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Policy Symposium asks: how we can measure the value of culture?

July 14, 2022 – The recent Cultural Value and Policy Symposium, held on 2 March, 2022 at the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute, heard from academics, practitioners and policymakers with national and international perspectives on cultural value and cultural evaluation, and discussed how research in this field can inform cultural policy development.

Culture is central to identity, community, and our humanity, but how should researchers, practitioners and policymakers seek to evaluate it? Policymakers are often at a loss at how to measure ‘cultural value’, and yet must continue to allocate adequate resources and funding on that basis. As Lynn Scarff, Director of the National Museum of Ireland, noted in her contribution to the TLRH Cultural Value and Policy Symposium, our cultural resources have much to teach us if we – the public, researchers, and policymakers – can better understand the nature of our cultural heritage and move to facilitate ‘mobilizing that collection to respond to people's contemporary experiences and thinking about how it reflects the multiple identities within Ireland at the moment’.

Throughout the Cultural Value and Policy Symposium, speakers and invited respondents reflected on why and how the Arts and Humanities community are addressing the question of cultural value. The symposium opened with introductory comments from Professor Eve Patten, Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub, who quoted poet Patrick Kavanagh’s complaint that ‘Culture is always something that was/ Something that pedants can measure’. She was followed by Geoffrey Crossick, Professor of Humanities at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, and former Chair of the Trinity Long Room Hub Institute Board, who led the AHRC Cultural Value Project, an initiative has which advanced our understanding of how best to capture the value of culture. During his keynote observations to the symposium Professor Crossick suggested that culture has the capacity to help us reflect in polarised times, and urged that the question of evaluation be extended to embrace digital cultural activity and production.

Taking account of understanding how people live their lives, what they do on a daily basis, what they want to do in terms of culture and society is a very important part of the overall policymaking process.
co-curator Mary Doyle, Public Policy Fellow in Residence, Trinity Long Room Hub.

In the second panel of the day, Director of the Centre for Cultural Value, Ben Walmsley, Professor of Cultural Engagement, University of Leeds, and Co-Director Anne Torreggiani, CEO of The Audience Agency, presented their recently published Evaluation Principles, a document that seeks to build a shared understanding of the differences that arts, culture, heritage, television and and film can make to individual’s lives and to society, in order to inform the evaluation of culture.

The Symposium also considered the specific context of Cultural Value in Ireland. Prof Ruth Barton (Film Studies, TCD) opened this panel discussion by offering a reflection on the absence of Cultural Policy as a discipline in universities in Ireland and the almost ‘blank slate’ opportunity that this prompts. She also shared her experience of producing a report (funded through Creative Ireland) on career construction in Theatre, Film and TV Drama: Ecologies of Cultural Production. She was followed by Dr Steven Hadley (NUI Galway) and researcher Emma McDowell (University of Leeds), who addressed contemporary understanding of cultural value in Ireland, drawing on their research from a recent scoping project.  They explained the context for the project, highlighting, for instance, the importance of examining intrinsic, utilitarian and instrumental values of culture, and pointing to some challenges faced by publicly funded bodies seeking ‘measurable’ outcomes. They also outlined some of the findings of the research, probing issues such as the role of a national arts council. John O’Hagan (Professor Emeritus, Economics, TCD), offered a detailed response to the panel, and included the reminder that ‘value’ must be understood to go beyond economic benefits.

Defining cultural value is a challenge and the value of culture is not always static. In the final panel discussion of the day, chaired by Professor Dan Carey, Director of the Moore Institute, NUIG, and Interim Chair of the Irish Research Council, a number of leaders from Ireland’s cultural bodies and councils, including Maureen Kennelly (Director, The Arts Council, Ireland); Robert Read (CEO, National Concert Hall, Dublin), and Lynn Scarff (Director, National Museum of Ireland), reflected on what ‘cultural value’ means for their own institutions. Pat Cooke, former Director of the MA in Cultural Policy and Arts Management in UCD, also provided an alternative paradigm for understanding cultural value, drawn from his research in the area of cultural policy , and stressing the need for greater attention to cultural democracy.

Our culture provides a tangible connection to our humanity and can reflect our various values and identities as a multicultural and evolving society. To truly value that we must protect access to culture in its myriad of forms and representations, and ensure that cultural practitioners are free from undue restrictions or pressure. Reflecting on the Cultural Value and Policy Symposium, Robert Read, CEO of Dublin’s National Concert Hall suggested that ‘we have to go even further than we’ve ever gone before and to ensure that we live up to what we have to deliver in the post-Covid world.’

This symposium was organised by the Trinity Long Room Hub as part of the TLRH Arts Humanities Policy Initiative.

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