How Do We Value the Arts? Looking Beyond the Metrics

The recording of a talk by Laboratory Adelaide’s Tully Barnett, ‘How Do We Value the Arts? – Looking Beyond the Metrics’, is now available to view online.

The talk—given on 3 June 2021 as part of the Australian Dance Theatre’s Critical Conversations series—outlines how and when arts and culture started being viewed as a business to be weighed purely in terms of metrics.

Dr. Barnett then asks how can artists can seek to reclaim the value of the arts, and employ a vocabulary that speaks to the intrinsic value of the arts as human experience.

The talk can accessed via YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SeNYPO0sfMU

A new ‘policy imaginary’ for Australian art and culture

In a new article on ArtsHub today, Lab Adelaide’s Julian Meyrick and Tully Barnett, together with UniSA’s Justin O’Connor, make the case for a new language of public value that puts arts and culture at the heart of a healthy, diverse and inclusive democracy. The authors applaud the arts sector reforms proposed in a new report from the Australia Institute, Creativity in Crisis, but argue that nothing less than a systematic overhaul of Australian ‘policy imagination’ is required to make these changes possible. Therefore, they call on the arts sector to ditch outdated ‘market first’ economic arguments, and instead reframe art and culture as a public good at the centre of a sustainable new world.

‘The sector must re-learn the language of the public good, and speak of citizens not taxpayers, publics not price-points.’

The article can be accessed online here: https://www.artshub.com.au/2021/08/12/a-new-policy-imaginary-for-australian-art-and-culture/

Exit strategy: a new vision for art and culture?

ArtsHub has published a new article by Lab Adelaide’s Julian Meyrick and Tully Barnett, as well as UniSA’s Justin O’Connor, which analyses the flaws in two new reports on the arts. The authors describe how these reports—by the think tank A New Approach and ex-Grattan Institute Director, John Daley, respectively—misrepresent the history of arts advocacy in Australia and offer solutions that will weaken the sector’s peak body, the Australia Council for the Arts. Instead, the article calls on the arts sector to argue for its central place in Australian society and democracy.

‘A way forward for the cultural sector will not come with professional lobbyists massaging the messages of the minister. It will come from re-asserting an inclusive vision of arts and culture based on citizens’ rights and shared democratic values.’

The article can be accessed online here: https://www.artshub.com.au/2021/07/10/exit-strategy-a-new-vision-for-art-and-culture-263011/

The limits of advocacy: arts sector told to stop worrying and be happy

two contemporary dancers on stage

Lab Adelaide’s Julian Meyrick and Tully Barnett, alongside UniSA’s Justin O’Connor, have an article up on The Conversation that argues new methods of advocacy are needed for the arts. The article, ‘The limits of advocacy: arts sector told to stop worrying and be happy’, describes how attempts to justify the value of arts and culture in economic terms have been unsuccessful, and have led to the arts sector being incorrectly blamed for a lack of advocacy. The authors discuss how two new reports—by the think tank A New Approach and ex-Grattan Institute director, John Daley—offer advocacy approaches that pander to government policymakers but are unlikely to gain new funding for the arts sector. The article concludes by asserting that future advocacy must focus on how art and culture are essential components of social citizenship.

‘If we want to avoid walking down an ever-narrowing policy path to a final cull, we need to assert arts and culture’s fundamental value, not play advocacy roulette with government terms du jour’

The article can be accessed online here: https://theconversation.com/the-limits-of-advocacy-arts-sector-told-to-stop-worrying-and-be-happy-162860

Reset Arts and Culture

Laboratory Adelaide researchers Tully Barnett and Julian Meyrick are contributing to the Reset Arts and Culture project. Reset is an eight-month programme of events involving art and culture practitioners, policymakers and academics from all three universities in South Australia. The project aims to respond to the current arts and cultural policy crisis by resetting how we talk about the value of arts and culture.

More information about the project is available here https://resetartsandculture.wordpress.com/

From Cultural Value to Culture’s Value: The Part-to-Whole Relationship in Assessments

Cover of Exploring Cultural Value

Lab Adelaide’s Julian Meyrick and Tully Barnett have contributed a chapter to a book exploring new ways of recording and reporting the value of arts and culture: Exploring Cultural Value: Contemporary Issues for Theory and Practice.

Dr Meyrick and Dr Barnett’s chapter, ‘From Cultural Value to Culture’s Value: The Part-to-Whole Relationship in Assessments’, argues that arts and culture are more than the sum of their parts, and that dividing the value of a cultural activity into discrete dimensions risks losing sight of its overall purpose, scope and place in the world. To explore this issue, they use a case study of a stage play from South Australia, Mi:Wi 3027.

The chapter was published on 25 January 2021, and can be accessed online: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/978-1-78973-515-420211004/full/html

Read the full abstract below:

In this chapter, we consider dominant arguments for the ‘disaggregation’ of the value of culture into discrete dimensions – economic, social, environmental, heritage and cultural and so forth – and their separate measurement. We discuss the role of proxies in assessment processes (‘parts’) and their relationship to the cultural experiences (‘wholes’) for which they are taken to be representative indicators. Disaggregation encourages a divisible approach to cultural activities that, at their heart, present as non-divisible experiences. Thus, we should speak of ‘culture’s value’ as opposed to ‘cultural value’ as a way of highlighting a crucial methodological point – that arts and culture are more than the sum of their parts and that the assessment of a particular cultural activity must consider not only the benefits returned by its separate dimensions but also the activity’s overall purpose, scope and place in the world. These non-divisible, often non-measurable, contextual features should not be considered contingent externalities but as sense-providing parameters that give meaning to any numerical data whatsoever. We conclude by looking at the issue via an example of a recent stage play from South Australia, Mi:Wi 3027 written by Ngarrindjeri playwright Glenn Shea and commissioned by Country Arts South Australia. The values of the drama cannot be and should not be distinguished from its value, and assessment processes must therefore look to frame the primary cultural experience it embodies in ways that make sense of its purpose, scope and place in the world.

From public good to public value: arts and culture in a time of crisis

A new academic article by Lab Adelaide’s Julian Meyrick and Tully Barnett argues that COVID-19’s devastation of the Australian cultural sector highlights an urgent need to reframe the public value of arts and culture. The article, ‘From public good to public value: arts and culture in a time of crisis’, responds to Mariana Mazzucato’s call to go ‘from public goods to public value’ in considering the role of government policy in key sectors of society. Dr. Meyrick and Dr. Barnett also discuss recent examples of challenges to existing evaluation methods in the Australian cultural sector.

The article is part of a 2021 special issue of Cultural Trends, ‘Art and Culture in the Viral Emergency’, and is available online: https://doi.org/10.1080/09548963.2020.1844542

Read the full abstract below:

This paper argues that the crisis sweeping over the Australian cultural sector as a result of COVID-19 presents an existential threat to current (“normal science”) methods of evaluation, and to instrumental, predominantly economic, understandings of value. Outlining ways the concept of value is changing, we respond to Mariana Mazzucato’s call to go “from public goods to public value” in considering the role of government policy in key sectors of society. We note the broader approach to value called for by a range of mainstream economists and provide three recent examples of challenges to existing evaluation methods in the Australian cultural sector. In conclusion, we touch on the essential features of a re-constructed category of public value and the implications for value research. During COVID-19, the public role of arts and culture has become self-evident. The challenge is to match this realization with a new understanding of their public value.

Well-Being and the Arts in 2020

Laboratory Adelaide’s Elise Silson convened this online panel of experts, to discuss current intersections between well-being and the arts in Australia.

Laboratory Adelaide’s Dr Tully Barnett opened with a discussion of the different ways that well-being can be integrated into our discussions of value.

AnglicareSA CEO Rev’d Prof Peter Sandeman gave an overview of the social well-being considerations specific to 2020.

Elise Silson described the importance of the arts in expressing and understanding narratives, as a means of developing compassionate and perceptive approaches to individual and collective challenges.

Associate Prof Jo Caust described current challenges faced within the Australian arts sector.

Flinders University’s Dr Sarah Peters offered grounded insights into her experiences as a playwright and arts program facilitator. She spoke about how digital interaction shifts experiences of art creation and performance.

Flinders University’s Prof Stephen Muecke described the social impacts of the shifts in economic power associated with digitisation. He offered important insights into how digital delivery of information displaces First Nations people from teaching about significant places.

A transcript of this panel discussion will be available shortly.

‘Democracy and the Arts: Charting the Way Forward’ A Whitlam Institute Webinar

Laboratory Adelaide’s Julian Meyrick took part in a recent Webinar hosted by the Whitlam Institute. The Webinar—titled ‘Democracy and the Arts: Charting the Way Forward’—focused on the value of arts and culture in Australia. It explored how the COVID-19 crisis has revealed the vulnerability of the arts sector and led to calls for additional funding for those working in the creative industries. It also asked how we can define the intrinsic value of arts and creativity without relying on economic measurements; this question is at the heart of the Laboratory Adelaide project.

            Julian was joined by writer Thomas Keneally, Professor Dr. Josephine Caust from the University of Melbourne, and multi-media artist Abdul Abdullah. The event was moderated by Whitlam Institute Director Leanne Smith.

The Whitlam Institute is a public policy institute inspired by the legacy of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, one of Australia’s most pro-arts leaders.

            The event was recorded and will soon be available on the Whitlam Institute website: https://www.whitlam.org/events/charting-the-way-forward

You can also read Kim William’s legacy paper on Gough Whitlam and the arts here: https://www.whitlam.org/publications/2019/11/13/whitlam-the-arts-and-democracy

The arts review and plan for South Australia

After months of consultation and research, the arts review and plan for South Australia has been released by the South Australian government’s Department of Premier and Cabinet. The report highlights the “richness of arts and culture that exists in our State” and great work done by the cultural sector in South Australia.

Underpinned by four values – visionary leadership, strategic collaboration, embracing diversity and courageous experimentation – the Plan set outs six goals to guide the growth of and investment in the State’s leadership in the arts and cultural sector. Interestingly, the Plan uses elements of narrative storytelling “as a way to provide an alternative perspective through which to view the arts and cultural landscape of South Australia.” Case studies from various perspectives and points of view are also used to “illuminate and celebrate” arts and cultural activities.

Most significantly for the Laboratory Adelaide research project, meaningful ways of measuring the value of arts and culture is a specific area of focus. This priority, “Measure,” is included within Goal 6 (p. 40 of the Plan) and is borne out in full in a section entitled “Capturing value and impact” (pp. 43-43).

This focus follows a recommendation by Tony Grybowski and Graeme Gherashe to:

Develop an evaluation and measurement framework that captures the value of arts and culture, one that builds on and draws together the existing work undertaken in this area.

Recommendation 13.1 p. 91 The Arts Review for South Australia

In making this recommendation, Grybowski and Gherashe refer to the work of the Laboratory Adelaide research project and that of Professor Justin O’Connor (UniSA). Of particular note, one of their suggested initiatives includes:

Progressing Cultural Value frameworks initiated by South Australian researchers in partnership with the South Australian Government

p. 91 The Arts Review for South Australia

The Laboratory Adelaide team welcomes the Arts Review and Plan. It is heartening to see so many substantial ideas put forth, the result not only of extensive consultation, but of deep thinking about the needs of a diverse sector with a past to be proud of, and a future to look forward to.

The Wellbeing Benefits of Arts and Culture: Professor James Pawelski

Adelaide City Council recently hosted Professor James Pawelski of the Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Pennsylvania for a three week research trip exploring the wellbeing benefits of arts and culture activities. During his visit, Pawelski participated in a series of meetings and public talks exploring the value of Adelaide’s arts and culture from the perspective of human flourishing. This paradigm for valuing the arts follows 20 years of experience addressing mental health through positive psychology, and in particular the role of the humanities in wellbeing.

Professor Robert Phiddian and Dr Tully Barnett met with Professor Pawelski to discuss how Laboratory Adelaide’s work aligns with that of the Positive Psychology Centre and the concepts of human flourishing. Professor Pawelski cited the Laboratory Adelaide work in his final presentation of his findings. Read more about Professor Pawelski’s visit to Adelaide here and his broader work here.

What’s the Story? “Credible” Narrative in the Evaluation of Arts and Culture, 5 September 2019

In their latest article, published in The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society, Julian Meyrick, Tully Barnett, Heather Robinson and Matt Russell consider the relationship between the concept of narrative as a theoretical object, and its use in the practical evaluation of cultural organisations. Following a brief overview of rhetoric and narrative theory, the article suggests that in order for narratives to be a “credible” and forensic instrument of account, certain principles should be followed. The Laboratory Adelaide team sets out six commitments in a proposed Charter of Cultural Reporting:

  1. Commitment to sense making
  2. Commitment to a reporting relationship
  3. Commitment to plain language
  4. Commitment to communicating all types of value creation
  5. Commitment to improved integration of quantitative and qualitative information
  6. Commitment to reporting on the meaning of culture, not just its economic and social effects

Read the full article here: https://doi.org/10.1080/10632921.2019.1646176 or get in touch for more information