You Can’t Measure The Value Of Arts In Dollars, But Not Having It Will Cost You

A couple weeks ago in The Globe & Mail, Max Wyman wrote an opinion piece declaring the value of art and culture in Canada shouldn’t just be measured by economic standards. Long time readers know this argument is a particular interest of mine.

Wyman writes:

Typically, if you can’t value the outcome in dollars, it doesn’t count. And it’s hard to show the value of art and culture on a cost-benefit graph. Even when they do come up with more cash, it’s usually for economic reasons. Just recently, for instance, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a new investment of £50-billion ($84-billion) to “grow the creative industries,” in the name of adding a million extra jobs in the country’s cultural sector by 2030.

He goes on to note that arts and cultural organizations are becoming more adept at discussing related benefits such as making communities desirable places to live and contributing to physical and mental health and well-being.

He goes on to cite a study that asked nearly 2000 visitors to 11 U.S. museums to place a value on the contribution to their well-being the museum visit had made. While they got an interesting result, it is somewhat unfortunately couched in economic terms.

…to assess the way their museum experiences improved their well-being in four categories – personal, intellectual, social and physical – and to put a price on those benefits on a sliding scale from US$0 to US$1,000. They came up with an average cash value, per individual visit, of US$905. When the study’s authors extrapolated this information on a national scale, they calculated an annual economic value of US$52-billion in public well-being for museum visitors.

I know, I know: small sample, based on entirely personal valuations. But in an interview with The Art Newspaper, Will Cary, the chief operating officer of the Barnes Foundation (which took part in the study), said the research gives funders and policy makers “a compelling, quantitative argument that thriving, well-supported cultural institutions are not ‘nice-to-haves,’ they are ‘need-to-haves’ and that the return on their investment is significant and multifaceted.”

As something of a supplement to this article, I was listening to a Wisconsin Public Radio story, (probably saw it on where a caller (~11:45) said a company was visiting their village to determine whether they would site their company there or in NC. The caller, who said he served on the village council, said the company rep said his wife was into arts and the community and she will never live here. The caller said they basically lost a company that was going to employ 250 because they lacked an arts and culture infrastructure.

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.


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