Peter Campbell – The Role of Arts and Culture in the Regeneration of Urban Places and Urban Communities: A Critical Review

Arts Council England’s March 2014 report discussing ‘The Value of Arts and Culture to People and Society’ states:

“We know that arts and culture play an important role in promoting social and economic goals through local regeneration, attracting tourists, the development of talent and innovation, improving health and wellbeing, and delivering essential services.”

How is it that we have come to ‘know’ such things? Mostly, evidence has been derived from projects seeking to evaluate the ways in which the arts and culture can ‘regenerate’ cities. This evidence often takes the form of data regarding economic or social impacts, constituting a particular view of ‘cultural value’. But where does this evidence come from, and why is it gathered? Indeed, how is it gathered? What is the object of study? And once evidence has been collected, is it reliable?

This critical review seeks to assess the evidence base around the role of culture in urban regeneration by assessing the methods in use to form this evidence base, and accounting for their usage. It does not seek to categorize methods into ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but rather to consider why any given method or body of evidence would be deployed at a given point to argue the case for the value of culture. Given that academic literature in this area has consistently pointed to the lack of robust evidence in this area for at least 20 years, how can this absence of rigour be understood? And is the Arts Council’s suggestion that, for instance, statistical modelling of national longitudinal datasets may be a particular fruitful area of enquiry to establish more robust evidence in this area in the future a cause for optimism or concern?

The review aims to establish a comprehensive typology of activities assessed and methods used to demonstrate that ‘regeneration’ has occurred, and to analyse the utility of the evidence produced by such methods, by focussing on research carried out over the last 10 years or so in the period in which the notion of ‘cultural regeneration’ achieved greatest prominence. These typologies can then be used to answer questions of key concern to the Cultural Value Project: do the forms of evidence collated to support narratives of regeneration match up with the practices they are seeking to evaluate? Are these narratives of regeneration appropriately supported by the evidence gathered? What would be an appropriate methodological approach for each type of evaluated process, and does practice reflect this? If not, how might we account for this?

By answering these questions the current ways in which ‘cultural value’ is constructed in an urban regeneration context will be both established and critiqued. By delineating the limits of current understanding and knowledge in this area, as well as acknowledging key trends in practice and evaluative methodologies, the review can also indicate how value may be more appropriately constructed in future.