Hello and welcome to the blog linked to The #culturalvalue Initiative.
My name is Eleonora Belfiore, and I am a scholar in the field of cultural policy based at the Centre for Cultural Policy Studies at the University of Warwick in the UK. I have a longstanding research interest in the justifications for state involvement in the arts and culture, especially in the form of financial support.
This is a blog devoted to the topic of cultural value, and in particular to an exploration of cultural value that does not rely on an understanding of ‘value’ in economic terms. The starting point for this initiative is that we need to reclaim the value debate from the ‘econocrats’ who operate on the basis of ‘the belief that there exist fundamental economic tests or yardsticks according to which policy decisions can and should be made’ (Self 1975, 5).
Economics has much to contribute to the cultural value debate, but it represents only one possible way to think about what we value – as a society – and how we look after what is valuable to us (besides, there is much more to an economics-based undeerstanding of value than cost-benefit analyses). As a researcher working interdisciplinarily but initially trained in the Humanities, I am interested in looking at what other disciplinary perspectives can offer the understanding of what cultural value is and how it is inscribed in public policies for the cultural sector. In short, there is more to cultural value than what can be expressed in terms of a cost benefit analysis, and here is a place to explore what that ‘more’ might look like. Indeed, I very much hope that you might like to contribute your own take on that.
WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT FROM THIS BLOG?
My interest in cultural value dates back to years ago, when I began researching the idea that the arts can have beneficial social impacts, and that these impacts might constitute a convincing rationale for policy and a solid justification for arts subsidy. In the context of a move towards evidence-based policy making in all areas of the public sector, I was intrigued by the persisting faith in the power of the arts to deliver such impacts even in the face of an inadequate evidence base and poor impact evaluation standards. However, I eventually came to be quite critical of the blind faith in evidence as the actual driver of policy (not just in cultural policy making, but more broadly) coming to the conclusion that, rather, policies seem to be driven by what policy actors think and what they believe in – or in other words – their values.
The arts and culture are no exception: the persistent belief that ‘the arts and culture are good for you’ on which much policies (think of initiatives to increase access, for instance) is less to do with any unquestionable body of evidence available for assessment and all to do – as far as I can see it – with a deep-seated and resilient form of ‘cultural value’ whereby certain forms of creative endeavour are ‘valued’ within a society, and therefore nurtured and supported, even when policy rhetoric relies on narrow instrumentalist rhetoric to justify ‘investment’ in the arts and culture (you can read more about this work here).
After all, every cultural policy decision is a decision predicated on a cultural valuation. In the context of limited available resources (even pre-austerity), which forms of human creativity should be supported and which ones should be left to fend for themselves in the marketplace? What cultural artefacts deserve to be housed in a museum, and why? However, the questions that I have always found most interesting are: Who decides in all these matters? And where do those in a decision-making capacity derive such authority from? What relations of power and instances of symbolic violence are hidden behind these processes of value allocation? And what role do public institutions (versus influential individuals) have in these mechanisms of valuation?
If you too are interested in these questions, and in exploring possible answers, then I am hoping you will find this site of interest. Moreover, I am hoping you might like to contribute to creating content for it. The #culturalvalue Initiative might have been my creation in the first instance, but it cannot be a one-person project. I hope this site to become a meeting place and a resource for those of us – researchers, policy-makers, artists, cultural administrators, enthusiasts and the general public – to share insights, thoughts, reflections, creative juices, and work in progress of whatever kind can make a contribution to the Initiative.
If you want to contribute, do get in touch, and please keep visiting the site, as I am planning to add new content on a regular basis!
You can participate in the cultural value debate through this blog, by adding your comments to post or contributing a guest blog, or joining the discussion on twitter: The #culturalvalue Initiative has its own twitter account: @culturalvalue1. Follow and tweet us!