Why is the case for the arts so frequently made in terms of its economic impact, as if the other benefits are of lesser importance, not least those that flow from the engagement with them by individuals?
This was the central tenet of Professor Geoffrey Crossick’s Trinity Long Room Hub Annual Humanities Horizons lecture on ‘Understanding the Value of Arts and Culture’ in Trinity College Dublin on May 25th.
Professor Crossick, author of the ‘Understanding the Value of Arts and Culture’ report published to great acclaim by the UK‘s Arts and Humanities Research Council in April, posed the question as to why the individual experience has too frequently been neglected when it comes to discussing the difference that arts and culture can make. Any study on the value of culture, he argued, must embrace the diverse contexts in which it is experienced, such as hospitals, care home, prisons, in the home and on the internet. He also highlighted the ‘striking’ impact that consumer-generated creative content is having on culture and the arts and how the digital landscape is playing an increasingly large role in shaping people’s engagement with the arts and culture. In terms of how we assess value, this also needs to be factored in.
Professor Crossick discussed the finding from the report that suggests that arts and culture have the greatest impact on society through stimulation of individual reflection, empathy and imagination creating ‘critical citizenship.’ He gave numerous examples of small projects which have had, according to the report, a more sustainable impact on communities – these include design studios, small music venues and community arts groups. However, he also questioned the impact of large scale urban regeneration projects which often negatively impact on the communities in question by causing gentrification and pricing local residents out of these environments.
Noting the wider relevance of his report for countries outside the UK Professor Crossick stated ‘These reflections on how we understand the value of culture arise from a report on the UK, but the research on which it draws suggests that much of it applies across the western world. The political and cultural contexts shift between countries, of course, and I'm looking forward to hearing how my arguments are confirmed, nuanced even contradicted for Ireland!’ Professor Crossick delivered the talk against the backdrop of a heated debate in Ireland following changes to a government department which previously gave prominence to the arts in its portfolio. Representatives and campaigners for the #ArtsDeptNow campaign were present in the audience and the discussion following Professor Crossick’s talk questioned the differences between the Irish and UK context in terms of the political apathy towards the arts and recognition of their value on a national level in Ireland.
In his conclusion, Professor Crossick commented: ‘Those of you who came hoping for a simple answer about the value of arts and culture will have been disappointed, though I hope you now know why a simple answer is unattainable.’
Arts and culture is one of the most complex of human activities, he added, which is why a broader discussion – one that goes beyond mere economics – is needed in assessing their true value. ‘If arts and culture offered us reassuring certainties’, he said ‘we wouldn’t need them, would we?’
Professor Crossick will appear on the RTE Radio 1 programme Inside Culture with Fionn Davenport on Monday, 30 May 2016 at 10pm.
- The ‘Understanding the Value of Arts and Culture’ report, which took three years to complete, was produced by the ‘Cultural Value’ project commissioned by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK. Professor Crossick was the Director of this project. The report questions many of the conventional claims, such as the economic impact of the arts, their role in urban regeneration or in improving educational attainment.
- Professor Geoffrey Crossick is Distinguished Professor of the Humanities in the School of Advanced Study, University of London, and Chair of the governing board of the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute, Trinity College Dublin.