The Report from the Cultural Value Project is now published

We have been posting on this blog for well over three years.  This site has brought together reflections and ideas from those within the Project and those beyond it and it has grown to be a resource in its own right for understanding the value of arts and culture. Now the Report from the Project –  Understanding the value of arts and culture – is also available.

Building on the 70 original pieces of work funded by the AHRC and selectively drawing on other existing evidence, the Report provides an attempt to bring together what we know about the difference made by arts and culture and to consider what frameworks, approaches and methodologies are most suited to the task of capturing cultural value.

More specifically, the Report sheds new light on a number of areas where research shows arts and culture to make a difference. These include:

  • Personal reflectiveness and empathy, illustrated by case studies of the role of arts and culture in the criminal justice system and their place in supporting professional and informal carers;
  • The relationship between arts and culture in producing engaged citizens, more active in voting and volunteering, and more willing to articulate alternatives and fuel a broader political imagination;
  • A critical assessment of the widespread use of arts and cultural interventions to help peace-building and healing after armed conflict, including civil conflict such as that in Northern Ireland;
  • Whether the role of small-scale arts in generating healthy urban communities might be more important for the health of towns than large-scale culture-led regeneration projects;
  • The ways in which arts and culture feeds into the creative industries, supports the innovation system and attracts talent and investment to places;
  • The contribution of arts and culture to addressing key health challenges such as mental health, an ageing population and dementia.


In reframing and advancing thinking about our understanding of cultural value and how to capture it, the Report draws attention to the need for:

  • Wider use of evaluation as a tool within the cultural sector. Better evaluation can help cultural organisations and practitioners learn from their activities and their audiences, and it should not be seen as primarily undertaken to satisfy funders;
  • Appropriate tools to be used for the particular subject being studied with no automatic assumption that quantitative or experimental methods are superior to qualitative or humanities-based ones; it identifies, a broad range of methodologies that include approaches drawn from the social sciences, ethnography, economics, the arts and hermeneutics, and science and medicine;
  • The further development of economic valuation methodologies that are recognised by the Treasury for evaluating public expenditure decisions, where the Project has made a significant contribution;
  • Better understanding of the ways in which digital engagement is affecting people’s experience of arts and culture, including the rise of co-production of digital content and experiences;
  • Finally, the report recommends that the AHRC alongside other funders considers establishing an Observatory for Cultural Value, to help take research on cultural value further.


The report can be accessed here: Understanding the value of arts and culture report (PDF, 3.7MB) Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

Jacqueline Reynolds – The Story of Lidice and Stoke-on-Trent: Towards Deeper Understandings of the Role of Arts and Culture

Our Cultural Value project, involving an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the Faculty of Arts and Creative Technologies at Staffordshire University, is concerned with issues of empathy, compassion and understanding. It is rooted in a remarkable story about Stoke-on-Trent and the tiny village of Lidice in the Czech Republic, which was completely destroyed by the Nazis in June 1942. In Stoke-on-Trent, in response to this tragic event, local Doctor and Councillor Barnett Stross launched the ‘Lidice Shall Live’ campaign, rallying local working people to donate to a fund that ultimately contributed to the rebuilding of the village after the war. It was an amazing demonstration of empathy and compassion that ordinary miners and pottery workers donated in many cases up to a week’s wages to this campaign.

Significantly in terms of Cultural Value, the village of Lidice today expresses its story through arts and culture, including the largest rose garden in Europe, and a museum and art gallery that sit adjacent to the new village. A commemorative event takes place in Lidice each year on the anniversary of the tragedy, and in recent years, the links between Lidice and Stoke-on-Trent have been refreshed with cultural exchanges, involving a range of arts projects and events that celebrate the cultural ties between the two places. It is striking that in all of the civic engagement and partnership working recently developed between these places, we choose to explore, express and celebrate these ties almost exclusively through arts and culture.

Influenced by the story of Lidice and Stoke-on-Trent, our research focuses on storytelling approaches in exhibitions and in community and participatory arts projects. Our key aim is to improve our understanding of the potential of arts and culture to develop empathy, compassion and understanding across geographical divides. It is often an implicit, taken-for granted aspect of arts and culture that people’s emotions can be engaged in this way, but demonstrating the value of this is clearly a challenge. We have used new insights from our research to develop resources for the design and evaluation of arts activities.

One of the significant things about this project is the key importance of issues of empathy and compassion to society as a whole. We find discussions about such issues in many different contexts – for example, healthcare, journalism, politics, and education. They are at the very heart of our relationships with other people in the world, and developments such as the widespread use of social media constantly raise new questions about the extent to which we feel and express empathy, compassion and understanding.

Our project draws on insights and understandings from a wide range of academic disciplines, and also from diverse groups of artists and creative practitioners. We held focus groups and individual interviews (some of which were filmed), at Staffordshire University and in local arts venues. We have been delighted at the levels of interest in the project, and at the in-depth and thoughtful discussions that have taken place. Discussions included what empathy, compassion and understanding mean to people, and how they apply their understandings within their own work. We asked people to reflect on when they have been deeply moved by an arts or cultural experience, and to consider why this was so, any actions or changes that this led to, and how we might be able to capture this kind of information in evaluating arts activities. We have analysed a wealth of data that have been generated by these discussions, as well as completing a literature review that draws upon a wide range of disciplines.

Following on from the focus groups and interviews, we established a working group of university lecturers, artists and creative practitioners, to contribute to the development of new resources for the design and evaluation of arts exhibitions and projects. An important part of the design of our project was a research visit by some of the working group to Lidice (in June 2014) to attend the annual commemoration of the Tragedy, and to take part in the arts and cultural events that take place at this time. This was a deeply moving and unforgettable experience for the group, and it contributed significantly to the outcomes of the research project. The visit was an opportunity for our group to consider the emerging findings from the research in relation to our case study, to exchange ideas with creative practitioners in Prague and Lidice, and to begin to formulate ideas for a new project to be informed by the outcomes of this research project.

During the project, we worked with film makers Suzanne James and Darren Teale (Junction 15 Productions), who filmed a number of the individual and group interviews, as well as the visit to the Czech Republic. This resulted in a series of eleven short films, including four case studies of projects that have connected people across geographical divides. All of the films are shared on the project blog. The films are intended not only to share the findings of the project with a really wide audience, but also to be useful resources to artists and creative practitioners who are considering issues of empathy, compassion and understanding as part of their work.

We also drew upon our research findings to develop a set of ‘Caring Cards’ to support the design and evaluation of participatory arts activities. We commissioned artist Nicola Winstanley to design the cards, which highlight issues of cultural value and empathy, compassion and understanding from a range of perspectives, all informed by the research. They include participant quotes and some key themes, and are designed to be used as a tool for project management in community and participatory arts work. They address some of the implications of the research at each stage of the project cycle, and can be used to support conversations and planning by artists, and also as a tool for evaluation. All of the cards include original illustrations that have been developed in direct response to the themes that have emerged from the research. They are therefore visually interesting in a meaningful and engaging way and they contribute towards developing a ‘visual language’ to help explore the themes of empathy, compassion and understanding. As well as being available on the project blog, we obtained additional funding from the Institute for Applied Creative Thinking (I-ACT) at Staffordshire University to produce pilot printed versions of the cards. They were introduced during a presentation about the project at the Arts in Society Conference at Imperial College London in July 2015, and a range of international delegates agreed to pilot the cards. They will thus help to address the on-going international challenges of demonstrating cultural value across a range of contexts.

Our project blog, including full project reports, can be found here:
The Story of Lidice and Stoke-on-Trent: Towards Deeper Understandings of the Role of Arts and Culture, is a six-month project (February-July 2014). The project team (from Staffordshire University) includes:
Principal Investigator: Dr Jackie Reynolds (now at Keele University)
Co-Investigator: Janet Hetherington
Postdoctoral Researchers: Dr Ann O’Sullivan and Dr Kelvin Clayton.
John Holmes (Visiting Research Fellow, Staffordshire University)

The Research Team is grateful to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for the funding that supported our project. We would also like to thank participants in the UK and the Czech Republic who generously contributed their time, knowledge and expertise to this project.

Joshua Edelman: The Value of Amateur, Subsidised and Commercial Theatre for Tyneside’s Audiences

Dr Joshua Edelman: What is theatre worth to Tyneside?
Creativeworks London blog.
What can theatre do for a city? Why should its citizens value it, and make time and space for it within their lives? Why should democratic governments, charged with nurturing and developing not just an economy but a society, spend their limited resources on it? And how do these values differ between theatrical forms, between cities, between modes of production and between individuals? Our project seeks to address these questions through a qualitative and quantitative study of the theatrical audience of contemporary Newcastle, Gateshead, and the surrounding Tyneside region: what draws them to the theatre, what values they take from it, and what effect this has on their lives, and the different values different sorts of theatre hold.

Especially for a six-month project, this may seem impossibly broad. The value of the arts for society has been so thoroughly debated over the last 50 years—indeed, over the last 2500 years—that these questions may seem unanswerable at best, and ignorant at worst. We have two defences against the charge of naiveté. First, while the relationship between arts and society has been a major debate within aesthetic philosophy since Plato (see the useful intellectual history in Belfiore & Bennett’s 2013 The Social Value of the Arts), very often this discussion remains at the level of theory, or at best, refers only to a few extraordinary examples of artistic achievement. Very rarely has this philosophical debate come into full dialogue with good data on the reality of the living art world: not just exceptional masterpieces, but the day-to-day reality of the social practice of making and attending to the arts. Second, theatre makes a poor proxy for the other arts. The theatre has always been a bit of a problem for aesthetic thinking; too commercial, too collaborative, too entertaining, too low-class, it has been seen as more akin to circuses for the masses (or rituals for the faithful) than poetry for the discerning reader. Claims to the value of the arts as an autonomous sphere are much harder to maintain for a business like the theatre where public opinion and the public purse are ever-present forces.

How can we make a small contribution to the addressing of these very large questions? Our methods have been developed by the Project on European theatre Systems (known as STEP), of which both the project’s research assistant, Dr Maja Šorli, and I are members. STEP is a group of theatre sociologists from seven countries around Europe. It is led by Dutch arts sociologist Hans van Maanen. Building out of the work our first book, Global Changes/Local Stages (2009), STEP has developed a set of metrics to gauge the values that theatre has for audiences, and a common questionnaire and focus group technique to measure them. The values these metrics try to capture are based on the post-Kantian theories of the social value of the arts, including those of George Dickie, Arthur Danto, Pierre Bourdieu, Niklaus Luhmann, Bruno Latour, Nathalie Heinich and others, as described in van Maanen’s book How to Study Art Worlds (2009). By sharing a common set of metrics and measuring technique, we can create a data set that is easier to replicate and much more comparable. Using survey and focus group techniques to measure the value of the experience of the theatre is difficult. But using these techniques to compare the value of different theatrical experiences is much easier. We can, for instance, see how audience members value different theatrical genres differently, or how people from different demographics value their experiences differently, and so on. We can also compare the theatre of different cities. So far, STEP members have used these methods in Aarhus, Denmark; Tartu, Estonia; Maribor, Slovenia; Berne, Switzerland; Groningen, the Netherlands and Debrecen, Hungary. Together, these projects are assembling the largest single data set on the audience experience of theatre in contemporary Europe. The initial results of these international comparisons have now been published in the journal Amfiteater, which will be online by the end of the year.

On Tyneside, we worked in partnership with most of the local theatre community, and in particular the Empty Space, a valuable theatre resource organization for the local area. We complied over 1600 surveys and conducted 12 focus groups. A particular focus of our Tyneside work is the different values that amateur, commercial and subsidized theatre hold for their audiences. From the perspective of what an audience takes from it, what makes subsidized, not-for-profit theatre different from its amateur and commercial cousins? What are the values that amateur theatre realizes, and are they more like that of the professional theatre or more like that of a local football club? Answers to these questions would be fascinating to arts sociologists, of course, but they will also help those who organize, promote and fund theatrical work in this country to have a better understanding of the effect they actually have on audiences so that they can better advocate for it.

Our initial findings showed that we could identify two relevant sets of values that theatre had for its audiences. One set of values (which we called the I Component, for impressiveness, as it contained aspects of the audience’s emotional and aesthetic admiration for the performance) was consistent across commercial and subsidised theatre; audience members saw it in all kinds of professional theatre (though not to the same extent in amateur theatre). Another set (which we called the C Component, as it contained ways in which the performance posed an emotional, aesthetic or intellectual challenge to its audience) seemed to mark a remarkably clear separation between commercial and subsidised theatre. Subsidised theatre audiences embraced these values, while commercial theatre audiences did not. More detailed results have now been published in our final report, which specifies these two components in considerable detail. But our analysis raises questions as well, particularly about amateur theatre. Though amateur theatre did not score as well on the I Factor as its professional counterparts, this did not seem to matter to audiences so much. It had a particular draw — a joy in watching the arduous, impassioned labour of people ‘just like us’ — that seemed both potent and compelling, even when audience members knew no one in the cast. We are talking with the Empty Space and our amateur theatre colleagues on Tyneside about conducting a follow-up project to learn more about this area.
Joshua Edelman is senior lecturer in the Department of Contemporary Arts, Manchester Metropolitan University

Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt : Exploring the Long-Term Relationship between Cultural Engagement and Health

May, 2014

There is ample evidence that engagement in cultural activities – across the art forms – has a beneficial effect upon both physical and psychological health. But most of the evidence deals with relatively short-term engagement, over the lifespan of a finite project or a randomised controlled trial, perhaps. This project – based within the strategic agency, Arts for Health, at Manchester Metropolitan University – considers how we might explore this relationship in the longer term.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Nordic countries – with both the inclination and resources to explore this connection – are leading the field. In the early 1990s, a Swedish team revisited a cohort of 12,982 people who had taken part in a survey in 1982–3 which included questions about cultural engagement. They found that 533 men and 314 women had died during the intervening years and that, after adjusting for a range of demographic and lifestyle factors, cultural engagement seemed to increase survival chances. This landmark study, which was published in the British Medical Journal and repeated five years later with the same results, tentatively indicated possible areas of future research and was taken up by research teams throughout the Nordic region. Teams in Finland have substantiated the link between cultural participation and survival in large population samples, specifically in relation to external causes of mortality such as accidents and suicide. In the Norwegian county of Nord-Trøndelag, where biological samples and lifestyle data have been collected since the mid-1980s, questions about cultural engagement were introduced into the latest round of surveys (2006–8). This population-wide databank holds the potential for elucidating longitudinal connections between cultural engagement, self-reported health and the body’s physical and chemical properties.

Participation in the Cultural Value Project has enabled meetings with many of the esteemed researchers in this area of research, facilitating consultations in the Nordic countries about the work that has been done to date and the methodological challenges that remain in the future. At the same time, discussions have been undertaken with those at the forefront of similar research in the UK, from statisticians at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, responsible for interpretations of the Taking Part survey of arts participation, to representatives of arts and health organisations who actualise the relationship between arts participation and health on a daily basis.

Viewed from its midpoint, this project raises as many questions as it answers, not least in relation to why cultural engagement might have a beneficial impact upon health and life expectancy. Various explanations have been offered, ranging from alterations in brain morphology to better functioning of biological regulatory systems to increased social capital to epigenetic phenomena. The next three months will be spent trying to unravel this connection while paying close attention to the distinction between passive attendance at cultural events and active participation in arts activities.

You find out more about our project on the blog.

Dr Shona Kelly: A Critical Review of the Effectiveness of the Therapeutic Use of Artistic Activity

Connections between art and therapy have existed for centuries. The Victorian poet Matthew Arnold often wrote on the functions that poetry could perform in society, once remarking that ‘mankind will discover that we have to turn to poetry to interpret life for us, to console us, to sustain us’. Along with philosophers, artists, and other writers through the ages, Arnold saw the extrinsic value of the arts to wider culture and society.

Arnold’s ideas on the consoling and sustaining functions of art are prescient of more recent uses of art as therapy in healthcare settings. Professional therapy has come to see the value of artistic activity for patients, and although we cannot know for sure if Arnold would advocate choirs being set up in care homes or poetry-writing classes in community centres, there are plenty of researchers and practitioners today who support such interventions, arguing that these have multiple therapeutic benefits to patients and participants. Quality research into the value of arts therapy is now catching-up with the anecdotal evidence and, as such, it is a very exciting time to be conducting a review of this research.

Researchers from a variety of fields have attempted to measure the effects of arts interventions on clinical outcomes for patients. Although in many cases this research is valuable and the findings valid, there tends to be a lack of cohesion across these studies and a lack of policy purpose driving the individual pieces of research. Against this background, our aim in this review is to assess the effectiveness of arts therapy for the patient, with the view of making positive recommendations to policy makers and service providers. In practice, conducting this critical review involved setting out the criteria for literature to be included in the review, double-reading all the papers that meet the criteria, and classifying these. Putting it like that makes it sound simple… unfortunately this isn’t the case!

There are six of us on the project team. All of us work at Sheffield Hallam University, but each of us came to the review with very different expertise. Although some members of the team have experience of conducting critical reviews and other members have extensive knowledge of arts therapy literature, there were many challenges. The first challenge of the review was to find the best search terms to use when scouring the databases, so that the papers we read did justice to the breadth of arts therapy research, while at the same time leaving us with an extensive yet manageable number of papers to sift through. Even when the most appropriate search terms had been found, searching the databases for relevant literature threw up thousands of results. At this stage, technology can help you no more and the results had to be manually checked for relevance. Compared to other disciplines within healthcare, there is a lack of specialist vocabulary in arts therapy research and many of the terms are in common, everyday usage (e.g. writing, sing, dance); in addition, some of these key terms are used in rather different ways in other disciplines (a search for film gives us results of papers about polymer films…). For these reasons, a good proportion of the results returned by the database searches are irrelevant, so the abstracts we end up looking through are on a variety of subjects: the benefits of bibliotherapy, and the nesting habits of the Nelson’s Sparrow.

As is the nature of this kind of review, some very valuable and relevant research into arts therapy has to be cut out of the process. As you might expect, much of the research in arts therapy is qualitative, and a lot of the studies are reports from personal experience: e.g. health practitioners reflecting on the value of ballroom dancing classes in a nursing home. Although qualitative research and personal reports have provided excellent background reading for our review, we are focused on reviewing studies that seek to quantify measures of patient improvement following engagement with the arts. Quantitative study design is the only way to discern cause and effect, which is vital if we are going to produce a compelling case about the benefits of arts therapy.

At this stage we have produced a preliminary review and continue to further analyse and summarise the research we identified.  We have been pleasantly surprised at the increasing amount of quantitative research over the past decade.  However, the nature of the patients served by art therapy (i.e. the use of arts in therapeutic interventions) is particularly challenging to engage in research.  The patients who tend to be offered arts based interventions often have complex conditions, and may not have responded to other treatments. For example, people with severe mental illnesses, living in challenging environments, experiencing fluctuating conditions are often found in small cohorts under different organisations, and tend to drop out of studies much more than convenient samples of university students. Another factor is the nature of arts therapy media themselves, which are rarely standardised intervention: practitioners vary in approach and techniques, and many of the environmental condiitons in which the therapy is practised are specific to local situations. In most cases participants select whether they want to particpate in arts therapies which is uncommon practice in more clinically-focused medical therapies. In others, some people may not really have the interest in the medium but go along with the treatment being offered.  These factors complicate issues around participation. Arts therapies cannot be reduced to the administering of a standardised surgical procedure or pharmaceutical prescription. However, just because such a variety of different situations is part of the engagements patients may have, does not mean that because comparison is difficult no benefit can be percieved. A constructive critique is being prepared.

Measuring the value of the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) New Contemporaries Exhibition as a Platform for Emerging Artists – Ian Fillis, Ian Fraser and Boram Lee

First of all, some thoughts on the purpose and progress of the project from Ian Fillis, the Principal Investigator:

Our project concerned the measuring of the cultural value relating to the annual Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) Contemporaries Exhibition as a platform for emerging artists. Exhibiting artists were selected by a panel of Royal Scottish Academicians from their peers at their degree shows in art schools across Scotland. We endeavoured to increase understanding of the economic and cultural value of the exhibition in both market and non-market terms. More specifically we were interested in value to artists, value to consumers as buyers or gallery visitors, value to the platform provider (the RSA), and value to the community and other stakeholder groups. We adopted a case study approach which combined qualitative and quantitative approaches in assessing both primary and secondary data. The emphasis of our project was on the importance of non-economic valuation, psychological influences, and interdisciplinary interpretations in moving forward from existing understanding of cultural value. This has tended to focus mainly on extrinsic dimensions, whereas our project adopted a pluralistic focus on both intrinsic and extrinsic dimensions.

The aims of the project were to examine the role of the RSA as a mechanism for launching emerging artists into the marketplace. Some specific areas of inquiry related to how these artists understand the commercial art market, how they set the selling price for their work and if there were any other factors beyond financial value which drive their creative practice. In terms of the longer term viability of the sector, we also aimed to position art as a viable alternative investment and, in doing so, contribute to the longer term sustainability of the art market. We hope to utilise the findings from this research to encourage similar exhibitions throughout the United Kingdom to help new graduates to begin a career in the visual arts.

There are three team members of our Cultural Value project. I am the Principal Investigator and have over twenty years experience of researching arts related phenomena from a marketing perspective. This project has enabled us to join together our expertise in arts and marketing, accounting and finance. We had initially envisaged a reasonable lead time to developing our research instrument for measuring the cultural value of the New Contemporaries exhibition. However, the exhibition was brought forward for the first time in its history, to allow for two more related exhibitions to take place, including one at the Fleming Gallery in London. This did of course present some challenges but we worked well under pressure and were able to produce the initial visitor survey on schedule. We collected this data on site over several weeks and are now in the process of analysing the findings. Our work could not have taken place so smoothly without the help of the President of the RSA, Arthur Watson who divided his time between his role in Edinburgh, being a senior lecturer at Duncan of Jordanstone School of Art and Design at the University of Dundee, as well as being a practicing artist. Mention should also be made of Colin Greenslade, the Director of the RSA, as well as his staff. They have all been extremely helpful. In addition, we carried out focus group interviews with a number of the exhibiting artists. These took place in Edinburgh and Glasgow within the creative settings of the RSA itself and the Centre for the Contemporary Arts, Glasgow. From both the visitor survey and the focus groups, we found that participants were extremely enthusiastic about what we were doing – once we explained what we mean by Cultural Value!  Of course the artists were demonstrating great insight into how and where participating in the New Contemporaries Exhibition might lead them. It is clear that, rather than just being practicing artists, they are well informed about the wider agenda in the arts and how this might affect them as they develop their practice.

Professor Ian Fraser commented:

What do you think when you hear of artworks being sold for seemingly astronomical sums? You might have noticed that one of Francis Bacon’s paintings sold the other day for forty two million pounds.  Perhaps you are horrified that so much money can be spent on a single artwork!  Or maybe you question the value of art in general.  What is the value to society of the work produced by artists?  Which gives better value – the Francis Bacon painting or Wayne Rooney being paid £300,000 per week?  OK, no need to answer that!

We were not necessarily going to come up with definitive answers to the really big questions, of course, such as ‘should society be prepared to allocate scarce resources to supporting the arts?’ (and, of course, we were not really aiming to carry out a comparative analysis of Francis Bacon and Wayne Rooney!) but by focusing on one artistic project we’re aiming to enhance understanding of the ‘value of art’ and just what that means to different stakeholders in our society.

We focused on one major Scottish contemporary artist event in particular, examining ‘the value of the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) New Contemporaries Exhibition (NCE) as a platform for emerging artists’.

The RSA mission is to promote and support the creation, understanding and enjoyment of the visual arts through an all-year programme of exhibitions and events and the NCE is regarded as an important happening for newly graduating art students aiming to commence a career in the visual arts.

Previous work in this area has very much focused on only financial dimensions of artistic value which can be tangibly measured.  We were aiming for a much more extensive exploration of value which embraces all its various dimensions (both financial and non-financial) and which considers value from the differing perspectives of different interest groups including exhibitors, investors, policy makers, the general public & community and (not least!) the artists themselves. We employed a wide range of research techniques including surveys, interviews, focus groups, econometrics (it sounds complicated but it really just means a way of analysing economic data statistically!) and financial analysis.  We aimed to add to what we know about how perceptions of the ‘value of art’ are shaped and understood by different groups.

Update: Our project is now finished (at least in terms of the actual research) and we are now writing up aspects of what we did for publication. We have already published an initial paper (Fillis, I., Lee, B., & Fraser, I. (2015). Measuring the cultural value of the Royal Scottish Academy New Contemporaries Exhibition as a platform for emerging artists. Cultural Trends, (ahead-of-print), 1-11) and have held a feedback workshop as part of wider engagement with the project stakeholders and beyond. Further papers and continued data analysis are being carried out. Our work also has synergies with colleagues at the University of Tasmania and we are developing longer term collaborative research.

Dr Daniel Allington, Dr Anna Jordanous, and Dr Byron Dueck: Online networks and the production of value in electronic music

This project began with Pierre Bourdieu’s argument that cultural value is a form of belief. Drawing on Marcel Mauss’s work in the anthropology of religions, Bourdieu (1993 [1980]) argued that a painting or a poem is a sort of fetish: that is, a ‘magical’ artefact whose special status derives from the fact that believers hold it to be magical. So, for Bourdieu, cultural production involves not only the production of artefacts, but also the production of belief in the value of those artefacts. It’s easy to see how this would apply to what Bourdieu called the ‘field of large scale production’, i.e. the commercial culture industries: big businesses such as major record labels and Hollywood film studios invest both in the production of what is now called ‘content’ and in advertising and other forms of publicity through which to generate demand for that content. But what most interested Bourdieu was what he called the ‘field of restricted production’ or the ‘field of art and literature’, which puts little emphasis on the audience, is embarrassed by excessive commercial success, and appears to operate on the principle of ‘art for art’s sake’.

According to Bourdieu, those who participate in the field of restricted production – whether as producers, critics, publishers, or whatever – share a belief in the special value of what the field produces, and compete to convince their peers that certain particular works possess more of this value than others. The victors in this competition come to define the ‘legitimate culture’ of the future, thanks to an institutional apparatus of value transmission that encompasses private businesses such as publishers, public institutions such as museums, and of course the educational system, and through this means, what Bourdieu calls ‘symbolic capital’, or the ‘specific capital’ of the cultural field – which is to say, peer esteem – becomes convertible into economic capital – although only for a minority, and even then, after a delay of many years.

Such ideas are likely to seem familiar to many cultural producers and consumers who would think of themselves as having little stake in ‘legitimate culture’. For example, as David Hesmondhalgh (2006, 217) points out, ‘ “alternative” seem[s]… to be a vernacular term, within the field of popular musical production and consumption, for what Bourdieu calls… restricted production…. constantly defined… against a pop “mainstream”, a vernacular term for… large-scale production.’ This is one way in which Bourdieu’s opposition between the field of restricted production and the field of large scale production has recently been complicated through recognition that nonelite culture can also function on the basis of ‘art for art’s sake’. Where it does, we again discover situations in which a producer’s intended audience is composed, in the first instance, of his or her competitors. And this appears to be as true of jazz or grime as it is of opera, regardless of the fact that the former two are largely disconnected from the institutional structures that support the latter, both financially and symbolically (see e.g. Perchard 2014, paragraphs 10–11).

So if one takes the position that the specific capital of cultural fields is the same thing as cultural value, one is necessarily led to an understanding of cultural value as inherently and inextricably a matter of inequality and exclusion. And inequalities and exclusions – not only within, but also between social groups – are among the things that social network analysis and ethnography are best equipped to unveil. We are using both in our study of electronic music.

On the one hand, then, we are engaged in social network analysis of interactions between producers on the SoundCloud website. SoundCloud is both a social networking site and a music publishing site. It’s like YouTube without the visuals and without the piracy. We’re looking at who follows who – where a follow is a one-directional arc (i.e. arrow) from one individual to another, and represents an implied act of valuing – and at who comments on whose tracks – where a positive comment is also an arc, and the great majority of comments are positive. Having scraped data from the website, we can visualise networks of many thousands of nodes. We can then study these networks in various ways in order to get at the question of who is valuing whom, and whom that valued person is valuing in turn (for explanation of the principles involved, see Allington 2013; for preliminary findings, see Allington, Dueck, and Jordanous 2015, in press).

On the other hand, we are simultaneously carrying out interviews and observational research in offline contexts. This is important because relationships between producers are only partially lived out in public online spaces. Much valuing takes place through private online interactions, for example email. And face-to-face interactions are probably the most important of all. This helps us to understand the continued importance of physical location in producing cultural value, even in an age of instant global digital distribution – and in turn helps us to make sense of our quantitative data. Many music makers on SoundCloud appear to have a tendency to follow others who are based in the same city. Why, when they can follow people anywhere in the world – and when the SoundCloud website doesn’t organise producers’ accounts geographically, or provide helpful lists of ‘DJs near you’? While following an electronic music producer on SoundCloud is a way of publicly valuing his or her work, it may also reflect a pre-existing belief in the value of that work: a belief that may well have been formed through offline interactions – for example, attending a club night where a DJ (perhaps also a respected producer) plays one of that person’s tracks in his or her set.

So the problem we are dealing with now is not that, when we look at the interactions on SoundCloud, we are not seeing the production of cultural value. Rather, the problem is that a whole spectrum of different interactions is involved, and that these public online interactions are at the lower intensity end of it. And the solution to that problem is, we would suggest, more offline data collection – including for social network analysis – bringing the qualitative and quantitative sides of the research closer together.

See the valuing electronic music website for more details.

Allington, Daniel (2013). ‘Intrinsically cultural value: a sociological perspective’. The #culturalvalue Initiative, 5 December.

Allington, Daniel, Dueck, Byron, and Jordanous, Anna (2015, in press). ‘Networks of value in electronic music: SoundCloud, London, and the importance of place’. Cultural Trends 24 (3).

Bourdieu, Pierre (1993 [1980]). ‘The production of belief: contribution to an economy of symbolic goods’. Trans. Richard Nice. In: Bourdieu, Pierre. The field of cultural production: essays on art and literature. Cambridge: Polity Press. 74-111.

Hesmondhalgh, David (2006). ‘Bourdieu, the media, and cultural production’. Media, Culture, and Society 28 (2): 211-231.

Perchard, Tom (2014). ‘Insipid International Jazz Day whitewashes a fractious past’. The Conversation, 30 April.

Dave O’Brien – Cultural Value and Inequality: A Critical Literature Review

2015 has seen an extensive discussion of inequality in the media. This has been about the ‘traditional’ concerns of social inequality, such as who gets top jobs, but there have also been headlines about culture.

In the UK, the prominence of actors and singers from more affluent backgrounds caused something of a furore, particularly during the film and TV awards season, while the announcement of the Oscars shortlist again raised questions about inequalities based on gender and ethnicity.

Inequality has often been raised by an older generation of artists, such as the actor Julie Walters, opining that, ‘the way things are now there aren’t going to be any working class actors’, or Stuart Maconie mourning the ‘creeping blandness,’ of much indie music.

However, whilst the subject only seems to have hit the headlines recently, the relationship between inequality and culture is clear in the academic literature. It is clear whether we think about cultural consumption or about cultural production. In our recent review of the literature, we have tried to summarise what all of this academic work means for our understanding of cultural value. We can distil the discussion down to three points.

First, the literature suggests a clear relationship with what sort of culture is

seen as valuable and the broader social inequalities within British society. This is reflected by who attends which cultural forms; the patterns of employment in the jobs producing those cultural forms; and the specific content of those cultural forms.

The literature suggests that cultural production is dominated by white males from affluent backgrounds. In turn, there are a range of criticisms of what is on stage and screen (in all its forms) and how those who are not white, middle class, men are represented. Finally those forms of culture funded and supported by the state, for example by Arts Council England, tend to attract audiences that are whiter and well educated.

The idea that the questions raised in the previous paragraph might be related to a hierarchy of culture, with some cultural forms seen as more valuable than others, is an uncomfortable one in modern Britain. Indeed, it is commonplace to argue against this idea in favour of an attitude that rejects cultural snobbery and tries to insist on cultural production and consumption being meritocratic.

However, when placed in light of the inequalities of consumption and production of culture discussed in our literature review, this ‘omnivorous’ attitude seems to be part of the problem, obscuring the social structures of class, ethnicity and gender (as well as disability and geography) that exclude individuals’ and communities from cultural value.

Finally there are still lots of areas where researchers (and therefore policy, practice and popular discussion) just need more data. Whilst there have been recent projects drawing on surveys about wage levels in particular cultural industries, there hasn’t really been a definitive research project connecting consumption, production and cultural value. It is here that the Cultural Value Project has uncovered, and has set, the agenda.

The report written by Dave O’Brien and Professor Kate Oakley of Leeds University on Cultural Value and Inequality can be downloaded from the AHRC website here

Translating Cultures, or thinking about intercultural value

The juxtaposition of ‘translating’ and ‘cultures’ brings into contact two keywords essential to our understandings of what it means to be human – and illuminates the meanings of each of these terms in the process.  The AHRC ‘translating cultures’ theme is a reminder that translation is a process that extends far beyond languages, and one that can help us understand communication within, between and across diverse cultures in a world that is seen to be increasingly characterized by transnational and globalized connections. At the same time, the theme underlines the extent to which cultures are to be understood as open, dynamic and evolving entities, meaning that it becomes extremely suggestive to see translation not just as a form of their communication across various boundaries, but also as a phenomenon integral to their very formation and configuration.

The now almost ninety projects associated with ‘Translating Cultures’ – as well as a wider constellation of other AHRC awards in cognate areas – seeks to explore the role of translation, understood in its broadest senses, in the transmission, interpretation, transformation and sharing not just of languages, but of a full range of phenomena that constitute cultures, including values, beliefs, histories and narratives. The study of translation is at the same time a means of understanding the mechanisms whereby arts and culture contribute to the lives of individuals and society more generally – and is, as a result, integral to explorations of cultural value and cultural engagement. Central to ‘Translating Cultures’ is sustained attention to the dynamics of how we experience culture, investigating in particular the place of translation in the aesthetic, linguistic, cognitive, ethical and political dimensions of cultural encounters and intercultural contact.

A number of projects have permitted exploration of the direct experience of culture and the arts, particularly in frames that involve mediation between and across different national, linguistic and cultural contexts: fellowship projects have focused, for instance, on the translation of Eastern European fashion into Western Europe, on the integration of Indian cultural sound emblems into new electroacoustic music, on translating the poetry of the Holocaust, on postcolonial visual arts emerging from the Maghreb as a site of transcultural encounters, on the place of sculpture in painting (and in what are seen as intermedial translations in Renaissance art); research networking awards have extended this range of geographical and cultural contexts further, encompassing the study of Chinese film festivals, exploration of the ways in which media content is translated and adapted across cultural borders, the place of translation in the performance and experience of music, and – in the field of theatre – study of how China and Chinese culture have been presented in intra-cultural, intercultural and transcultural theatre productions (and how languages and translations play a key role in the ways in which stage productions form or alter people’s perception of others’ cultures). Other projects have considered cultural diplomacy and the role of linguistic and intercultural knowledge in the work of NGOs, and the work of the theme has recently been greatly enhanced by the addition of eight new innovation awards devoted to, inter alia, translating the literatures of small European nations, child language brokering, translating science for young people, cultural exchange between the UK and Brazil, translation and the legislated mediation of indigenous rights in Peru, translation and the language of autobiography in India, translating the deaf self, and the ethics of cultural translation in Northern Irish urban festivals.

Project partners range from museums to theatres, art galleries to cultural festivals – and a particularly exciting innovation linked to the theme is the creative arts hub of the ‘Researching Multilingually’ large grant, committed to exploring the ways in which artists and musicians can translate the findings of research to wider audiences. Such collaboration and co-design is central to the theme, not least because a key aim is to explore the role of translation both in processes of artistic and literary creation, and as an active contributor in the development of new knowledge and understanding.

As these examples suggest, many of the ‘Translating Cultures’ projects have international and intercultural dimensions, engaging with debates and discussions in other parts of the world and bringing knowledge and insights gained to UK-based research. Another large grant, on ‘Transnationalizing Modern Languages’, investigates cultural exchange within communities and between individuals across time and space, providing a specific focus on modern Italy and on the various experiences of mobility that are integral to its recent history. But the theme also stresses the ways in which research into translation is not always outward-looking, and has become central to understandings of the contemporary UK. The value of multilingualism as a social and cultural resource (and not, as is often the perception, as an impediment) was the subject of a recent collaborative panel on community languages held at the British Academy as part of the BA/Guardian UK-wide Language Festival, an annual programme of events established to celebrate the UK’s diverse cultural heritage. The discussion was linked closely to the concerns of the ‘Translating Cultures’ large grants, ‘Translation and Translanguaging’, which is committed to exploring the linguistic dimensions of everyday encounters in four urban environments, analysing the new forms of language that are emerging from culturally superdiverse situations, a phenomenon highlighted by the linguistic mapping made possible by the 2011 census in England and Wales.

‘Translating Cultures’ intersects, in creative and suggestive ways, with the Cultural Value Project, highlighting the role of translation in enhanced reflectiveness, underlining the potential benefits – especially in terms of tolerance and self-understanding – of improved appreciation of other cultures, and stressing the urgent need in the twenty-first century to understand the diversity of human experience and values. As such, central to the theme is an explicit sense of intercultural value: focused on what Mary Louise Pratt has called ‘the pleasures and pains of living multilingually’; committed to Timothy Radcliffe’s  call for the university to a lead in teaching society to ‘learn to talk to strangers’; and associated in particular with the challenges and benefits associated with exploring other cultures – and perhaps, more accurately, with studying the ways in which translation reveals how diverse cultures are entangled in a variety of intricate configurations.

Charles Forsdick

AHRC Theme Leadership Fellow, Translating Cultures

@charlesforsdick /

Carol Scott on The Cultural Value of Engaging with Museums and Galleries

For the past month or so I’ve been immersed in reading books, papers, articles, and reports relating to the cultural value of engaging with museums and galleries, as part of the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries University of Leicester team involved in the project. We have been interviewing colleagues in the field to get perspectives on the strengths, weaknesses and gaps in this existing body of research. It’s been an exciting exercise to undertake a major critical review of literature produced over the last two decades.

We have a compelling body of data.  Numerous studies have set out to describe, understand, measure and evidence what impacts and benefits result from museums and galleries. Many of these studies have sought to demonstrate the achievement of museums and galleries against policy determinants such as social inclusion, learning, and well being.  Though users are necessary respondents in these studies there is less literature focusing specifically on how users describe their engagement and few systematic attempts to draw together and critically assess what this body of research tells us about how the experience is valued by the user, how that value is expressed and what differentiates museums and galleries from other leisure experiences. What our project is doing is addressing these long overdue questions to provide insights of value to policymakers, funders and practitioners.

So far, I’ve been astonished by the richness and breadth of material looking at the question of the cultural value of engagement during a period of great change for museums and galleries. Although this is a complex and sometimes contentious area, we are beginning to notice definite patterns in the research corpus.  The project seeks to develop taxonomy of how users express the value of engaging with museums and galleries and to scope directions for future work.

The Cultural Value of Engaging with Museums and Galleries started in February 2014 and will run until June. It is one of a number of critical reviews commissioned by the AHRC. The project report will be available on the RCMG website from summer 2014.

Dr Carol Scott is an independent researcher working on The Cultural Value of Engaging with Museums and Galleries project, a four-month interdisciplinary initiative led by Professor Richard Sandell and Jocelyn Dodd (both University of Leicester). For more information visit