Understanding the cultural value of 'In Harmony-Sistema England'

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Art, Media and American Studies


The value of young people's participation in arts activity has been hotly debated over recent years. Following the 'subsidy revolution' (Elliott 1997), which granted youth-based participatory arts activities greater prominence in the UK since the late 1990s, questions about the value of such activities, and the most appropriate ways of understanding their outcomes, have been raised from a number of quarters (see, e.g., Belfiore, 2002, 2004; Merli 2002; Belfiore and Bennett 2008, Galloway 2009). Indeed, for many commentators, the growing emphasis on assessing and evaluating what have been termed the 'instrumental' outcomes of young people's arts participation risk ignoring what are, for most participants, the very aspects of the participatory encounter which serve to motivate them to engage in the first place: its 'intrinsic' value as arts activity.

This project seeks to contribute to recent debates urging the need to transcend the 'instrumental' vs 'intrinsic' impasse (Knell & Taylor 2011) by exploring the ways in which cultural value is understood by stakeholders involved in one novel participatory youth-focussed and music-based initiative currently developing in England: In Harmony-Sistema England. Our choice of this initiative offers a particularly fascinating case for exploration because, where most attempts to link music to forms of social good have employed popular music forms (as part of an effort to appeal to the disadvantaged young people with whom they work), In Harmony-Sistema England, taking its lead from the highly successful Venezuelan El Sistema initiative, adopts an orchestral model and engages young people using the 'high art' form of classical music. While the El Sistema model explicitly invokes the intrinsic dimensions of musical activity as a means of engendering growth and development in participating individuals, it does so with the conscious intention of generating spill-over effects which register at the level of what have been elsewhere termed 'instrumental' outcomes. Yet prioritised throughout projects' activities are those explicitly artistic goals and achievements which serve to motivate young people's participation. While the project has seen great achievements in Venezuela, it remains the case that relatively little is understood, within scholarly circles, about the transformative components of the programme and the ways in which participants' valuation of the cultural dimensions of the project translate into other kinds of (broader) effects.

In recognition of the different models of delivery and project partnership currently involved in the different incarnations of In Harmony-Sistema England, as well as the importantly differing local cultural conditions and subjective understandings of cultural value brought by different participants and stakeholders, this project will engage with the concerns sketched above by exploring three different In Harmony projects, located across England.

Planned Impact

This project is designed to impact directly upon the evidence-base that informs cultural policy. In particular, it will allow those responsible for initiatives like 'In Harmony-Sistema England' to understand their success. It will do this in four ways.

First, the project will offer a particular approach to the understanding and measurement of 'cultural value', one that negotiates the - often unproductive - dichotomy of 'intrinsic' and 'instrumental' value.

Secondly, the project will provide findings based upon this alternative approach. By interviewing participants of 'In Harmony-Sistema England' projects, it will illustrate how project participants, teachers and others understand the benefits that have been derived from the initiative.

Thirdly, the project will compare different forms of the 'In Harmony-Sistema England' initiative. This will allow us to comment on how the cultural value attributed to 'In Harmony-Sistema England' projects varies according to the factors which distinguish one project from another (e.g., geographical location and local cultural conditions; make-up of participating groups and host communities; nature of project delivery partnership and participating institutions; involvement of broader community beyond IHSE participants; mode, intensity and duration of project participation).

Finally, through the theoretical and conceptual advancements made in approaching questions of 'cultural value', the research project will feed into the community arts evaluation literature, thereby connecting with wider debates about the value of community-based arts interventions and their potential effectiveness.


10 25 50
Description The following summary provides some insight into what the research team has, on the basis of the accounts gathered, found to be the most significant findings:

This research project was designed to explore questions of cultural value in relation to the schools' music project In Harmony-Sistema England (hereafter IHSE). Our core research focus has been upon the ways in which children, their teachers and tutors, and their families understand the value of their participation in IHSE initiatives. The project engaged with three case studies of IHSE initiatives (based in Norwich, Telford and Newcastle) and qualitative data was gathered with primary school children, school staff, parents and IHSE musicians in all three cases. Overall, we found a considerable disparity between the way in which the cultural value of IHSE was articulated by adults and primary school pupils. While there was a broad tendency for children to see value in 'instrumental' terms, adult stakeholders were more willing and able to attribute 'intrinsic' benefits to children's IHSE participation. While children's responses to IHSE participation (our primary research focus) were varied in terms of the value attributed, underpinning them were a series of discernible trends which appeared to be principally informed by levels of parental support and validation for IHSE instrument learning from the home; children's broader levels of school-commitment (IHSE was seen by many as akin to a school lesson); expressed ease in musical instrument learning (leading to progression within projects) and the nature and extent of children's pre-existing investments and engagements with popular musical forms. We found limited, if any, evidence of variations in the value children attributed to IHSE - despite onsiderable variation in the way it was delivered, funded and staffed - with the exception of children at one school, where their participation as wholly voluntary. In significant regards, the ways which children variously understood cultural value in relation to IHSE were informed by both the degree to which its frames of cultural reference resonated with their own or else the relative presence or absence, in their lives, of significant others who perceived value in it.
Exploitation Route Findings have been taken up within ongoing national and international debates about the effectiveness and nature of 'El Sistema'-based music education initiatives (see, e.g., https://geoffbakermusic.wordpress.com/el-sistema-older-posts/the-ahrc-report-and-in-harmony-sistema-england/). Project findings have also fed into theoretical developments concerning the nature of agency during middle childhood and in respect of the usefulness of a relational sociological perspective for understanding children's relationship(s) with music.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism

URL https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/50664/4/Rimmer_et_al_2014_Understanding_the_Cultural_Value_of_In_Harmony_Sistema_England_final_.pdf
Description The projects findings have fed into ongoing national and international debate concerning the effectiveness of 'El Sistema'-based initiatives (see, e.g., https://geoffbakermusic.wordpress.com/el-sistema-older-posts/the-ahrc-report-and-in-harmony-sistema-england/) The projects findings were also discussed in the report 'Understanding the Value of Arts and Culture' - AHRC Cultural Value project report (Crossick, G & Kaszynska, P., 2016). The project's findings are also being drawn upon by the PI for a forthcoming article for a special edition of the journal 'Music and Arts in Action', which focusses upon current debates about 'El Sistema' and initiatives based on this programme.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Public Presentation of Research Findings - Understanding the Cultural Value of In Harmony- Sistema England 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk produced discussion and questions

After the talk I was asked to share the full findings of my research with a local authority music advisor and numerous other members of the public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014