Is Economic Impact Declining As Most Important Measure of Value?

As I go about arguing against using measures like economic impact and test scores for valuing the arts, I occasionally get push back from people who note that for better or for worse dollars and test score are quantifiable and compelling and therefore are what will matter most to policy makers, funders, and individual donors.

The thing is, we know that a lot of people value things that aren’t so easily measured but are deemed to be important. Scott Walters recently posted a reaction to a CNN story about the impact working from home has been having:

If your browser is blocking the image, it reads: “This obsession with “the economy” distorts the issue. Is working from home good for human beings? Is it good for the environment? Instead, we focus on latte consumption. Come on, @CNN, THINK ”

We know from research conducted by projects like Creating Connection that people view participation in arts events has having positive associations with interpersonal relationships, physical and mental health, social good, self-improvement along with other benefits.

With so much in the news about people rethinking their relationship with work and its place in their lives and stories of athletes asserting boundaries about the activities in which they are willing to participate, this is a time when people are recognizing that customary process and values may no longer be relevant. Or perhaps it is better said that people are questioning whether they continue subsuming their existing values of health and well-being to economic opportunity and test scores.

In this there is an opportunity to work on reframing the terms in which the arts are valued so that they resonate in empathy with the introspection and questioning about values and norms which is occurring.

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 ( 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. (

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.


Leave a Comment