Capturing cultural value

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What is cultural value?

Unlike sectors such as commerce or construction, the impact of the arts and culture sector is not measured economically, but socially. We’re thinking in particular of the sense of belonging and well-being felt by the population, as Jesse Wente, Canadian First Nations arts journalist and Chairman of the Canada Council for the Arts, points out.

Nevertheless, social value can be quantified using data. In this case, it’s not just a question of economics, but also of cultural value. This enables us to get to know the people who consume art and culture, and to adopt activities to disseminate and promote it.

Data from cultural organizations is everywhere, whether from newsletters, customer services, social media or surveys, for example. The challenge is then to turn them into useful information. To achieve this, the methodology used is increasingly diversified, as illustrated by the activities of Synapse C in Canada and The Audience Agency in the UK.

It is therefore essential to work in tandem with the political sphere. According to English professor Ben Walmsley, politicians still regard data as mere indicators because of their link with the economic sphere, but rarely consider their cultural significance.

Developing cultural value: the role of policies

Understanding cultural value requires cities to work together. The aim is twofold: to develop action plans together, and to reach out to different cultural groups to engage audiences. In Dallas (USA), for example, cultural policies have been shaped by neighborhood, as Joy Bailey-Bryant, President of Lord US, points out. The aim was to preserve culture and help local artists stay in their neighborhoods.

In Montreal, researchers J.-L. Klein, D.-G. Tremblay, L. Sauvage, W. Angulo and L. Ghaffari have developed 22 indicators to capture the cultural vitality of neighborhoods and the place of culture in local development. They include, for example, citizen accessibility, local cultural entrepreneurship and the presence of creative artists. These criteria are grouped into five themes: local assets, leadership, governance, resources and identity.

Developing sustainable and inclusive cultural policies

Gentrification is an important factor to consider when developing new cultural policies. Indeed, there can be a gap between the neighborhood as it was originally built and the people who now live there. As J. Wente points out, we also need to be aware that political decisions taken today will determine the culture people will be living with in 20 years’ time. It is therefore necessary to be inclusive, offering equitable and historic funding, as well as resolving existing inequalities.

So, to speak of cultural value implies both the social aspect, the lived experience and the audience that evolves over time.