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What is cultural value?

Unlike more business-focused industries such as commerce and construction, for example, the impact of the arts and culture sector is not measured economically, but rather socially. In particular, collective feelings of belonging and well-being come to mind, as underlined by Jesse Wente, Ojibwe journalist, Indigenous advocate, and president of the Canada Council for the Arts.

Social value, however, can be quantified through data and referring to it goes beyond only economics. In doing this, it allows for a deeper understanding of audiences and of those who consume art and culture, and a strategic introduction of promotion and dissemination tactics.

Data from cultural organizations is everywhere, whether it is pulled from the readership of newsletters, customer services, social media, or surveys, for example. The challenge is to develop and convert them into useful information and the methods employed are increasingly varied, as evidenced by the work and practices of Synapse C here in Canada, and of The Audience Agency in the United Kingdom.

It is, therefore, essential to collaborate with the political sphere. According to English professor Ben Walmsley, politicians continue to regard data as an economic marker, but rarely consider its cultural significance.

Developing Cultural Value: What role do politics play?

Understanding cultural value and its importance requires that cities work together. The reason is twofold: to develop action plans through means of collaboration, and to connect with different cultural groups to stimulate public engagement. In Dallas, Texas, for example, cultural policies having been defined according to each neighbourhood, as mentioned by Joy Bailey-Bryant, President of Lord US. She argues that this helped preserve culture and encouraged artists to remain local.
In Montréal, researchers J-L Klein, D-G Tremblay, L. Sauvage, W. Angulo, and L. Ghaffari have developed twenty-two measurement indicators to understand the cultural vitality of different neighbourhoods as well as culture’s role in local development. These include, for example, accessibility, local entrepreneurship, and the presence of arts and culture creators. These criteria are grouped into five themes: local assets, leadership, governance, resources, and identity.

Developing Sustainable and Inclusive Cultural Policies

Gentrification is an important element to consider when developing new cultural policies. Indeed, there may be a gap that exists between the neighbourhood as it was originally conceived and the population who lives there today. As J. Wente points out, we must also be aware that political decisions made today will determine the cultural implications people will live with twenty years from now. It is, therefore, necessary to be inclusive by providing long-term and equitable funding, and by addressing and resolving existing inequalities.

Thus, when analyzing cultural value, we must consider the social aspects, the lived experience, as well as the ever-evolving audience.

Ambre Giovanni