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Measuring and Increasing the Value of Culture Symposium (HOME, Manchester)

Blog post written by Robyn Dowlen (Arts Health ECRN Blog Editor)

On Wednesday 3rd April, HOME Manchester hosted a national symposium which focussed on how best to assess the contribution of culture to social wellbeing and neighbourhood vitality. There was a really wide range of attendees at the symposium, including: artists, economists, researchers and project coordinators. The event was chaired by Hilary Carty (Director of the Clore Leadership Programme), curated by Gerri Moriarty and produced by Contact.

The first part of the day featured a wide range of speakers who had experience in measuring the value of culture with different populations, exploring different aspects of the social and economic impacts of culture. One of the morning’s speakers was Professor Helen Chatterjee (University College London) who described evaluation relating to social prescription programmes, specifically adapting museums towards social prescribing. Helen described the methods that had been used to capture the value of such museum programmes, including the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scales and qualitative data collection techniques (i.e. interviews, museum passports and photographs). However, Helen advised that in her experience no one measure was able to completely capture the complex outcomes associated with such programmes. She suggested that coproduced measures have real value within evaluating the impacts of cultural programmes, enabling participants to suggest what is meaningful to them rather than evaluation being guided by outcomes predetermined by research commissioners or arts funders.

The morning also featured ‘pop-up perspectives’ which were 5-minute stimulation pieces which posed critical questions surrounding the methods currently used to measure the impacts of culture. For example, Simon Ruding (Director of Tipp, University of Manchester) highlighted that ‘smiling and laughter is at the heart of what we do’, sharing a quote from a prisoner’s diary who referred to a theatre programme as “funny laughing-times”. Simon advocated that art should lead the way, enabling laughter and joy to be seen first before predetermined outcome measures. Evie Manning and Saliha Rubina (Common Wealth Theatre) reflected on their experiences of working with researchers and evaluators, suggesting that written reports do not always showcase the value of culture for their artists and performers. They suggested that the creation of photos, videos and podcasts could showcase more about the process of the work, enabling participants to share what is important and meaningful to them in a creative way (see for example their film: The Wedding of the Year).

The purpose of the second part of the day was to reflect on the presentations of the morning and reflect on questions which had been posed by the event’s organisers:

  1. What potential benefits might there be from finding a way (or ways) to assess the contribution which culture makes to social wellbeing and neighbourhood vitality in the UK? Are there potential disbenefits?

  2. What models of measurement or assessment of social impact are being used nationally or internationally? What are their advantages and disadvantages?

  3. Is there value in having a nationally adopted framework? Or might that stifle innovation and experimentation?

  4. What factors might a pilot or research study need to consider to be of value?

We discussed these four questions in small groups and the organisers of the event circulated the tables during this time. The key themes were fed back as part as a larger group discussion, with the panel of speakers reminding the symposium attendees of the global nature of the work that was being conducted, and how we might be able to work together to develop new value ‘goals’ rather than a value ‘framework’. This part of the day was particularly stimulating and it was really interesting to hear from the different disciplines represented in the room.

Overall, the day provided space for reflection surrounding the complex questions of how we measure the value of culture. What was clear was the power of bringing together a wide range of individuals to stimulate new thinking and plan for future directions. I am really looking forward to seeing the outcomes of this symposium in the near future.

If you have attended an arts and health related event and you would like to blog about it, please get in touch!

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