Centre for Cultural Value

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Performance & Cultural Industries

Abstract

The UK's arts & cultural sector is thriving: it contributes 674,000 jobs and £11.8bn per annum to the economy and remains one of its fastest growing sectors (DCMS, 2018). Yet despite this strong economic performance and its world-leading reputation for quality, the sector consistently fails to comprehend, capture and convey its values in a compelling way. This is partly because it suffers from structural problems including a lack of diversity, skills gaps (especially in data analysis & digital engagement), poor research & evaluation skills, and significant under-investment in training and R&D. These issues hinder its innovation and resilience and compromise its ability to make a coherent and compelling case for investment to key stakeholders, including private donors, corporate sponsors and HM Treasury, and to cognate sectors such as health & education. So we will dedicate resources to training/developing sector practitioners and students (FE/HE/PGR) in key areas of need including data analysis, audience/participant research, research-driven evaluation and storytelling.

This proposal has been conceived by a genuinely national consortium comprising world-leading universities & sector partners. These partnerships will enable the Centre to quickly tap into existing networks and gain ready access to different types & sizes of arts/cultural organisations from all over the UK. The Centre will be delivered in a collaborative way that draws on the complementary expertise of its core & affiliate members and harnesses this in a strategic way to maximise the potential of its activities. Based partly on the findings of the Cultural Value Project, the Centre's priority themes will comprise: diversity & inequality, public impact, health & wellbeing, place-making, culture-led regeneration, civic engagement, cultural democracy, co-creation & participation. These themes will be prioritized in our calls for £200k seed funding and reflected in our events. The aim of the events is tstimulate fresh thinking on key themes related to cultural value & engagement and communicate this beyond the sector.

The Centre will deliver the following 20 knowledge exchange events over 5 years:
1. Scoping Event 1 (Creative workshop, Opera North/DARE, Leeds)
2. Scoping Event 2 (Open Space event, British Library, London)
3. Launch (Leeds Town Hall)
4. Arts impact evaluation (Creative workshop, U. of Liverpool)
5. Cultural & economic value (Symposium, Cardiff University)
6. Arts, wellbeing & health policy (Colloquium, U. of Leeds)
7. Cultures of participation & co-production (Creative workshop, QMU, Edinburgh)
8. Diversity Forum (Coventry 2021)
9. Audience research & empirical aesthetics (Participatory Action Research event, UCL)
10. Cultures of fandom (Symposium, U. of Bristol)
11. Creative industries, innovation & the creative economy (Symposium, U. of York)
12. Place-making, culture-led regeneration & evaluation (Symposium, U. of Hull)
13. Barriers to cultural engagement (Open Space event, U. of Sheffield)
14. Arts & education policy (Creative workshop, National Theatre/British Library, London)
15. Processes of cultural value (Creative workshop, Eden Court/U. of Highlands & Islands, Inverness)
16. Cultural taste & class (Symposium, U. of Warwick)
17. Arts and conflict resolution (Symposium, Queens University Belfast)
18. Festival & storytelling symposium (Opera North/Leeds 2023, Leeds)
19. Conference on Cultural Value and Engagement (UoL)
20. Evaluation & legacy planning roundtable (UoL)

These events will be supported by our website, which will encourage and facilitate engagement & debate between and beyond the events. Outcomes will be captured via regular research digests & blogs. In order to remain open to stakeholders' input and responsive to emerging issues, the Centre will earmark additional funding to support & partner fringe events that arise during the scoping events and over the lifecycle of the Centre.

Planned Impact

Questions of impact lie at the core of our vision because the overarching aim of the Centre is to bring diverse groups together to stimulate reflective cultural practice, research-driven cultural management, and evidence-based evaluation. A related aim is to share and disseminate the outcomes of this good practice in a systematic and compelling way across and beyond the sector. The intended impacts of this activity are ultimately to enhance the professional skills of arts & cultural practitioners and exert a positive influence on public opinion, funding, philanthropy and policymaking. So we will engage with artists, cultural managers & leaders, marketers, learning, outreach & education officers, curators, producers & programmers to exchange ideas and disseminate best practice. These core beneficiaries will develop their engagement, research & evaluation skills and extend their professional support networks beyond established silos.

Arts and cultural organisations often miss opportunities to maximise the value & impact of their work with their audiences and wider communities. This is largely because they often fail to engage their audiences/participants in interpretive and sense-making activities and thus to capture meaningful impact. Brown & Ratzkin (2011) maintain that facilitating audience preparation and post-processing heightens artistic exchange, culminating in an "impact echo". One of the core impacts of the Centre's activities is thus likely to be documented evidence of enhanced cultural impact, alongside increased awareness and skills regarding the most effective ways of capturing this impact. So while the Centre's core beneficiaries are likely to be arts & cultural organisations themselves, their audiences/participants will benefit from enhanced opportunities for meaning-making made possible by CPD in techniques of audience engagement. Likewise, if the Centre realises its ambition to influence policymaking in areas of education, health & social care, and international development, then school pupils and the general public will reap benefits via increased provision for arts education, arts therapy & participation, and via the strategic adoption of the arts & culture to bring fractured communities together, heal social wounds, and resolve conflicts. There is strong and mounting evidence to support increased public funding in all of these areas. The Centre will harness this disparate evidence to co-produce powerful tools & arguments that will empower the sector to make its case in a more compelling way, underpinned by rigorous research.

The Centre will co-create an accessible online portal and co-design useable tools & resources for the sector. It will broker & facilitate cross-sector discourse & collaboration. The ultimate impact of the Centre will be to create new knowledge and a shared understanding and acceptance of the diverse processes, values and impacts of culture via a more rigorous and systematic approach to impact narration and evaluation. This in turn will enable cultural funding bodies (including NGOs & DCMS) to make a more robust case to HM Treasury for increased funding, for example by evidencing the health/wellbeing benefits of arts & cultural activity through established & emerging methods. In this era of dwindling public funding, especially at local government level, the sector urgently needs to become more resilient. By generating a deeper understanding of how to calculate the social and economic impact of arts & cultural activity, the Centre will play a vital role in shoring up local, regional and national support for public investment and provide powerful case studies to maximise arts & cultural funding in local councils. At the same time, by sharing best practice on how to tell the most compelling stories of impact, the Centre will boost fundraising and philanthropic giving, which will culminate in a more financially sustainable sector and in increased artistic & cultural provision.

Publications

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