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What’s next for cultural value


Over 1,000 people took part in eleven free events over ten days – our inaugural ‘festival of ideas’ has given us lots to think about

Professor Ben Walmsley, Director of the Centre for Culture Value summarises the past two weeks and considers what’s next for cultural value.

Our main aim for our inaugural festival of ideas was to engage as diverse a range of people as possible in current debates about arts, cultural, heritage and screen-based activities and to reflect on the differences they make to people’s lives and to society.

We ran workshops to give people a taster of our work and the ways in which we can collaborate over the next four years. But mainly, we asked people to share their views about how they define culture and its value to them; to share thoughts and examples about how they and their organisations have responded to the Covid-19 crisis; to feed back their experiences on collaborating with academics and academic research; to unpick and disrupt current evaluation practice; to reflect on the role of digital in moving engagement forwards; and to reconsider whose values matter (most) as we strive to rebuild and/or reset our sector.

Over the past two weeks, we have explored, discussed and debated these questions with some of the leading organisations, academics and practitioners in the sector, as well as bringing fresh voices into the conversation. Unsurprisingly, we heard quite a lot and needless to say we’re still digesting much of it!

But there were certainly some clear messages and some fascinating provocations…

We heard that the cultural sector – defined in its broadest sense – needs to change and change quite radically. Power lies at the heart of questions about cultural value and evaluation, and unless existing power structures are disrupted – both within and beyond our sector – then our ideas will remain ideals.

We heard that cultural evaluation should be creative and irrational as well as data-driven and strategic, capturing the spiritual as well as the operational. We heard a lot about the need to fail forward and be reflective if we want to learn as a community. We learnt to distinguish between digital distribution, digital marketing and digital engagement. And there was consensus that we need to develop our cultural value evidence base and address significant gaps in knowledge, particularly around the contested impacts of culture on health and wellbeing.

We’re delighted that so many people engaged with our events but even more delighted that so many engaged with them so actively and constructively. They have certainly given us a lot to reflect on over the next four years as we deliver our ambitious plans.

So what’s next?
After we’ve taken a breather we’re going to continue to launch our new CultureHive platform in partnership with the Arts Marketing Association. Robyn Dowlen, our Post-Doctoral Research Associate, is still busy summarising existing studies of culture, health and wellbeing and we’re going to dedicate a few months in 2021 to exploring the topic of creative ageing with lots of opportunities to get involved.

Our evaluation working group members will be busy co-developing a set of principles to inform cultural evaluation, and there will be opportunities to feed into these via a wiki. And we will be launching our Collaborate fund in spring 2021, which will support research collaborations between the sector and academics.

Meanwhile, we’ll be continuing our research into the impacts of Covid-19 on the cultural industries and we’ve just received another grant to enable us to develop a set of standards and protocols to make cultural data work better for the sector and for funders and policymakers. So that should keep us out of mischief for a while!

Many thanks to those who chaired or facilitated or spoke at the sessions and to all who gave their time, thinking, energy and positivity so generously. This was a really positive way to begin our journey as a Centre for thinking and practice around timely issues of cultural value.

In the next few weeks we will be sharing recordings of some of the discussions so there will be a chance to dip into any sessions you missed. Please do keep in touch via our mailing list and on twitter @valuingculture and LinkedIn and we’ll let you know when they’re ready.

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