If Anything, Measure of Arts & Culture Should Be Civil Societal, Not Economic Impact

Lest you think Carter Gillies and I are lone voices arguing against the use of economic impact of  arts and culture as a measure of their value to society, in March the Global Education and Skills Forum had a panel address the question “Will We Still Need The Arts & Humanities in 2030?”

A member of the panel, British philosopher, Dr. Julian Baggini addressed the issue of using economic impact as a metric of the value of arts and culture in very familiar terms:

“…they don’t need defending in terms of anything else. And I think what happens is, we get sucked into a kind of debate in which we are always having to justify the Arts and Humanities in terms set by a more utilitarian agenda.”

He goes on to talk about how he was involved with a project which was studying the benefits of active participation in arts and culture for physical and psychological well-being.

Then he cautions that even framing the arts in terms of their health benefits or ability to stimulate important neurological centers in the brain represents a trap because it doesn’t allow for the arts to have value in and of itself. This framework uses health benefits to justify the existence of arts and culture.

He says the ultimate goal should be the creation of a more civilized society. In that context, economic growth and technology are instruments toward the goal rather than being the goals.

That is to say, economic growth should be evaluated for its contribution toward civilized society alongside arts, culture, science and technology rather than positioning those things as subservient to economic growth.


(around the 38:00 mark if it doesn’t start there)


About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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