Cultural Playing Field

The Cultural Value Project by Robin Simpson
April 5, 2013, 10:22 am
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On Thursday 21 March I was at the Southbank Centre in London for a reception to launch the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s new Cultural Value Project. The project seeks to establish a framework that will advance the ways in which we define and think about the value of cultural engagement as well as the methods by which we evaluate it. Professor Rick Rylance, the Chief Executive of AHRC, said “while we might feel we instinctively understand the value of culture and its importance to our lives, defining and expressing that value is surprisingly difficult, let alone the challenge of persuading others of its importance. But it is vital for us all, and for the future, that we do.” Each of the speakers at the reception, who also included the Universities Minister David Willetts, Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre Jude Kelly and the Director of the Cultural Value Project Professor Geoffrey Crossick, made it clear that this project is about helping to make the case to Government (and particularly to the Treasury) about why culture needs public support and how we can measure how much support is appropriate. David Willetts made a comparison with work undertaken by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to assess the value of a meadow: everyone would agree that meadows are valuable and to be encouraged but Government had to find a way of measuring how much support it should allocate to developing and protecting meadows. Something similar needs to be done for culture. David Willetts emphasised this should not be about reducing cultural activity merely to its economic value – “not economic measures but measures that would be understood by economists”. The Cultural Value Project will fund awards to researchers in higher education institutions and approved independent research organisations. The deadline for applications to the first funding call is next week but further calls for proposals will follow.

Robin Simpson.

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