Cultural organisations are forced to justify their grants on the basis of their contribution to government goals such as economic development, tourism or social inclusion, rather than their cultural value, according to a new Demos report called Capturing Cultural Value.
Cultural value sees culture as a public good in its own right, as recognised by the public who vote with their feet by the million when they go to galleries, concerts, film and libraries. "People can’t be told that they benefit from culture, and no amount of measurements and achieved targets will persuade them," says the report’s author John Holden.
The current arrangements create a lose/lose scenario for both cultural organisations and the public. The solution is not so much about tinkering with the machinery of funding culture, but about rethinking the assumptions that underpin the system.
"Discussions about funding culture get stuck in familiar tramlines very quickly," says Holden. "On one side you have cultural elitists who say the only thing that matters is artistic excellence or museum objects and don’t worry about accessibility and diversity. On the other you have world-weary pragmatists who insist that culture is only about social and economic benefits. In fact the public are way ahead of these arguments – they value culture in their lives, but they are not involved in the debate."
The result of pressure by central and local government to justify the impact of their work has left many cultural organisations unable to talk about their cultural contribution to society. They are adept at second-guessing funders’ policy priorities and are able to justify their grants in non-cultural terms.
Although culture does contribute to wider policy objectives, funder targets have little to say about the public’s appreciation of culture. By focusing attention on the spin-off benefits of culture, the incentive to take artistic risks is reduced as cultural organisations focus on meeting funders’ targets.
The report recommends that cultural organisations should focus on what audiences themselves and the wider community see as worthwhile.
"The value of culture to the public should form the basis for organisational strategy and funding decisions," says Holden. "Culture will still be driven by the expertise of artists, curators, and administrators, but theirs will be an enabling professionalism, rather than delivering a top-down view of what culture is good for us, and what it should do to us. We need a new cultural concordat between funders, funded and the public."
The report argues that
• Government needs to move from a target-oriented, top-down approach to one that recognises the full range of values created by, and expressed through culture;
• The arts and culture need to be freed to focus on creating extraordinary work.
The report makes a number of policy recommendations, including that
• Cultural Community Statements should be used to influence the way funding bodies invest;
• ‘One-stop culture shops’ could be established in towns to provide information, advice and ease of booking.
Notes to editors
1. Capturing Cultural Value: How culture has become a tool of government policy is published by Demos on Thursday 16 December 2004. The report is available for free download from /publications/culturalvalue or can be ordered from Central Books on 020 8986 5488.
2. John Holden is Head of Culture at Demos. He is also Chair of The Anvil in Basingstoke and a member of the management committee of the Clore Leadership Programme.
3. Demos has a long-standing interest in culture and is currently involved in significant work with a number of major cultural organisations.
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