Just before Easter saw something of a turning point for the Cultural Value Project. Not only did we have our formal launch event at the Royal Festival Hall; we also held three town meetings across the UK to raise awareness of our first open funding call. At the town meetings in Glasgow, Manchester and London more than 350 people had the chance not only to hear more about our thinking, but also ask questions. And did they ask them! The London session saw an hour and a half of thoughtful questioning. No wonder Geoff Crossick, Director of the Project, was exhausted at the end. Here was the chance for serious scrutiny from the academic world and the cultural sector. It was a coming of age moment for the Project. The maturity of our thinking was being tested.
We’d been anxious going into that week’s events, but we were hugely encouraged by what we found. To be frank, the level of support, endorsement and enthusiasm for the Project genuinely exceeded our expectations. And what was good was the range of disciplines present amongst the academics who came, and the fact that the cultural organisations present stretched from major national institutions to much smaller arts and cultural bodies.
We were in particular pleased by the repeated support for the Project’s ambitions. For us that breadth of ambition is what makes it worth doing, and we were pleased to find that that it seemed to inspire, rather than intimidate, those with whom we spoke. The feedback at the town meetings impressed on us the importance of insisting on the conceptual seriousness and methodological open-mindedness of our inquiry. We are really pleased to find that there is so much appetite in the academic community and the cultural sector to take up this research challenge and to address the question of how arts and culture matter and to seek the ways in which we may best test and evaluate the different dimensions of the difference it makes.
We were also reassured that the cultural sector liked the degree of intellectual honesty in the Project . People seemed to agree that we have reached a point where neither the cultural sector nor the government can any longer pretend to be convinced of the importance of culture from the kinds of evidence generated over the last couple of decades. Not only was the mere rhetoric about its social impact in desperate need of some proper evidence, it also seemed to be agreed that past efforts to measure cultural value – driven by the political imperative of influencing spending reviews – had generated a lot of big numbers that no one found genuinely convincing.
The goal of the Cultural Value Project is to move beyond all of this, to take up the challenge through serious research, with the aim of helping us have more grown-up conversations about the value of arts and culture.. That memorable week of meetings, the one in which we came of age, not only confirmed that this ambition was not misplaced, it actually made us think that it might be achievable. Yet obviously, we cannot get there without the continuous support and engagement of people from the academic and cultural sectors. Those on our Advisory Group, for sure, and their input is really important to us, but right across the sectors. Submissions to our funding call are just one part of that engagement, albeit a very important one. In this context we realised the importance of re-launching this blog in a more conversational fashion with the hope of turning it into a platform for debate, and seeking contributions from all of you. We look forward to your comments. Were you at the town meetings or the launch? Have you read the Introduction to the Project and its first funding call? Do share with us your thoughts on these – and on anything else related to the Project and its thinking.