Report: Expert Session #2- The Social Value of Culture

In times of political distress and economic uncertainty, not many people will turn to culture. But isn’t culture an essential value, especially in times of uncertainty? Think, for example, of the enormous popularity of Ernest Hemmingway’s A Moveable Feast after the Paris attacks in November 2015. With a group of experts – economists, artists and politicians- we investigated the social value of culture for Europe and explored how attention can be drawn to the social importance of culture for European society.

Please find the report below:

Short Summary

In this session, researchers (in economics, sociology, political science etc.), artists and policy makers discussed the immaterial value of culture to society. How does culture contribute to social cohesion and social well-being in Europe? This question was partly answered by Pier Luigi Sacco, is good for public well-being and innovation (along with social cohesion, sustainability, new entrepreneurship, knowledge economy, “soft power” and local identity).

The experts discussed that the policy makers and the cultural sectors have different perceptions about the value of artistic or creative process. The main conclusion of this discussion was that the systems policy makers designed to test the effects of creative projects, mismatch with the nature of the creative processes in which things are unpredictable and results are not directly measurable. The funding bodies tend to support products, not processes, whereas the true value of experimentation and innovation is inherent in the process.

The second key note speaker, Bernd Fesel, introduced the ‘Cultural and creative spillovers in Europe: report on a preliminary evidence review’ by Tom Fleming Creative Consultancy. The report, published in October 2015, addresses the problem of measuring the indirect effects of publicly funded projects in culture and creative industries from seventeen countries in Europe. The report states that governments and policymakers at all levels should realize that they are ‘key change-makers’ in the creation and evidencing of cultural and creative spillovers.

But how can policy makers be change-makers? During the second discussion many experts stated that the evaluation of subsidized cultural initiatives leaves no space for failure or change. Fesel concluded that regulations concerning these evaluations should be more open; that is how governments can make a change. “Qualitative evaluation is a social process, there needs to be longitude research to see the effects.”

Key Note Pier Luigi Sacco, professor of Cultural Economics at IULM University in Milan. According to Professor Sacco, we face a lot of challenges and opportunities concerning the measurement of the value of cultural participation. He pointed out a very complex panorama of structures in which cultural participation appears and is financed, that co-exist next to each other. At the beginning of his presentation, Sacco described the development of culture as starting unorganized and spontaneously (0.0), then becoming the child of patrons (1.0) and finally be delivered to the markets (2.0).

Sacco stated that we are now witnessing a new regime transition that is driven by two concurrent streams of innovation: digital content production and digital connectivity. But the market is not finished yet. Typical of ‘Culture 3.0’ is the blurred distinction between producers and users of content, as well as the ways in which culture is produced outside market channels, as the participation-paradigm that became dominant. Sacco argued that as a result, the economy is ‘culturalized’ and culture can no longer be an aspect of free time use, but is entrenched in the fabric of daily life. Therefore he believes that we need a conceptual scheme that allows us to understand (and capitalize) the socio-economic effects of cultural participation, because the new paradigms of cultural production do not necessarily use the market as a value-generating platform.

Next, Sacco discussed the relevance of cultural participation. In his opinion it has many indirect effects on innovation, welfare, sustainability, social cohesion, new entrepreneurship, and so on. According to Sacco, culture can be looked upon as a pre-innovation’ platform, because culture stimulates people to deal with the unexpected and unexperienced. In short: cultural participation teaches them to appreciate the transformational impact of new ideas.

Sacco also noticed that there is a strong statistical association between life expectancy and cultural participation, as well as with psychological well-being. If it is true that the (indirect) impact of cultural participation is that strong, it would reduce, for instance, hospitalization frequency. From Sacco’s point of view, culture is not simply a section of the economy: it is ‘social software’. Therefore he urged all the experts to look for new strategies that fit Culture 3.0; strategies that will start a revolution and strive for the efforts that cultural participation can have for society.


Discussion I

During the discussion, the experts discussed about whose responsibility this is: artists, politicians, scientists or the public? Ulrike Guérot, founder of the European Democracy Lab in Berlin, states that she notices a tension between new groups that are emerging and the market driven systems they operate in that prescribe certain rules. A market driven system requires empirical evidence when it comes to results and Guérot is of the opinion that this ‘public discourse’ should change.

Sacco reacted and stated that artists themselves have to rethink their art. Artists need to focus on their social responsibility when it comes to engaging communities. Bernd Fesel, senior advisor ecce and managing director ECBN, argued that it is not just the cultural sector in which something needs to be done. Fesel urged all the experts in the room to prove the relevance of culture for society.

Elisabetta Lazzaro, professor of creative economy at the HKU (University of Arts Utrecht), putted forward that the aspect of the market should not be forgotten when it comes to cultural participation. As a result the difference between high and low culture becomes less clear and that is an advantage to the market. Through culture, wider audiences can be reached and mobilized.

To achieve this, our education should change radically, stated Guérot. “There is evidence that we are losing the best minds, creative brains are dropping out of the system”, she furthermore noticed. Losing these minds has its impact on the dominant public discourse on culture and obstructs our readiness to accept new systems.

In a reaction to this Rita de Graeve, a lecturer in Culture Management at the University of Antwerp, argued that politicians are not convinced by the reports that are written about the importance of culture concerning well-being. “The more reports, the less they are convinced”, she said. “We have to look for another strategy”. She pointed out that politicians easily compare the effects of sport to the effects of culture and tend to make the choice “either-or”.

Gloria Benedikt, who is a professional ballet dancer, said that politicians ‘don’t want to listen to us, because they like listening to economists more’. She criticized the way politicians judge artists by the products they deliver, rather than by the processes and the social effects of the processes that proceed to a product (or not).

Monique de Louwere (Dutch Council for Culture) said that neither artists nor politicians are solely responsible for the tension between new developments and old structures. “We have to work together and search for a common agenda.” She stated that national governments are responsible, not the EU. Others also mentioned that the EU has limited competences in culture.

Robert Oosterhuis (Research Coordinator Culture and Media, Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science) said he experiences that ‘there is some room for the importance of culture’. He pointed out that this depends on which minister holds sway and that it is also influenced by the distribution of the public money. Oosterhuis urged both politicians and scientists to ask critical questions (like the sports-question, as mentioned earlier). “We are a group of believers in a way, we need the reports of scientists on this,” he said.

Fesel mentioned that conducting research on the impact of cultural participation on a federal level is quite new in Germany. He therefore understands politicians who are skeptical. “It is our own fault”, he said. Tsveta Andreeva, Policy Officer at the European Cultural Foundation (ECF), said that ‘it is very good that there is at least some understanding at EU level’ about the broader, non-economic value of culture. Yet no qualitative measurements are in place in the EU pogrammes (including Creative Europe) to take stock of that value. She said she believes that it is really hard to convince politicians of the importance of culture, because the effects are hard to measure with the standard tools for ‘growth and jobs’.

Professor Sacco understands that politicians need to be patient for the research of scientist on this subject. “But there is no time left”, he stated, “This is globalization, the world is waiting for us! We really have a problem.” He pointed out that with crowdfunding, contemporary culture is very similar to the early forms of cultural participation. In response to the sports-argument that was mentioned earlier, he stated: “Also vitamins are good for public health. There is no monopoly on the good solution.” He said he thinks this argument is ‘crazy’.

Key note Bernd Fesel, on the research ‘Cultural and creative spillovers in Europe’ (October 2015) produced by Tom Fleming Creative Consultancy (TFCC)

The report Fesel discusses calls for a new research paradigm when it comes to measuring the effects of cultural projects. Otherwise, like it is stated in the report’s recommendations, ‘cultural and creative policies will not be able to innovate, unleash and capture the wider value of arts, culture and creative industries to the wider economy and society.’

Fesel gave an example of how design can help in a clinical environment. He showed an Asthma-monitoring game for children that helps them to improve their health. These particular examples make the effect of culture for society very tangible. But most of the time these effects are not that concrete: how culture contributed to people’s lives is mostly expressed through personal stories without scientific evidence.

“We have to go from a single story level to a real scientific and evidence based level”, Fesel stated. He pointed out four research aims: To better understand what evidence exists on a European-wide level, to understand spillover effects in the arts, culture and creative industries, to develop an interdisciplinary and shared understanding of the methods of gathering evidence and to recommend suitable methodologies.

In the report, ‘cultural creative spillovers’ are defined ‘as the processes by which activity in the arts, culture and creative industries have a subsequent broader impact on places, society or the economy through the overflow of concepts, ideas, skills, knowledge and different types of capital’. Fesel emphasized that by this definition culture is a process, not a product. That widens the definition to a great extent.

TFCC created a database of nearly a hundred spillover projects. The report concludes that according to these projects there are three strong spillover areas: innovation, health and wellbeing and creative milieu and place branding. There is a great need, Fesel remarked, for evaluation methods. The evaluation of a tangible product is much easier than the evaluation of the results of a process. The researches recommend that governments and policymakers at all levels should realize that they are ‘key change-makers’ for the creation and evidencing of cultural and creative spillovers.

Discussion part II

The discussion started with Professor Sacco remarking that culture in Europe is really flourishing – we should not forget that. He criticized the ‘random system of evaluation’ that is demotivating because it only focusses on the results that are measurable. He stated that there is a better match needed between cultural initiatives and governments. Gloria Benedict, who studies the future of European performing arts, recognized this: “There is no room for experimentation right now in the existing funding systems.”

Tsveta Andreeva responded that ‘we have to change these systems, including other models of funding’, to make them more relevant to the realities and in the arts and culture. She therefore believes that research is needed to gather more evidence to show that there are different methods in working with cultural and creative spillovers. “We need to be able to develop tools to do this”, she stated. Ulrike Guérot compared the evaluation processes to the game ‘Second Life’: the way artists work and the way they evaluate on paper are different realities. “Why are we playing this game”, she asked, “We have to give them space and fund them because we trust them.”

Marcos Garcia, Cultural Manager at Medialab-Prado, said innovation cannot exist without experimentation. In an evaluation, instead of accomplishments a government or fund should ask for meaningful experiences that were shared during a project. According to Garcia, benefits from cultural projects are indirect and long term.

Bernd, who held the key note, criticized the ‘trust’ that Guérot puts in the creative industry. “Would it be the same with the car-industry?” he asked. Controlling the cultural system on economic terms does not fit in his opinion. It is not fair to judge a theatre by the same standards as, for example, an energetic company. Bernd is disappointed that museums for instance do no spend their money to evaluate the effects they have on people and society.

Monique de Louwere (Dutch Council for Culture) mentioned she already sees a change in how the cultural sector is understood by governments. “It is not only about proving, it is also about learning. But when we ask people to share their learning experience, they say: what is the hidden agenda here? We, however, just want to learn as well, being the great givers.” What she wanted to empathize, is that it takes two to tango.

Marcos Garcia suggested to create a platform where all could join in to look for new evaluation methods. Robert Oosterhuis stated there already is a newly designed tool in Dutch policy that will be implemented in the coming year. It is called ‘Cultuurmonitor’, which means cultural monitor. It is an instrument for structural subsidized organizations to evaluate spillover effects and the process of learning.

Elisabetta Lazzaro, Professor of Creative Economy, asked Gloria Benedikt if she thinks that her colleagues throughout Europe are evenly interested in community art as she is. Benedikt: “Yes, they want to, but the system isn’t there.”

Fesel concluded that regulations on evaluation should be more open to the unexpected. “Qualitative evaluation is a social process, there needs to be longitudinal research to see the effects.” He stated that others, like the nutrition research, have entered that world where research takes ten to twenty years. Fesel: “That gives me faith that it can be done.”

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