News: ‘art for art’s sake’ argument won’t win cash

Wednesday 12 May 2004

The arts must improve the way they measure and assess their social impact if they are going to secure the funding they need, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr). In a new report, For Art’s Sake: Society and the Arts in the 21st Century, ippr warns that without this, the social benefits of arts funding will be overlooked.
Recommendations include:

  • Increased independent evaluation and research. The Department of Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS), Arts Council England, local authorities and regional development agencies need to improve the rigour and quality of evidence collection on the wider social benefits of the arts. There needs to be a shift toward objective evidence collection and away from advocacy for the arts dressed up as robust evaluation.
  • Spending on participatory arts programmes targeted at those most in need: The Government and Arts Council England should consider refining existing and worthwhile participatory arts programmes through even more effective targeting of current resources on culturally deprived citizens. The Index of Multiple Deprivation could be used to facilitate this without compromising either current capital funding commitments or undermining the need to promote facilities such as national centres of excellence.
  • Strengthen regional arts: As further demonstration of its commitment to regionalism, the now merged Arts Council England should consider moving its head office out of London as a symbolic statement of continued and growing commitment to the whole of the country.

The fact that there are far more opportunities to engage with the arts in London than elsewhere is highighted. The most up-to-date official figures showing just one in three people in Wales ‘attend the arts’ compared with one in two in Greater London. Attendance at museums and galleries is just one in four outside London compared with four in ten in the capital, while the attendance by social class has hardly changed in five years.

Ian Kearns, ippr Associate Director, said: “The arts certainly deliver social benefit but the old ‘art for arts sake’ argument is not going to wash, particularly when spending priorities are tight. For example, The National Gallery’s fight to keep Raphael’s ‘Madonna of the Pinks’ was given a £11.5 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to help keep the painting in the UK. From the Treasury’s perspective that is more than 600 newly qualified nurses or teachers or prison officers.

“Assessing the value of the arts is not like evaluating hip operations or manufacturing output but the best way for the arts to compete for funding is to show evidence of their social benefit. For example, official figures show that one in six adults suffer from a mental health problem at any one time, while offending by ex-prisoners costs society at least £11 billion a year. There is certainly evidence of the arts helping in the treatment of mental health patients and in cutting re-offending rates but these social benefits need to be evaluated more systematically.

“All too often evaluation reports are advocacy documents for the next funding bid rather than a realistic assessment of a projects’ impact. The contribution to wider social goals is not to deny the intrinsic value of the arts but a recognition that their contribution is founded in the self same intrinsic value.”

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