Monday, 27 September 2010

Who ‘deserves’ to be funded? (I) Readings

Following my post on Mark Ravenhill´s article, I read or re-read a number of texts and reports on cultural value and financing. Here´s a brief presentation.

In 2004, British Culture Secretary of State, Tessa Jowell, published a text entitled
Government and the Value of Culture. She was saying: “Too often politicians have been forced to debate culture in terms only of its instrumental benefits to other agendas – education, the reduction of crime, improvements in wellbeing – explaining, or in some instances almost apologizing for, our investment in culture only in terms of something else. In political and public discourse in this country we have avoided the more difficult approach of investigating, questioning and celebrating what culture actually does in and of itself. There is another story to tell on culture and it´s up to politicians in my position to give a lead in changing the atmosphere and changing the terms of the debate”.

In that same year, the think-tank
Demos published Capturing Cultural Value, by John Holden. In his report, Holden identified a feeling of discomfort in the cultural sector due to the necessity or obligation to prove its value and justify the money spent on it based on objectives drawn by other sectors. He analyzes the difficulties in the evaluation of the intrinsic values of culture and suggests that the solution is the creation of a new language “capable of reflecting, recognizing and capturing the full range of values expressed through culture”. Thus, he looks into other areas and presents concepts expressed through the language of economics (commercial values and other), anthropology (historical, social, symbolic, aesthetic and spiritual values), environmentalism (sustainability, biodiversity, intergenerational equity, fairness of distribution of benefit), as well as through the language of the evaluation of intangible goods (brands, knowledge) and of public value (an emerging concept in the UK at the time, related to the value citizens attribute to public bodies, based on what they are willing to invest on them – for example, in terms of money or time). Holden thus defends the necessity to find ways of calculating cultural value able to also reflect characteristic elements that are affective, subjective, intangible.

Two years later, in 2006, there is a new publication,
Culture Vultures, edited by Munira Mirza. Another book that questions the instrumentalisation of culture and the rules for evaluating it and financing it. Texts by six different authors who defend culture´s intangible and intrinsic values, who protest against culture being placed into the service of other agendas and question the data collected in order to prove its social impact, who are afraid that the criteria for financing might result in poor art, since artists will try to answer requirements that may guarantee a better reception of their work and financing.

In 2007, a new report was published,
Public Value and the Arts in England, that explores that new concept of 'public value'. It presents the results of a survey carried out by Arts Council England with artists, arts managers, funding bodies and members of the public. I thought it was interesting that here we can find the points which all these different actors agree upon, as well as those that create tension among them. Issues like the definition of the arts, why the arts matter, what is quality, the importance of taking risks, access and inclusion, the principle of public funding, gather consensus, contrary to what I would expect in certain cases. In what concerns the points of tension, here there were no surprises: a right to express or the need to engage; benefit to the public or artistic development; accountability in theory or bureaucracy in practice; expert judgment or inclusive consultation. What was the conclusion? People involved in the survey tried to come up with a common position in what concerns the priorities and principles of public funding. “They concluded that the ultimate end of public funding for the arts should be the creation of ‘public value’ in terms of (…) strengthening capacity for an experience of life in a wide range of contexts. (…) …this sort of value will be created naturally if as many people as possible experience arts that excite, enlighten, move, stimulate and challenge. As such, they would like the public funding system to focus on enabling widespread quality of artistic experience.”

Finally, I read a series of short texts that the
Irish Arts Council asked from a number of commentators, following a study called The Public and the Arts (2006). These are: The Case for Elitism; The Siren Alps; The Feel-good Gulag; We´ve Built It; Why Won´t They Come?; and The Pursuit of Glorious Failure. Interesting points of view, some expressed with a sense of humour, others a little exaggerated.

All these texts helped me put my thoughts in order and raised questions:
- Does culture today need to prove its value? To whom? And in what terms?
- Is it legitimate to ask an artist whose work is publicly funded to give something back? And a company or another cultural institution?
- If yes, who defines what can/must be asked in return and how?

(to be continued…)

I thank CF for telling me about Culture Vultures and MLA for sending me Capturing Cultural Value.

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