Valuating Art and Culture

Just when I thought my day would be filled with nothing but mind-numbing quantitative tasks, Joe Patti comes along and makes me think. Case in point, he published a fascinating post yesterday examining the value of Arts and Culture to society. Specifically, he pushes back against the what has arguably become one of the cornerstones in valuation conversations: economic impact.

[British philosopher, Dr. Julian Baggini] cautions that even framing the arts in terms of their health benefits or ability to stimulate important neurological centers in the brain represents a trap because it doesn’t allow for the arts to have value in and of itself. This framework uses health benefits to justify the existence of arts and culture.

He says the ultimate goal should be the creation of a more civilized society. In that context, economic growth and technology are instruments toward the goal rather than being the goals.

Adaptistration People 125This is so very on the mark. While economic impact studies have a place in the larger discussion, they shouldn’t be the end-all/be-all of the conversation.

It made me think of the work my wife is doing with her nonprofit, Arts Capacity, that brings live music to prisons. Their programs focus on inmate benefits in the form of “promoting the arts for its ability to re-humanize, restore, and reconcile persons living in stressful and de-humanizing conditions.”

That fits in nicely with Baggini’s view of culture contributing to a more civilized society.

When faced with wearing economic impact blinders or operating in the vacuum of a means to its own artistic-only ends, I’ll take the path Baggini lays out any day of the week.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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