable types of value created – the realisation of social value through the development of audiences and of fiscal value through sales via the art market.’ (Size Matters: 29)

While in some ways this seems obvious it is really refreshing to have it spelt out so clearly at a time when it definitely needs saying. My experience is that many of these smaller organisations need to build their confidence in order to take more control of how they are measured and understood.

The proposition for a move away from annual comparisons towards lifecycle-based assessments and investments carries with it significant challenges but I do find it persuasive. I hope Common Practice will pursue it further.

Psychic value?

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By Jon

Malcolm Gladwell has written an article about why otherwise sensible business people buy sports teams, and what they get out of it.

Almost in passing, he makes the following remarks:

The best illustration of psychic benefits is the art market. Art collectors buy paintings for two reasons. They are interested in the painting as an investment — the same way they would view buying stock in General Motors. And they are interested in the painting as a painting — as a beautiful object. In a recent paper in Economics Bulletin, the economists Erdal Atukeren and Aylin Seçkin used a variety of clever ways to figure out just how large the second psychic benefit is, and they put it at 28 percent.7 In other words, if you pay $100 million for a Van Gogh, $28 million of that is for the joy of looking at it every morning. If that seems like a lot, it shouldn’t. There aren’t many Van Goghs out there, and they are very beautiful. If you care passionately about art, paying that kind of premium makes perfect sense.

The paper is available here and is interesting throughout.

It reminds me of Bruce Hood’s SuperSense and (the accompanying blog) in which he has written about the physiological and psychological reasons why people come to believe objects have non-physical properties. As a result, the object’s value is often significantly enhanced.

Valuing Culture

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By Dawn

“…as a discussion in Clarke (2006:62) exemplifies, the need to fit the cultural sector’s understanding of value into central government’s standard framework for evaluating decisions is simply unavoidable. It is especially unavoidable given the increasing demands on decreasing resources expected across the public sector for the foreseeable future (Selwood 2010).”

I have wrestled with ‘Measuring the value of Culture: a report to the Department for Culture Media and Sport’ for several weeks now and I confess almost any distraction has taken me elsewhere. Having hit the above paragraph at the end of Chapter 3 ‘Values and Valuation’ I remained stuck there, initially too depressed to stroll any further. That is not to say it is a bad report. I think it is exactly what it set out to be a rigorous, multi-disciplinary literature review of methods for measuring the value of culture set within the context of HMT’s Green Book.

This probably locates it within a relatively specific readership, which is a shame because the challenge of measuring the value of culture really ought to be a sector wide debate. There is recognition that ‘culture is an intangible good that is hard to define’ but the report goes on to suggest that economic techniques have been applied to other intangibles such as environmental and transport policy making. Still I fight to get past the notion that this kind of measurement is unavoidable.

 I should probably show my hand at this point, if you haven’t already guessed it. I am a qualitative researcher and evaluator, issues of meaning making and experience are important to me. There is no doubt I, like others, apply a particular lens in looking at the matter of value and I recognise it has an impact. It does not mean, however, that I do not appreciate there are other approaches, many of which involve particular forms of measurement. I hope it makes me a constructive critic rather than an outright detractor.

 There is no doubt that Dave O’Brien has done his legwork, there are probably enough references here to feed my blogging for months to come. I find it a bit of a shame that the consultees don’t include any of the culture SMEs or micros that any development in this field is most likely to have an effect on, if nothing else to bring them into the debate. I am not suggesting it should have been a representative sample, let’s not get hung up on that one, just that I know of many good smaller culture organisations who are wrestling with these issues right now. And they too might have a view on why the cultural sector ‘is hindered by its failure to clearly articulate its value in a cohesive and meaningful way.’ (Scott, 2009: 198)

 At the moment, and this may change with further readings, the bit I find most perplexing comes on the second page of the introduction. I was encouraged when I started to read that while techniques from economics are the most useful for government decision makers who have to make judgements about cultural value, i.e. distribution of scarce resources (probably fair comment), ‘they must not be used in isolation’ (great, couldn’t agree more). The next sentence starts robustly, ‘first’, I am now primed for a valuable list of reasons why mixed methods are relevant here. However, only two emerge.

1.       There is a need to gain the support of the cultural sector

2.       The debate over economic valuation techniques being able to capture all dimensions of cultural value is on-going

 It seems to me these two issues are the crux of the matter, and they have been around for some time, it is good that they have been highlighted in the report though. It would have been even better to have them drawn out more in the recommendations.

 Overall, it is hard not to hear a message that suggests, ‘we’ve given you lot plenty of time to come up with your own methods and measures and you’ve failed to convince anybody, now let the grown-ups who can count take over.’ Or am I being too harsh/paranoid/cross/fluffy…?

$17 to $1 – economic benefits in Toronto

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By Jon

The first of an occasional series highlighting the varying claims about how much every £ or $ spent on cultural activity is said to be worth in economic activity / income / other benefits generated.

In Toronto, the benefit reported is $17 is to every $ spent, according to cultural advisor Jeff Malenson.

No source for the figure is presented.