The Value of Art and Culture (Part 3 of Connecting the Dots: Helpful Frameworks for Measuring Action and Impact)

Some of the most challenging impacts to define and measure relate to the value of arts and culture.  While it is quite common to see output numbers like attendance and participation rates for arts and culture-related initiatives, rarely do we see measures that relate to deeper impacts.  Yet without this, cultural investments often find themselves on the short end of the stick and are traded off in favour of competing investments.  


So what do we know about the role of arts and culture in creating social value?

The Urban Institute undertook an Arts and Culture Indicators Project over many years to look into this question.  The first publication in the series, Culture counts in communities: A framework for measurement. (2002), provides a useful starting place for thinking about the range of impacts at the community level that include:

  •  Supporting civic participation and social capital
  •  Catalyzing economic development
  •  Improving the built environment
  •  Promoting stewardship of place
  •  Augmenting public safety
  •  Preserving cultural heritage
  •  Bridging cultural/ethnic/racial boundaries
  •  Transmitting cultural values and history
  •  Creating group memory and group identity



Later publications in this series build on their framework and explore issues like data availability. 


In the last decade, a fair amount of research into impact  has been taking place from a few different angles.  Many Canadian-based researchers are leading the way:


Creative Economies: Richard Florida has become well known for linking the creative class with urban regeneration in the Rise of the Creative Class
Cultural Sustainability: This looks at culture as an ‘ecosystem’ that supports the real economy. (For instance, see David Throsby and Jon Hawkes). Here is a great resource that looks at this in a Canadian context:  Medicine Wheel approach to sustainability
Social Cohesion and Social Integration:   Canadian scholars have been very interested in this area (see Jane Jenson & Paul Bernard).  This is often applied to understanding cultural identity, immigration and multi-culturalism policy.
Social Capital:  This related concept, popularized by Robert Putman (Bowling Alone),  refers to the importance of social relationships, and differentiates relationships that strengthen exclusive identities and relatioships that connect groups with different identities (and experiences).



In closing, there are some very compelling frameworks out there that can help to show why art and culture is important, and indeed critical to our times. Consider even how social disintegration, cultural exclusion and polarization has related to some of the most serious conflicts this and the previous century.  If you want to explore this area more (beyond the references I already noted), I highly recommend checking out the publications of  Sharon Jeannotte, and expert in this area at the University of Ottawa.

This blog is the third part of a series on looking at frameworks for understanding impact, rather than just indicators!   If you missed the others, you can link with them below:

Quality of Life and Well-being

The Environment

blog type: 
Issues & Ideas