David Cotterrell: Squaring the Circle: Examining cultural value through a re-evaluation of Arts Lab

Squaring the Circle

  1. A Lab is an ‘energy centre’ where anything can happen depending upon the needs of the people running each individual Lab and the characteristics of the building.
  1. A Lab is a non-institution. Its boundaries should be limitless.
  1. Within each Lab the space should be used in a loose, fluid, multi-purpose way.
  1. Anyone who is interested in changing anyone’s attitude to anything is committing a political act

We at the Covent Garden Lab have certain philosophic attitudes to the world, and we hope to show others by word and deed that these political/philosophical attitudes can be transmitted via non-traditional political media. Every person is a medium; use it carefully!

Philosophy and Characteristics (according to Jim Haynes and taken from International Times, Oct 1969)

Our project focussed on the often imitated, referenced and idolised original Arts Lab. It existed in Drury Lane, London as a short-lived experimental cultural space, set up by Jim Haynes and Jack Henry Moore in Covent Garden and operational from 1967-69. Hosting a gallery, theatre, cinema, café and discussion space, Arts Lab was the first ‘process space’ of its kind in the UK and provided a model for future Arts Labs to follow around the UK. Arts Lab was used as a space to experiment with new ideas and art works, empowering audiences and participants.

The research into Arts Lab and the ideas that it embodied and/or represented has been conducted using several methods, including desk research, exploration packs and interviews. Orlagh Woods’ ‘CSI’ style mapping of evidence began to reveal connections between fragmentary archives, internet sources and printed materials. However it is interesting that, relative to most contemporary organisations, comprehensive documentation was not readily accessible. This bears no relation to the intensity or importance of the activity that took place, but instead reflected a position, almost unthinkable for most UK arts organisations today: a deliberate refusal to document its achievements and evidence its track-record, because, as David Curtis quietly explained, ‘We believed in the ephemeral’. Some evidence does exist through the careful archiving of the short-run posters, journals, letters and photographs. However, the real insight remains with the pioneering artists, organisers and cultural explorers who spent time at Drury Lane during its two year first incarnation and who volunteered to share their fascinating memories with our project.

As a result, our research has centered around interviews with founders, participants and audience-members. We have tried to deconstruct some of the myths surrounding the organisation and to consider perceptions of its significance and influence.  The key interviewees readily volunteered to describe their memories, to discuss their understanding of its core philosophies, and their analyses of its achievements and challenges. The interviews offered comedic anecdotes, warm recollections and, at times, poignant suggestions of regret and reminders of mortality.  Through the veil of nostalgia we sought to understand why an organisation, so widely recognised, existed for such a short time and how much can defensibly be claimed for its legacy.

It is interesting to explore an organisation that appears to have resonated in ways that would have been difficult (and perhaps even audacious) to predict during its lifetime.  The core philosophies of Arts Lab, encapsulated provocative ideas which are widely lauded but frequently not adopted as practically implementable today: a democratic, evolving and self-determining organisational structure; completely responsive planning; a ‘Yes Policy’ enabling access to the Arts Lab stage and public platform to any and all proposals; an acceptance of failure as a valuable component of experimental work; a refusal or inability to conform to the accounting, organisational and administrative conventions necessary to achieve stable funding; fierce independence and an intrinsic belief in the value of its activities.

The outcomes and the level of cultural impact actually achieved by this chaotic and amorphous organisation would certainly have vindicated an investment of the modest funding that it required to survive. Ironically, from the founders’ point of view, it was an absolute refusal to predict or define these potential outcomes, which allowed it the potential to innovate – while arguably guaranteeing its itinerancy.

Today, challenged by pragmatic realism, funding structures and by the struggle to find metrics to consider the value of ideas, which we intrinsically find interesting, we appear to be more readily able to argue for the historic significance of experimental activity than for its continuing importance. The archive of responses, audio, transcriptions, photographs and other evidence focuses on Arts Lab, but also provokes challenging questions, which have contemporary resonance.

Arts Lab and its story offers a provocative, utopian and poignant evidence base from which to consider structural and intellectual challenges to promoting experimentation, courage, risk and investing in activity where the outcomes are not certain in the hope that extraordinary results could occur. While ArtsLab existed in the 1960s we hope that the concluding stages of this project will encourage consideration of the intellectual and circumstantial challenges to realising similar goals today.

It is interesting that we still find that the privileges of enfranchisement, sustainability, influence and platforms are often accessed through identifying tolerable roles within mainstream culture, markets and institutions. Despite Arts Lab’s rich legacy of artworks, artists’ careers and arts organisations, the idealism of half a century ago, did not lead to the wholesale change in the cultural landscape that some of the participants had expected.

As we allow ourselves to explore the evidence further, it seems increasingly surprising that the parameters and restrictions of funding regimes, institutional support and governmental understanding have not evolved further to accommodate and prioritise the experimental, discursive and open-ended practice which has produced so much of the innovation that we now champion within contemporary culture.

Gareth Hoskins: Locating value: assigning significance in the historical built environment, a trans-Atlantic review

All places are valuable but some are more explicitly valuable than others. Who decides which are most precious and most worthy of public esteem, and how do they do it? My ‘locating value’ project investigated US and UK preservation agency practices of listing, landmarking and designation. Visits to Washington DC and Bristol allowed me to examine the development and application of the various criteria and protocols of assessment employed in the evaluation of historic buildings.  My aim was to use historic preservation as a working context through which to test the age old philosophical question: is value found or is it made? I wanted, specifically, to remove some of the mystique that surrounds the assessment of non-economic kinds of value, and to challenge the veneer of academic objectivity that gives such systems their authority.


In the end I encountered a group of dedicated practitioners in the awkward position of both believing and not believing in the fair and ‘neutral’ valuational frameworks they work to apply on a day to day basis. On the one hand preservation officers could use their system to defend themselves against charges of bias: “We don’t have views, we’re not trying to be arbiters – we feed nominations into the system and see how they measure up”. On the other hand many recognised that influence was often and is still brought to bare in the composition of lists either through external political pressure or internally held personal preferences and priorities.  Less obvious though was the systematic bias coded in to logics of selection that privilege the kinds of histories that are already heavily represented.


It was a tremendous conceit for the originators of the lists to assume that their own tastes and sensibilities (those of a white male professional class patronised by an economic and cultural elite) could operate as the default setting of value and work on behalf of us all.  Today the skewed nature of the United States National Register of Historic Places, the National Historic Landmarks Program, and the UK’s various statutory lists of buildings, serve to record, amongst other things, political influence. Those populations underserved by preservation agencies in the past are now being specifically targeted with outreach initiatives and an associated effort to expand lists in directions that better reflect social and ethnical diversity.

The research project developed a relational theory of value to question this kind of ‘inclusion via expansion’-based solution.  A relation theory of value asserts that any judgment of value involves the reciprocal removal of value from something else. We are not simply saying therefore that one thing is good, we are unavoidably saying that one thing is better than another, one building should be ranked higher than another, one application for funding is more worthy than another, and so on. Value relies on creating an equivalence. It operates in a zero sum game. Value cannot be self-sufficient and infinitely amassed since every attribution leads also to a disavowal.  By identifying only the very best and showcasing the exclusively positive outcomes of their listing practices preservation agencies in the US and UK ignore value’s limits.  In his essay on the Destiny of Value Baudrillard makes this same point: “Because we no longer know what is true or false, what is good or evil, what has value or does not, we are forced to store everything, record everything, conserve everything, and from this an irrevocable devaluation ensues… all that lives by value will perish by equivalence” (1998, 4).  So if value as a concept is to promote social justice and advance equality then what we require more than anything else is its re-distribution. We can’t simply add more things to a list, we need to take things off the list as well.

Samuel Ladkin: Against Value in the Arts

Against Value in the Arts

“Claims for the high morality of art may conceal a deep horror of life. And yet nothing perhaps is more frivolous than that horror, since it carries within it the conviction that, because of the achievements of culture, the disasters of history somehow do not matter. Everything can be made up, can be made over again, and the absolute singularity of human experience – the source of both its tragedy and its beauty – is thus dissipated in the trivializing nobility of a redemption through art.”

Leo Bersani, The Culture of Redemption

“Against Value in the Arts” sounds like a counter-intuitive way to go about describing and defending the value of the arts. The project proposes, however, that it is often the staunchest defenders of art who do it the most harm, by suppressing or mollifying its dissenting voice, by neutralizing its painful truths, and by instrumentalizing its potentiality, so that rather than expanding the autonomy of thought and feeling of the artist and the audience, it makes art self-satisfied, or otherwise an echo-chamber for the limited and limiting self-description of people’s desires.

This project does not argue that the arts have no value: quite the opposite. It argues instead that value judgments can behave insidiously, and incorporate aesthetic, ethical or ideological values fundamentally opposed to the “value” they purportedly name and describe. It argues that even the most ostensibly virtuous of values can become oppressive when disseminated bureaucratically, and as a set of official renderings or statements of artistic accounts. This is the prevalence of an audit culture.

“Against Value in the Arts” argues that the greatest possible value of the arts has been, and might continue to be, to oppose, rigorously and constitutively, dominant and dominating ascriptions of value. “Against Value” proposes that the best way to engage critically with our society is to suspend presumptions of value, to propose an incommensurability, the critique of any “common measure”, even if that common measure pretends to be as neutral as “value”. It seeks to antagonize questions about who gets to ascribe value, and how, and to interpret those ascriptions ideologically.

“Against Value”, which will culminate in a short monograph and an edited collection of essays (co-edited with Robert McKay (Sheffield) and Emile Bojesen (Winchester)), includes thinking about five iterations of against value: 1. against value as a pragmatic recognition of the harm the auditing of value can cause, 2. against value as a critique of the ideology of value 3. against value as a particular kind of making, that is, a preference for bad, wrong, hateful, or failing work. 4. against value as the critical function of art; 5. against value as irrecuperably against value, that is, by thinking through negation (Adorno) or impoverishment (Bersani). Throughout, the project is informed by Jacques Rancière’s reading of “dissensus”, the interpretation not of conflicts of received values, but instead engaged in a “dispute over what is given”.

The quotations that open and close this post provide something of a bookend for my thinking on the project. From the first by psychoanalytic critic Leo Bersani I take a deep suspicion of the redemptive claims made for art, and suspicion of the motivations of those who make such claims. The second is from the social anthropologist Marilyn Strathern whose reading of audit cultures as bad ethnography substantially motivated the first iteration of the Against Value project at the University of Sheffield in 2012. Here it is the great precision of the words “against” and “despite” to which I draw attention. Firstly, there is an imperative here to suspend instrumentalizing our knowledge as though it were sufficient or complete, or in fact could ever be sufficient or complete, whether that is in the description of people and their values, or in the description of their potentiality. Secondly, and in a way that also suggests dissensus, we might resolve to maintain commonality amongst cultural difference, and the potentials within cultures, by conceptualizing that commonality “despite” all descriptions. This can be figured as neither an intrinsic, instrumental, nor exchangeable value; its only commonality is negative.

“I like to think that anthropologists could assert the potentials there are in being human against everything they know about people, individually or collectively, and against how they form particular social relationships[…] I suspect we do not really want our descriptions of ourselves to become true; we hope they are partial enough to hold out promise of better things. No particular description is in any case adequate to the possibilities human beings are capable of, any more than any particular set of relations encompasses people’s capacity for social life. So anything we might use in claiming common humanity is just that: a claim. Rather than redescribe the world in order to find humanity within it, one might wish to conserve the concept beyond and outside descriptions of it, and even despite them.”

Marilyn Strathern, Shiftng Contexts: Transformations in Anthropological Knowledge 

Penny Rivlin: The Cultural Values of Digging

Thursday, 28th November 2013 marked the end of a government-sponsored national campaign, The Big Dig – a year-long initiative that aimed to promote a culture of ‘giving’ through urban community garden projects organized around food growing (www.bigdig.org).  One of our four case studies, The Big Dig is representative of organized garden projects that aim to regenerate cities, spaces and communities.  Through our review of the existing literature, we know that there is nothing especially innovative about organized modes of participatory engagement via digging. What interests us about The Big Dig, however, are the ways in which it seeks to generate impact and value through attaching voluntarism to the idea of digging as gifting. Supporting the development of new and embryonic urban growing spaces, The Big Dig’s launch statement placed particular emphasis on capturing volunteers from constituencies that are ‘traditionally’ disengaged, as a means of improving local wellbeing and community connections, as well as reducing levels of of ‘anti-social behaviour’. Oriented to the conceptual coordinates of the coalition government’s Big Society ethos, this policy intervention is based on the premise that the giving of one’s time and labour via green gardening holds transformative potential for the self, the social, and local environments. If recruitment to The Big Dig is considered as a measure of cultural values of digging across the UK, then the project’s closing summary indicates its (re)emergence: all targets for volunteer and social action opportunities were exceeded (albeit ‘traditionally’ disengaged recruits constituted a modest 1,900 people), suggesting that the values of ‘gifting’ has some cultural purchase in contemporary Britain.

Our project, Cultural Values of Digging explores the ways in which cultural values circulating around digging – as an orchestrating node for the mobilization of diverse agendas – traverse the realms of everyday life, activism and policy. It seeks to establish evidence of cultural values through attention to embodied enactments of digging as everyday life or way of life(style) practices; the role of, and the processes by which, different media technologies and practices are implicated; and mediations and uses of digging/land-use histories and heritage(s) for modes of ethical relating and value-making in the present. With an empirical focus on the North West of England, we are conducting three case studies of digging that have developed over the past three years.  Our Big Dig study examines the specificities of digging cultures and practices in an urban community allotment in Greater Manchester.  Employing in-depth interviewing with volunteer diggers’, alongside textual analyses of the diggers’ engagements with digital media platforms, we are evaluating the extent to which The Big Dig project is a significant indicator of emergent cultural values of digging, and specifically, how such values are expressed, shaped and realized in online and offline contexts.

Reproducing these methods across the two other case studies, we are examining the cultural significance of digging as a metaphor or symbolic connotator in contexts of heritagization; a wartime garden experiment, and a public event.  An example of an online-offline green-living experiment (Marres, 2009), the wartime garden study examines a hetero-nuclear family’s attachment to the WWII ‘dig for victory’ campaign, and their recreation of the gardening broadcaster Mr Middleton’s prescriptions for year-round food self-sufficiency. Whilst cognate wartime slogans have been articulated to a range of consumerist and political agendas in recent years, our interest in the wartime gardeners resides in their nostalgic re-valorization of a past moment of austerity and security as response to the present conjuncture of eco-austerity. Charting and synchronising their experiences of wartime gardening across a wide range of social media platforms, the wartime gardeners reach out to all heterogeneous communities of diggers (many of whom can consume digging culture only at the level of fantasy), gifting online visitors with comprehensive planting schemes re-worked from Middleton’s original manuals; advice on accessing heritage seeds; and vintage themed food growing films and collages.  Here, we are beginning to understand the ways in which the discursivity of heritage digging informs the constitution of cultural values of (digital) sharing; anti-consumerism; resistance (to the commercialization of the food system and to new austerity); and to familial and community resilience.

In the context of the public event, we are similarly establishing evidence for cultural values of sharing, individual and community resilience, and collective resistance in relation to the heritage elements of digging. This case study focuses on the Wigan Diggers’ Festival – an annual, free event in central Wigan (2011-2013. See http://wigandiggersfestival.org/).  The Festival reinvigorates and celebrates the political agency of Wigan born radical Gerrard Winstanley (1609-76) and the Diggers’ movement (1649-51) as symbolic resource for the expression and dissemination of a collection of political ideals circulating around interrelated issues of social justice and the redistribution of land (the ‘commons’), and ‘common’ resources and services – now effectively ‘enclosed’ through privatization and deregulation.  Disembedding Winstanley from land rights and food growing issues, the Wigan Diggers’ harness the historicity of the 17th century diggers’ narrative to express dissent at current welfare austerity measures, neoliberal modes of governance, and for the reclamation and renewal of working class politics and values. Like The Big Dig and the wartime gardeners, the Festival actively disseminates its political ideals in online and offline contexts.  Drawing together virtual and embodied communities into ‘digging’ spaces and places, these case studies diversely express, shape, renew and enact cultural values of digging in dynamic and productive ways.


Penny Rivlin is the Research Associate on The Cultural Values of Digging project, a six-month interdisciplinary project led by Farida Vis (University of Sheffield), which includes three further co-investigators: Peter Jackson (Sheffield), Erinma Ochu (University of Manchester) and Andrew Miles (University of Manchester). Our project website can be found here: http://culturalvaluesofdigging.wordpress.com/

Stephanie Pitts – Dropping in and dropping out: understanding cultural value from the perspectives of lapsed or partial arts participants.

I have been interested in musical participation for some time (see Pitts, 2005), and have carried out a number of case studies that have investigated the experiences and motivations of amateur performers and composers, and of regular audience members at jazz and classical events. While the richness of participants’ musical experiences is always fascinating, and the social and personal satisfaction that they gained from their involvement demonstrates ‘cultural value’ in everyday life, the question that has increasingly troubled me is “If musical participation is so great, why aren’t more people doing it?”

Previous researchers have identified a sector of ‘culturally aware non-attenders’ (Winzenried, 2004; Dobson & Pitts, 2012) – people who are receptive to arts involvement, but are currently minimally engaged. These people seemed like the ideal starting point for an investigation of cultural value ‘from the edges’: being well-disposed towards the arts, they might be willing to contribute to the research, but being minimally involved, their perspectives on arts engagement might be different from regular participants, so shedding light on what makes one person join a choir or go to the theatre while another in similar circumstances uses their time and energy differently. The next challenge, then, was where to find such people…

With my research assistant, Katy Robinson, I have embarked on three interlinked studies of lapsed and partial arts involvement. The first of these (confusingly labelled Study 2 in my initial planning) is a questionnaire survey of arts audiences in Sheffield, in which we ask respondents about their knowledge and experience of a range of arts, genres and venues, and also to describe and evaluate their most recent arts attendance. Thanks to interest from cultural venues in Sheffield, we hope to extend this study to include an ‘audience exchange’ element, where regular concert goers, for instance, will be taken to some contemporary theatre and then join a focus group to discuss their experience of being in an unfamiliar audience. We have been distributing flyers for our survey at cultural events around the city, through mailing lists and social media, and are so far receiving a steady flow of interesting responses, to be followed up in the new year with Study 3: life history interviews with a range of survey respondents to explore their varied routes into adult arts engagement.

Finally (rather than first) we have Study 1, or ‘the violin in the attic’: here we are interested specifically in music, and in those amateur musicians who have ceased to play or had a long gap in their membership of choirs and ensembles. We’ve begun this study with a pilot that follows up on Katy’s MA research, and that of her classmate at Sheffield, Kunshan Goh: both of them completed dissertations looking at musical participation in adulthood, and so we are returning to some of the ensembles that they worked with to seek out members or ex-members who have stories to tell about dropping in and out of ensembles. We are also beginning to approach other ensembles, to ask their members to complete short questionnaires about their current involvement, and to help us recruit lapsed musicians amongst their former members or from their own past experience.

Our data collection is in its early stages but progressing well, and we hope that our findings will help broaden the debate about what ‘cultural value’ means from a range of peripheral perspectives, from lapsed arts participants to occasional arts attenders, and so to bring new insight to what is already known about the use of the arts in everyday life.

You can keep up with our progress on the Sheffield Performer and Audience Research Centre website http://www.sparc.dept.shef.ac.uk/

Peter Lamarque and Gregory Currie: Cognitive and Aesthetic Values in Cultural Artefacts

Cultural artefacts come in many different shapes and sizes and are of many different kinds. They might be tools or weapons, paintings or songs, houses or jewellery. Sometimes it is obvious what values they possess. Practical artefacts made to serve practical purposes are valuable largely to the extent that they perform their functions well. Of course they might also be well designed and look good or feel good to use. That seems like a different kind of value. We might call it “aesthetic” value in contrast to purely practical value. Yet practical artefacts are usually praised both for their efficiency in doing what they are designed to do and for their (aesthetic) look and feel revealed in their design. These often go together. So in very many cases the aesthetic and the practical turn out to be not entirely distinct.

What about works of art? Traditionally aesthetic values are thought to be dominant in the arts. The value of looking at a painting, hearing a song, or musing on a poem lies, so it is said, in the pleasures these activities afford. Practical functions don’t seem important. Are not works of art valued “for their own sake”? But maybe that is too quick. Nor is it clear exactly what being valued “for its own sake” means.

Our project is to explore questions of this kind, addressed to cultural artefacts broadly labelled “works of art”. The focus will be specifically on aesthetic values and cognitive values, examining not just what such values are but how they are related. What do we mean by “cognitive” values? In brief, these are values centred on the advancement of knowledge or understanding. Cognitive values can be thought of as a species of practical value and they are commonly associated with certain art forms (notably representational arts) that are thought not only to afford aesthetic pleasure but also to add to the stock of human knowledge, including self-knowledge and what is sometimes called “know-how”.

Rather than engaging in a purely abstract or philosophical investigation our aim is to focus on three very specific but radically different case studies in the hope of shedding light on these kinds of value:

• The Palaeolithic wall paintings at Chauvet Cave
• A selection of Shakespeare’s sonnets, on the theme of time and mortality
• The Ridley Scott film Blade Runner

We chose these particular case studies for several reasons. We wanted examples of totally different art forms and media; we wanted a wide historical and cultural reach; we wanted artefacts that have already been subject to extensive debate (part of the interest is in the nature of those debates); and we wanted examples that might usefully reveal different aspects of the two principal kinds of values in our study.

We have planned three intensive workshops on these case studies bringing together experts from different perspectives and disciplines: archaeologists and palaeontologists for the cave paintings, Shakespeare scholars and literary theorists for the Sonnets, film theorists and critics for the film. We were delighted, for example, that Jill Cook, who curated the highly successful exhibition on “Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind” at the British Museum, contributed to the Chauvet Cave workshop (held on 7th February 2014), as did Andrew J Lawson, author of Painted Caves: Palaeolithic Rock Art in Western Europe. Throughout there is also an input from aesthetics and philosophy of art. The interdisciplinary nature of the enquiry is crucial to it. The remaining two workshops will take place at the end of February and in April.

It is difficult to predict what kinds of intellectual findings will emerge overall—that is what is exciting about it—but we are hoping that the unusual juxtaposition of the case studies, the breadth of expertise called on, and the philosophical overview to be developed will yield genuine new insights in the longstanding debate about the values of art in general and the complex relations between the cognitive and the aesthetic in particular.

Pat Thomson – A critical review of the Creative Partnerships archive: How was cultural value understood, researched and evidenced?

What can the Creative Partnerships archive tell us about cultural value?

Creative Partnerships (CP) was the biggest and longest running arts and education intervention in the world. CP aimed to transform students’ experiences of schooling, expand teachers’ classroom approaches and dramatically improve the ways in which schools functioned and performed. Its focus was on ‘creative learning’ and whole school change. CP operated in England from 2002-2011 and worked intensively with over 2,700 schools, 90,000 teachers and over 1 million young people. It touched 1 in 4 schools in the country, and over 6,500 national arts and creativity organisations were involved in CP. Because 70% of the funding went to support creative practitioners, Price Waterhouse Coopers estimated that each CP£1 generated £15.3 of economic value.

CP understood itself as making a cultural offer. It supported teachers and young people in extended cultural experiences – working on a project with an artist (for example a dancer, sculptor, film-maker, story-maker) or a company (from the Royal Shakespeare Company to a local community arts organization) or a public institution such as a gallery, library or museum.

It was presumed that through these projects young people would both learn creatively and learn to be creative. Within CP there were strongly held views that the cultural offer supported children and young people to develop imagination, critical and reflective thinking, leadership, confidence and motivation, wellbeing and a strong sense of responsible empowerment.They were thus able to learn successfully, act as good citizens in their schools and communities and were prepared for 21st century life work and life (Thomson, Jones, & Hall, 2009).

While the aims of CP were not to produce cultural value per se, many of its explanations of creative learning overlap with the AHRC framework. For example, CP staff and texts always talked of the importance of reflection – “the ability to question, make connections, innovate, problem solve and reflect critically” – and citizenship -“imagine how the world could be different and have the confidence and motivation to make positive change happen”.

CP produced an enormous range of artefacts, ranging from literature reviews, research reports, publicity and promotional materials, demonstrations in the form of films and posters, to the annual plans and evaluation reports that each funded school had to submit. To date there has been no analysis of this material to assess what understandings it might have to offer. The archive, now housed at The University of Nottingham, has the potential to contribute further to international understandings about creativity, culture, reform, learning and organizational change.

Our project will systematically examine, for the first time, the CP archive in order to see what its literature reviews, research reports and annual plans and evaluation reports might have to offer the AHRC cultural value rubric. As its considerable body of research used highly diverse approaches, this project will use an interpretative approach to critically assess a range of key texts. The project will investigate and document how a cultural experience was understood, and what methodologies and methods were used to investigate CP’s cultural offer and the cultural experience of teachers and young people, and will show what kind of data the various approaches produced. On this basis, the project will then offer an assessment of the value of particular kinds of research methodologies and methods, and identity any areas for possible further investigation. It will also offer a synthesis of the various ways in which cultural experience was theorised.

We have begun by scoping the 150 plus commissioned research reports, focusing on the question of well-being. We can already see that this has been defined in different ways by researchers – for example it is taken as synonymous with general health, being the same as resilience, as an economic benefit, as a meaningful subjective evaluation, as a necessary component of a ‘good’ social life and as an end point in itself. Our plan is to write about our interpretations of the research material in a short summary paper then go on to other parts of the AHRC framework. When we finish with these research texts, there is still a very considerable digital archive to tackle!

Professor Pat Thomson (PI) and Dr Jan Keane, (research fellow), School of Education, The University of Nottingham

Thomson, P., Jones, K., & Hall, C. (2009). Creative whole school change. Final report. London: Creativity, Culture and Education; Arts Council England. See also http://www.artsandcreativityresearch.org.uk.

Pat is also the PI on a Research Development Award funded by the Cultural Value Project entitled: ‘The experience and value of live art: what can making and editing film tell us?’ You can read about it here: http://www.tate.org.uk/about/projects/experience-and-value-live-art-what-can-making-and-editing-film-tell-us

Calvin Taylor: A Perspective from Cultural Economy

In 1930, reflecting on the possibilities of life 100 years into the future, the economist and later the first Chair of the Arts Council of Great Britain John Maynard Keynes predicted that humanity would have solved the “economic problem” but, would have in the process created a new one: “how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well”. In Keynes’s world the economy had one objective: to create the wealth necessary for the whole of society to live a full and rich cultural life. The two things were distinct. Interestingly, whilst Keynes was prepared to admit that there were alternatives to market economy (something the modern world has learned to forget); he would have found it difficult to imagine that culture was anything other than a given (the alternative being something over which the modern world simultaneously celebrates and agonises).

Things are very different today. You don’t need to subscribe to one of the many variants of postmodernism to see that the types of things that get bundled up respectively as ‘economic’ on the one hand and ‘culture’ on the other are very closely related. The emergence of a whole host of culturally reflexive economic imaginaries: the experience economy, the cultural economy and the creative economy to name just three here, ask important questions about the contemporary relationship of culture and economy, most importantly for my project, the extent to which they share common intellectual architecture, especially with respect to the use of the term value. Whilst economists of a more traditional stripe tend on the whole to ignore cultural matters (or assume that culture is just an odd corner of consumer economics), it is surprising to note how many advocates of culture fail to recognise any other model of economic life than those inscribed by marginalism and neo-classicism. In fact, I think many ardent defenders of culture’s specificity would be surprised to discover just how much their arguments rest on assumptions shared by precisely these kinds of models. What makes the alternative cultural economic imaginaries interesting is the possibility that they might actually suggest alternative economic models which might not reconcile easily with market economy.

My project, a critical review, is interested in how these models construct their respective ideas of cultural value and the extent to which they are capable of sustaining alternative ideas about economic life. For thirty years I have been reading economics, cultural analysis and philosophy in parallel (stimulated I would say by my under-graduate experience at City University, London, in the 1980s where I took courses in the History of Economic Thought, the Sociology of Art and Popular Culture, and Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Philosophy) with a sneaking suspicion that there are all sorts of historical entanglements between these three bodies of thought. Some of those entanglements, I think, have important things to say about our contemporary ideas of cultural value. My review will take a series of historical lenses on the relationship between culture and economy and apply them to our contemporary cultural imaginaries. My basic outlook is informed by the interactions between political economy, critical theory, cultural analysis and philosophy, for which together, I use the term cultural economy. This, I think, is something fundamentally different to cultural economics, which, on the whole works within the marginalist and neo-classical economic traditions.

As far as the specific AHRC Cultural Value Project goes, I am generally speaking unhappy that the ‘economic’ gets conflated with only one tradition or approach. I think the arguments about cultural value today have much to offer both economy and culture, and I think, in broad terms, culture has much to gain from entertaining a much more diverse view of economy than current positions seem to reflect. Keynes reflected on one kind of future for 2030. The world that could entertain the idea that economy and culture were fundamentally different things has gone. However, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the object of achieving a rich and full cultural life for all society has gone with it. Maybe we need to think a little intensely about a different kind of economy, and with it the possibility of a different kind of cultural life.

Janelle Reinelt: Theatre Spectatorship and Value Attribution

What do people ‘do’ with their experiences? How do they process them? ‘Theatre Spectatorship and Value Attribution’ approaches the challenging call of the Cultural Value Project by searching for the network of associations that audiences activate when they attend the theatre. Partnering with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Young Vic, and the Plymouth Drum, we set out to trace the pattern of connections established by spectators after seeing a show. We ask what they remember shortly afterward, and in two months’ time, as well as asking some subjects about a show they saw over a year ago. We also ask whether they communicated about their experience to anybody, and if so, to whom and using what medium (face-to-face? Facebook? Phone?). We ask if the shows connect to anything going on in the world or in their private lives. And we ask what value such experiences have to our subjects, and why.

Nine productions have been chosen for the study ranging from a classic, Hamlet, to a new adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize winner, Wolf Hall (both at the RSC); from a new play such as David Greig’s The Events (at the Young Vic) to an experimental work from the 1927 company called The Animals and Children Took to the Streets (at the Plymouth Drum). These evenings in the theatre are rich and variegated enough to provoke a panoply of reactions from research subjects. They respond to questionnaires and interviews, and participate in creative workshops that go beyond fact-finding to stimulate imaginative associations between shows and the people who have seen them.

While this research is well underway (in October and into early November, seven of the shows have been surveyed and some interviews and workshops have taken place), we are not yet in a position to predict substantive outcomes. What we have seen is that many of our subjects (self-selected in response to an invitation to participate) are passionate about their theatre experiences and often extremely clear about assigning value to this activity. After viewing Mark Ravenhill’s Candide, one subject wrote: ‘I like musical comedies, but I also like the big subjects to be tackled and not shirked, and they don’t get much bigger than the ones mentioned [in Candide]—life choices, genetic manipulation etc.’ Many subjects communicate with partners or other family members, friends or bartenders; often face-to-face, but using social media as well. The project intends to harvest additional data from social media through establishing Twitter searches and Google Alerts to capture blog and comment-box mentions of our performances, and to use Facebook’s search facilities to capture interactions on the social network. These will provide an additional data base for our analyses.

Theatre Spectatorship and Value Attribution also hopes to illuminate the role of memory and time-based processes in cultural value. To ask, for example, how people remember—in images? key lines? themes or story-lines?—is to begin to understand what we retain from experiences. In asking subjects about shows they saw a year ago, we are hoping to follow the traces of theatrical experience as they become amalgamated into an individual’s life, and to query what, if anything, remains in consciousness.

In undertaking this project, the British Theatre Consortium is following up on previous research into audiences and spectatorship. Working always with both the artistic and academic communities, BTC has run four sector-wide conferences and conducted a study of new writing 2003-2009 for Arts Council England (2010). In response to John Knell and Matthew Taylor’s RSA pamphlet, ‘Arts Funding, Austerity and the Big Society’, we partnered with The Royal Society of Arts (2012) for a round table entitled ‘From Spectatorship to Engagement’ comprising 25 invited artists, scholars, and public figures to discuss different models of capturing public value. BTC has also recently partnered with Manchester Metropolitan University and The Library Theatre in a study titled ‘The Spirit of Theatre’. Focusing on a production of Mother Courage, and on the associations and memories of audiences about The Library Theatre, we investigated and analysed the meaning and effect of the work of the Library Theatre in Manchester, using oral history and creative research techniques in addition to surveys and interviews. This study has been a kind of pilot project for ‘Theatre Spectatorship and Value Attribution’ with which it shares the emphasis on memory and processual analysis.

As we move into the analytic phase of our project, we are especially interested in the way the micro-practices of everyday life generate or negate cultural value. We seek evidence of value attribution at the corpuscular level of individual activity within a public context.

Our research team has started a blog of personal memories and observations triggered by working on the project. See our posts and more about BTC at http://britishtheatreconference.co.uk/

Helen Rees Leahy: Learning from the Past

“Art is not only a useful thing… but is, certainly for all dwellers in large towns, a necessary for health. Neither the community nor the individual, who is not affected by the influence of Art, can possibly live a full healthy life in a modern town.”

Thomas Coglan Horsfall, The Need for Art in Manchester, 1910

From the perspective of 2013, Thomas Coglan Horsfall’s 1910 prescription of a regular dose of art for the inhabitants of Manchester sounds remarkably prescient. Today, the idea that access to the visual arts can deliver diverse benefits, beyond aesthetic enjoyment alone, to both the individual and their community is established orthodoxy among cultural practitioners and policy-makers. Indeed, the quest to produce evidence of the social, developmental and therapeutic value of cultural participation drives much of the current academic and institutional research into the production of cultural value.

A century ago, Horsfall needed no such research outcomes to make his case. Instead he relied on the ‘evidence’ of his own remarkable experiment of putting into practice the ideas of his mentor, John Ruskin, on the capacity of art to promote both social reform and spiritual well being: namely, the creation of Manchester Art Museum. Horsfall’s Museum opened in Ancoats, one of the poorest areas of the city, in 1886 and contained rooms dedicated to painting, sculpture, architecture and domestic arts. The educational purpose of the enterprise was manifest in the detailed notes, labels, pamphlets and guided tours that explained the artworks to visitors, especially children.Innovations included free concerts, lectures and other entertainments on weekday evenings and Sunday afternoons, all of which became extremely popular in the neighbourhood.

Reflecting on the success of the Museum, Horsfall argued that it clearly demonstrated that exposure to artworks was essential to ‘maintaining the mental and moral health of the inhabitants of large towns’(Horsfall, The Need for Art in Manchester, 1910. p.35). For Ruskin and Horsfall, it was self-evident that paintings could inspire religious faith and understanding through the depiction of the beauty of nature as well as biblical scenes. And this, of course, reveals a critical difference between Horsfall’s justification for investment in museums and galleries and our contemporary debate about cultural value.

Horsfall’s work – and its rhetorical and institutional legacies – frames many of the questions that we are researching in our cultural value project ‘Learning from the Past: Cultural Value, then and now, in principle and in practice.’ The project aim is to introduce historical breadth to contemporary questions of cultural value, by bringing historical sources into dialogue with contemporary practice and research. Specifically, we are investigating histories of museum and gallery practice in Horsfall’s ‘ugly town’ of Manchester (ibid. p.17).

So how do museums and galleries today understand and draw on the resources of their own histories in their practice today? One answer to that question is provided by the current exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery, entitled ‘Art for All: Thomas Horsfall’s Gift to Manchester’. It’s a rare outing for some of the artworks from the Manchester Art Museum, now in the collection of Manchester Art Gallery, most of which are regarded as embarrassingly kitsch and/or lacking in artistic quality by today’s professional curators. Horsfall’s emphasis on personal development, education and inclusivity resonate with present practice, but his overtly religious agenda and aesthetic taste are less compatible with present notions of cultural value.