Proving our worth – yet again

The Culture Minister Maria Miller has asked the arts sector once again to prove its worth financially.

This is astonishing – the arts sector has made this argument over and over and over again for the past twenty years. The economic value of the arts to the nation was one of the chief reasons put forward by the sector when the first round of cuts were made. Jobs, income, regeneration, health, education – the positive impact is plain to see. This is further proof that the government doesn’t listen to or read anything the arts has to say.

Furthermore, it perpetuates the total ignorance that the government seems to have of the benefits which the arts confers outside the boost to tourism and the creation of ‘Brand UK’ or whatever. Evidence exists, for example, that the arts improve educational attainment, increase well-being and improve health. On the face of it, those don’t perhaps seem very economically active things to do. The arts can however link this evidence to larger studies into education, health and so on to prove that the economic impact is far wider and deeper than Maria Miller has been able to grasp.

Health studies show that the more friends a person has, the better their health. The better their health, the less they cost the economy. Time after time, arts projects can show that they bring people together and enable them to make more friends (see François Matarasso’s ‘Use or Ornament’, for example – that was many years ago now but it’s still valid)). This is just one example of an intermediate measure which the arts can easily make. The tiniest community arts project can show this kind of outcome through very simple evaluation.

Creative Partnerships undertook huge amounts of research to show that creative education has a positive impact. That research is easily available, and the government should know it well. Another excellent report is ImagineNation, commissioned by the Cultural Learning Alliance, which makes a strong case for cultural learning by drawing on robust research from across the English-speaking world. The first people that the CLA would have sent this report is the DCMS and its ministers – they cannot say they have not seen it.

In addition, the Creative Blueprint, CCSkills’s research programme, has plenty to say about the importance of the creative industries to our economy. Again, the government and the DCMS must have seen this.

For government ministers to exhort the sector to produce what it is already producing, and what they are already showing they produce, is frankly pathetic.

It may also tend to produce despair in the sector – have we not already done this, time after time? Must we spend more time and scarce resources showing it all over again? And will you, Ms Miller, actually take any notice this time? I’m not holding my breath.

Published in: on April 24, 2013 at 12:23  Comments (15)  

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  1. I remember sitting in a room talking to an arts minister from a previous conservative administration about this very subject. They didn’t get it then, and they don’t now. I just emailed a link to your blog to Maria Miller. Don’t suppose she will read it…

    • Thanks Mr Smith – I hope she DOES read it. The most response I’ve ever had from an arts minister was outrage at criticising them, so I’m not very hopeful.

      • In so many ways, of course, we shouldn’t even be trying to justify our existence in financial terms. We are there, (as someone just said on my facebook link to your post!) “The job of the Arts isn’t to make money, it’s to provide spiritual succour and inspiration to the community – on this alone should artists and artistic organisations be judged.”
        Perhaps we shoot ourselves in the foot by playing their game and producing the figures. It is just so easy to make the case! Do we make the case confidently and loudly enough that these are the wrong criteria to judge us on?

  2. Sorry, should have reread that. Didn’t finish a sentence correctly!

  3. Maria Miller speech: Death Of A Saleswoman

  4. I’m going to copy and paste my comment on Simon’s FB link to your post in full here, because this is a hugely important topic. Art isn’t a luxury, it points to all that in us which makes life worth living and personal struggles worth fighting – and it continually faces the same enemies in each administration.

    The job of the Arts isn’t to make money, it’s to provide spiritual succour and inspiration to the community – on this should artists and artistic organisations be judged.

    (Would any Minister seriously ask Finance or Manufacturing to justify it’s spiritual contribution to the nation?…no, those sectors are judged by how well they enable stuff to happen and how much stuff they make, respectively…and in Finance’s case, even if it does a damn awful job and helps wreck the country it still receives govt backed bonuses…albeit temporarily cosmetically smaller ones.)

    Given that the true ROI on Arts investment is not best judged in terms of pennies and pounds – it is still the case, as far as I can recall, that the figures are consistently favourable. Unfortunately though, almost all politicians are exactly as Colin Davis described them:

    “…These dull, dismal politicians who are encased in Plaster of Paris – they don’t listen to anybody, they don’t really entertain new ideas. They just juggle the old ones. And the famous Lady Thatcher took away money from schools for employing peripatetic music teachers because she didn’t think music was very useful. She was just a materialist, and that’s what they all are….”


    • Thank you Mr Alvarez for that cogent and passionate comment. I do not mean to suggest that we SHOULD measure the arts in terms of money, though it is an interesting sidelight on its main purposes. My point is that the politicians since Thatcher have ALL been more interested in what we call the ‘instrumental’ use of the arts (e.g., can art stop young offenders from re-offending?’) and the economic impact (e.g. ‘can the arts help to regenerate a run-down area?’). They have demanded repeatedly that we make these justifications, and we have, and they still don’t listen.

      I’m not against the instrumental use of the arts, and in fact I’ve often seen the benefits of that approach in many different contexts. However, all of us who practise the arts, in whatever way, would surely agree with you.

  5. Catherine, your analysis, though helpful, is not quite correct. The interminable debate between the intrinsic and instrumental value of the arts has swung back and forth both within arts circles and within political circles since at least 1988 when John Myerscough published the game-changing “Economic Importance of the Arts”.

    A decade later, the Blair Labour Government, under the first Secretary of State for Culture, Chris Smith, initially took a very instrumental approach, through the PAT 10 report of 1998 or 1999 (my PDF has no front and back cover) which sought to use culture to address issues of social exclusion. This was very much the Francois Matarasso approach which has become highly discredited in some quarters.

    Ten years later the very interesting third Labour Secretary of State for Culture, James Purnell, now the BBC’s Director of Strategy, commissioned Brian McMaster to look at “How the system of public sector support for the arts can encourage excellence, risk-taking and innovation and “How artistic excellence can encourage wider and deeper engagement with the arts by audiences”. This led to the publication of McMaster’s “Supporting Excellence in the Arts – From Measurement to Judgement” – and a complete reversal of the instrumental approach. Purnell then effectively told the Arts Council to implement it. The McMaster report was the culmination of a sea change in thinking within some quarters of the arts sector spearheaded by John Holden’s work with/for Demos with papers like “Capturing Cultural Value” (2004).

    I have not had the time yet to properly read Maria Miller’s speech yet (I am currently second marking dissertations). But what strikes me about it, apart from the crudity of its message, is that historically the Conservatives have been more softly intrinsic in their approach –the value of Heritage to national identity etc – and Labour has been more intrinsic – using culture to address social ills. This can also be seen in the Munira Mirza’s (Boris Johnson’s Deputy Mayor for Education and Culture) approach both through her publication “Culture Vultures” (Policy Exchange 2006) and her Cultural Policy for London.
    Now it seems the respective political positions have changed and the Conservatives are adopting a completely instrumental approach to culture in which the only driver is money – regardless of social benefit (the latter part of which one would kind of expect).

    What we need – which Labour finally achieved in 2008 in “Creative Britain” after a series of quickfire and rather bewildering policy initiatives – is a more balanced approach that recognises both intrinsic and instrumental value. It would be good if it could be framed into some sort of cultural policy for Britain, independent of political dogma.

    The blindingly obvious truth, that a politician of Maria Miller’s seniority ought to be able to grasp, is that the arts cannot deliver instrumentally, (in this case make money) unless they are confident and secure intrinsically and that requires investment be it public or private.

    • Sorry the phrase “and Labour has been more intrinsic” should of course read “and Labour has been more instrumental”!

      • Thanks Paul but can I just check we are using the term ‘instrumental’ in the same way? I mean the use of the arts to achieve outcomes which are not in themselves artistic, i.e. educational. social, health, etc. I do not count making money as an instrumental use of the arts – I would call that an economic or financial aim.

        But thanks for a very good overview – as a blogger one writes in the heat of the moment and I didn’t have time to look up all the reports to which you have so expertly referred.

      • Hi Catherine

        Yes, we mean exactly the same thing by “instrumental” – using the arts to achieve social objectives like improving health and welfare etc. The economic one is interesting as perhaps historically is has not been thought of as an instrumental outcome. But economic impact is not an prime artistic outcome – though it might be a bi-product. So to argue that the only reason for the arts is economic seems to me just as instrumental as using the arts to improve the nation’s health.

        Sorry, I still haven’t read Mrs Miller’s speech so that may not be what she is saying. But overall it is a question of balance and proportion. My belief is that the arts can be used for economic and social benefit, and there are some companmies that are excellent at this (and some that are not). But the arts can only play this role if they are strong in themselves (intrinsically) and if you put instrumental values ahead of intrinsic ones you will quite possibly end up with poor art and poor instrumental outcomes too.

      • Thanks again Paul – admirably well-put.

  6. Extremely interesting and helpful, thank you @paulkelly20.

  7. […] On Wednesday morning I was at the British Museum in London to hear the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Maria Miller, speaking on ‘Testing Times – Fighting culture’s corner in an age of austerity’. The Secretary of State said “arts and culture underpin what it means to be British … culture is able to deliver things that few other sectors can … it cultivates the creativity that underpins the wider economy”. I was pleased to hear Maria Miller say that culture “develops a sense of community” and that “culture is an intricate web of activity”. She said “it is essential that the Government invests in culture and continues to do so despite these testing times”. She also stressed that the Government is committed to a mixed economy in the arts and that no-one considers philanthropy is a panacea. Her overall message was that “we should value the arts for their own sake and make the broader case”. She finished by saying “I’ll position the arts central to economic growth”. You can read the full text of Maria Miller’s speech at and a sceptical response from our old friend Catherine Rose at: […]

  8. […] Thanks to Paul Kelly for proving all the links to all the reports that I didn’t, ahem, get round to doing – it’s in among the comments on the original post. […]

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