Industry Panel on Value in the Arts, Cultural Organisations and Events

Tully Barnett (School of Humanities and Creative Arts, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia)

International Journal of Event and Festival Management

ISSN: 1758-2954

Article publication date: 15 June 2015



Barnett, T. (2015), "Industry Panel on Value in the Arts, Cultural Organisations and Events", International Journal of Event and Festival Management, Vol. 6 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Industry Panel on Value in the Arts, Cultural Organisations and Events

Article Type: Research note From: International Journal of Event and Festival Management, Volume 6, Issue 2.

This is a report of Industry Panel held at the Global Events Congress IV in Adelaide, South Australia, in July 2014. What follows is a point summary of a dense conversation by way of response to an initial set of questions. The questions were:

  • Where do the figures come from for economic impact studies and how can we be confident they generate an accurate picture of cultural activity?

  • Organisations collect a wide range of data for cultural events yet still tend to emphasise economic data. What pressures cause this?

  • Does government believe the figures generated in quantitative data exercises?

  • Is the most important measurement of culture’s value an audience’s?

  • How does value work as a relation between audiences, subscribers, and government?

  • What other conceptions of value operate within cultural organisations?

The panellists were:

  • Alan Smith (CEO, State Library of South Australia);

  • Alex Reid (Head, Arts SA, now Deputy Chief Executive at the Department of State Development, Adelaide, South Australia);

  • Professor Barry Burgan (then at Torrens University, now at Bond University);

  • Christie Anthoney (CEO, Festivals Adelaide);

  • Karen Bryant (General Manager, Adelaide Festival Corporation); and

  • Rob Brookman (General Manager, State Theatre Company of South Australia).

Chair: Professor Julian Meyrick (Strategic Professor of Creative Arts, Flinders University)

In terms of Adelaide arts ecology the Panel was representative of the leading institutions and relationships: three major cultural organisations, an umbrella agency, a government department, and an expert economist.

The views of those actually working in the cultural sector are important not only as a “ground” for theorising culture’s value, but because they provide categories of experience by which it is instantiated in an embodied way. Research into culture’s operation, including the accrual of value, cannot afford to treat it in a purely distant way, as a series of effects or symptoms. It remains at all times a Habermassian “life world” and the following conversation made the richly embedded nature of panellists’ positions palpably clear.

Julian Meyrick opened the Panel by discussing two “tyrannies” experienced by the organisations in the arts and culture sector: the tyranny of “the now” and the tyranny of aggregation

Alex Reid, Arts SA (now Deputy Chief Executive at Department of State Development) Different value systems co-exist in a complex ecosystem. Cultural organisations are used to working with the state government to develop the value propositions of their activities. The key question is: how to judge and value an organisation by way of making a decision about funding?

The reality is we always need to defund some organisations so that we can fund others. We ask organisations to articulate what difference they make by existing and offer them the opportunity to determine which organisations they want to benchmark themselves against. We allocate additional funds to maintain these assessment exercises.

The recent relocation of Arts SA from the Department of Premier and Cabinet to the Department for State Development has both real and logistical consequences. The value proposition in relation to culture moves from being an incidental extra, the cream of life, to an important contributor to the state’s economy and identity.

We have moved beyond the paradigm of Creative Industries. We need a consistent methodology for determining the value of what we do.

Putting culture firmly on the state government agenda is important: vibrancy, well-being, social inclusion, and so on. It is important to get on the same page about economic terms and use the same methodology. But we have to tell different stories with it.

During festival time, the psyche of the South Australia is at its peak and there is a profound optimism. We need to measure this somehow.

Christie Anthoney, Festivals Adelaide

Festivals Adelaide began in 2011 as a joint initiative of the ten major arts festivals in Adelaide, using a model successful in Edinburgh to ensure conversation across strategic arts initiatives in the city. But there is also safety in numbers. There is extra value in existing as a group as well in composite parts. Thinking more broadly than the impact of individual festivals allows us to see Adelaide as an important festival city. In part this is because of the characteristics of Adelaide such as the size, layout of the inner city, and the helping hand it receives from the weather. But it is also because of the cultural origins of Adelaide and a long-term and sustained investment in the “Festival State”. Adelaide is the perfect venue to build arts infrastructure that service both the cultural sector and the economy.

Barry Burgan, economist, then at Torrens University (now Bond University)

In the 1980s, neo-classical economists gained the balance of power and saw free markets as a tool by which to fix everything. But elements of value that are not typically seen can be brought to light through a properly constructed data collection system:

1. Direct economic impact:

  • value it as it is important;

  • develop appropriate methodologies for assessing it; and

  • note that it depends heavily on other factors.

2. Quality of life:

  • the Florida effect;

  • the importance of the knowledge-based economy; and

  • the importance of culture qua culture.

3. Consumer surplus based:

  • all the intangible benefits that are very difficult to quantify;

  • highways are measured in time savings – but this is not a market concept; and

  • consumer surplus is part of the valuation chain.

Developing methodologies to quantify intangibles at least lets us put a number on it to get it into the value conversation. If you don’t count it, it will be ignored. There is a wave of new measurement techniques coming through. The work that Warren McCann has done in valuing more than the export value of arts and culture is evidence of this. This means that governments are beginning to entertain new ways of understanding the value of arts and culture.

Numbers are subject to measurement decisions and errors. We must always look with some degree of scepticism.

Rob Brookman, State Theatre Company of South Australia

There is a sad dichotomy between sport and the arts in Australia. We understand the health and social benefits of the arts, but the public discourse is dominated by sport. Faith in the arts and culture for their intrinsic worth is regularly challenged.

The arts are also challenged for relevance in the face of “real-world” issues – health, education, poverty, etc. This challenge can be felt not just in a sense of intrinsic worth but also quite directly through competition for philanthropy. Philanthropy is important to the arts; it is a very significant element in fleshing out income from box office and government funding. For some companies it may run as high as 15 per cent of total income. Inevitably philanthropists are faced by choices as to where they will contribute their support – and the arts find themselves in competition with compelling causes such as the Cancer Council or the Salvation Army.

It is also true that sometimes the arts simply don’t live up to expectations; an artistic work of high ambition may simply not achieve its intent. This risk is part and parcel of what we do. But it can sometimes lead to an agonising questioning of our relevance.

In the face of such crises of confidence in the face of the “real world” and the “real economy”, what if we turned the value paradigm upside down and contemplated the idea that the economy serves culture and not vice versa.

Instead of aspiring to be financially rich, we might aspire to live richer lives. Culture becomes central to such an aspiration, not a way of diverting ourselves while we get on with the “real work” of stoking the economy.

We need evaluation tools that ask the audience how they value the arts rather than asking questions that demand a numerical answer; generate more qualitative questions about valuing the arts and then put a number on it.

Some questions about responses to the arts:

  • How many people find that the arts help in living a rich, creative internal life; how many find that the arts facilitate reflection; how many have crossed a cultural gap as a result of an arts experience; how many have experienced a visceral shock of emotion in the face of a cultural experience?

  • How many related this work to another work they had experienced?

  • How many had a debate or a discussion as a result of a cultural experience?

  • How many understood their world better of developed their thinking about their world as a result of such an experience or discussion?

If we could work out ways to measure these kinds of results, to determine how strong the impact of a work of art is, we would be on the way. We could build an “emo-meter”!

There is a self-evident and intrinsic value to what we do; we’re just not used to explaining, measuring, cataloguing and justifying that value on its own terms.

Julian Meyrick

There is a trade-off between aggregation and narrative, and cultural organisations and events are all looking for a better way to explain the value of what they do by way of a perfect balance between the two.

Alan Smith, State Library of South Australia

Only a tiny part of what cultural organisations do is ever examined and acted upon.

The duplication in reporting is enormous – very slightly different questions asked over and over again; different masters asking the same thing. Oversight bodies don’t communicate with each other or coordinate well enough to receive cultural data efficiently.

Reporting mechanisms are old-fashioned and not useful. Everything has to be reported on separately despite the convergence and overlap of cultural activities. We are using nineteenth century mechanisms and concepts to report in a twenty-first century world.

Karen Bryant, Adelaide Festival Corporation

Certainly there are some significant problems around current measurement for the Adelaide Festival. People seem to be more interested in whether you have grown in audience numbers, numbers of events, ticket sales, and profit.

We would prefer to drive a different narrative, one about quality and uniqueness that better fits our core business. A focus on continual growth in event size and attendance runs the risk of diluting our ability to deliver at the highest international standard. We have a charter that say we are about excellence, quality, and events of scale that would not otherwise occur. We want to measure things that are relevant to that agenda, not just the things we may be expected to measure and report on with regards to numbers.

We have one KPI about increasing international attendance, which is a useful indicator for us about how successful we currently are in positioning ourselves as the premier Australian festival rather than as an outcome in itself. We also monitor what the international press is saying about us and then find a way to lead with that in reporting as that also is an indicator of the sort of profile and international position we maintain.

There is always a danger in more measurement which the agenda always seems to be about size and numbers.

Christie Anthoney

The media plays an important role here, hungry journalists who go after these numbers ravenously.

If we do not release particular statistics, journalists ask questions about why and assume the worst. Cultural operators get measured against each other relentlessly.

Alex Reid

Treasury Departments care less for numbers. They care about finance and the two concepts are quite distinct. They care about whether a cultural organisation is financially healthy, not as much about how many people attended an event. This is important to realise in regards to how to marry cultural achievement and numerical data.

Rob Brookman

There is a strong bias towards receiving only good news – and a demand driven for growth and development which matches the same demand and underlying assumption of economics. “Growth is good”. The fact is that artistically and audience-wise, growth and development will not necessarily be linear. Not every year is going to be a better year than the last. Not every number is going to be a good number. While numbers tell some meaningful stories, they miss others. How do you enunciate the development of values? How do you measure the deepening of accumulated experience and the historical relationship built with a developing audience?

Alan Smith

We need to measure the risk of cultural activities as well. We should plan for one out of three events being successful and cross-subsidising the other two as important but less financially remunerative.

Julian thanked the panellists for their contribution and discussion concluded.

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