Nick Ewbank – Cultural Value and Social Capital: Investigating Social, Health and Wellbeing Impacts in Three Coastal Towns Undergoing Culture-led Regeneration

For our contribution to the Cultural Value project, the Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health and cultural regeneration consultancy Nick Ewbank Associates carried out research in three coastal towns where there has been significant investment in culture-led regeneration in recent years, focusing on the impacts of Turner Contemporary in Margate, the Creative Foundation in Folkestone and the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea.

We adopted a mixed-methods participatory action research approach, using mind-mapping, vox pops and focus group discussions with around 300 public participants. We also carried our sixteen in-depth interviews with politicians, cultural leaders, academics, funders and public health experts.

The resulting report, ‘Cultural Value and Social Capital’, found that, despite an intuitive feeling that there is a “connection between cultural activity and feeling good”, health and wellbeing is not currently prioritised as a driver of either programming or outcomes. 

The three organisations were found to make a “significant, but at present largely undefined, contribution to social capital and to delivering health and wellbeing in their respective communities”, but outside the specialist field of arts in health practice “this important aspect of cultural value is currently hidden”. 

Des Crilley, Chair of Kent County Council’s Strategic Group for Arts in Kent, is quoted in the report as saying: “I don’t think arts and cultural organisations are able to define the impact they are able to make. They don’t trace it and make it visible. It drives me mad! They change someone’s life and they don’t even realise.”

 

Report Lauch, 16 July 2014. Panel members (Left to Right) Prof Stephen Clift, Helen Goodman MP, Deborah Bull, Sir Peter Bazalgette

Photo Stephanie Mills

Photo Stephanie Mills

We launched the report at a reception at the House of Commons on 16 July 2014. This event included a panel discussion with Prof Stephen Clift (Principal Investigator), Deborah Bull (Culture at King’s, Warwick Commission and AHRC Board), Sir Peter Bazalgette (Chair of Arts Council England) and Helen Goodman MP (Shadow Culture Minister). During the debate Sir Peter said “Fifty percent of local authorities are considering deploying health budget in the arts … it’s about the intrinsic value of the arts first, but to blind yourself to what the [economic and health] benefits are is ludicrous”.

 

Both Sir Peter and Helen Goodman MP, used the event to call for the health and social benefits of the arts to be systematised, with appropriate funding and measurement tools put in place.

Deborah Bull called for a “progressive research agenda” able to take the long view and not driven by the calls of different “flip-flopping” governments. She added that this will require the higher education sector and the research community to work very closely with the cultural sector.

The report proposes the introduction of guidelines with models of best practice, an idea supported by the three organisations involved in the project, who also said they would “welcome the introduction of simple-to-use evaluation tools that might shed light on levels of wellbeing generated by their everyday activities”. The report also suggests that cultural organisations should do more research into barriers to public engagement with their work, and give more consideration to programming and commissions aimed at “addressing specific health and social issues”.

Both the report and a short film of the House of Commons launch event can be viewed at www.canterbury.ac.uk/Research/Centres/SDHR/CentreNews/AHRC-Report-published.aspx

Or at www.nickewbank.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.

Siân Jones: Valuing the Historic Environment

In one way or another, most of my research over the last decade has focused on the role of the historic environment in the production of identity, memory, and place. Through qualitative social research with various constituencies and communities, this work has highlighted the dynamic, iterative, and embodied nature of people’s relationships with the physical remains of the past. At the same time, I’ve become acutely aware of the stark contrast between the forms of value created through these relationships, and the kinds of ‘intrinsic’ value that still largely underpin the designation, conservation and management of specific heritage places. Having also worked with heritage bodies at various times during this research, I’ve become fascinated by the difficult and complex issues surrounding how value is narrated and measured in this area of the cultural sector.

This Cultural Value project investigates these issues through collaboration with four project partners: The Council for British Archaeology, English Heritage, Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. The overall aim is to explore how forms of value are created through people’s relationships with the historic environment, and how the heritage sector can acknowledge, accommodate and communicate this. It is specifically concerned with what is usually referred to in the heritage sector as ‘social value’; a concept that encompasses identity, distinctiveness, belonging, and wellbeing, as well as forms of memory, spiritual association and cultural practice. Through a critical review of existing research the project will examine modes of experience, engagement and practice surrounding the historic environment. It will also explore increasing evidence that points of crisis and conflict are particularly potent contexts for the creation of value. The range of methodologies used in existing research and surveys will be critically discussed, along with their application in the spheres of heritage conservation and public policy. Finally, the appropriateness of a conceptual apparatus that tends to quantify and fix values will be examined. The possibilities for capturing more fluid processes of valuing the historic environment will be considered.

As in other spheres of culture and the arts, the question of value is an increasingly pressing issue for the heritage sector. I’m particularly excited about the opportunity to explore this area in the context of the wider Cultural Value project. Initial consultation meetings with this project’s partners highlight just how much overlap there is between the challenges they face and those confronting other areas of the cultural sector. At the same time, the complexity of the forms of value characterizing the heritage sector make it an ideal context to explore some of the wider issues raised by the Cultural Value Project. Different ways of conceiving of value will be critically analysed and contextualized, with a particular focus on how they intersect and at times conflict with one another. The trend towards defining discrete aspects of value and measuring them through particular outcomes will be critically examined and alternative approaches explored. Furthermore, the project will explore the tension between institutional or ‘official’ values, and the values people produce in and for themselves; a tension that is an endemic and difficult issue across the cultural sector.