Measuring the Value of Culture in the United Kingdom

Dr. David O’Brien of Leeds Metropolitan University has produced a commissioned report for the UK’s Department for Culture Media and Sport on “Measuring the Value of Culture.” The 66-page report is highly technical in its blend of economic, humanities, and governmental (bureaucratic) methods and vocabularies—certainly not something intended for the “public” or even for most professionals in the cultural sphere (including academics). The report is of general interest, however, as a serious attempt (and a demonstration of how difficult it is) to find a way to “value” culture in pseudo-enonomic ways geared to how governments in the U.K., U.S., and elsewhere now believe they must explain value to the public. O’Brien writes (stripping out his citations):

Report on "Measuring the Value of Culture"The cultural sector faces the conundrum of proving its value in a way that can be understood by decision-makers. Arts and cultural organisations face a ‘cooler climate’ than the one that prevailed during the early 2000s. As a result it will not be enough for arts and culture to resort to claiming to be a unique or special case compared with other government sectors. Since the 1980s the value of the cultural sector has been demonstrated through the lens of ‘impact’, whether economic or social. However in recent years there has been recognition, both within central government and in parts of the publically funded cultural sector, of the need to more clearly articulate the value of culture using methods which fit in with central government’s decision-making. Thus the cultural sector will need to use the tools and concepts of economics to fully state their benefits in the prevailing language of policy appraisal and evaluation. Other areas of public policy – most obviously health and the environment – have evolved valuation tools that have entered mainstream policy appraisal, and have raised the quality of public decision-making as a result. We need the same in cultural policy. (Read the full report as a .doc or .pdf)

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