Colloquy 3



The Question of Cultural value

Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, 7th October, 2013

NCFA COLLOQUY #3 PODCAST from NCFA on Vimeo (Photographs by Tony Kinlan)


This session was the third in the series of the National Campaign for the Arts’ colloquies on arts policy and research. The title of this session, Cultural Value, followed the previous two colloquies on the concepts of the Public and of Evidence. Since evidence is often driven by proving cultural value, these last two sessions were linked and considered what value means in the context of case-making and evidence. The aim behind the concept of cultural value can be viewed as similar to that of public value, and responds to the need for a term that can adequately convey the different attributes of cultural or arts activities, meeting different stakeholder needs. These needs typically refer to the triangle of cultural policy requirements comprising politicians (who need cultural investment to be accountable and favour instrumental approaches which use culture as an instrument to address other concerns), cultural practitioners (who have a need to satisfy their artistic ambitions) and the public (who wish to satisfy their personal artistic needs) . However, conversations at the colloquy quickly showed that cultural value is a tricky concept, highly personal and subjective and that it was hard to reconcile it with different opinions and value systems. There were two presentations on the theme of cultural value by Professor Jim McGuigan and Arts Officer and Chair of the Local Authority Arts Officer Association, Sinead O’Reilly, followed by short discussions and a plenary session.

Professor Jim McGuigan spoke on the theme of ‘Cultural Value Versus Neoliberal Cultural Policy’. This presentation concerned the need for a renewal of understandings of cultural value in terms of free and open debate and discussion through the ‘cultural public sphere’ as a response to increasing economic cultural instrumentalism and specifically, the “global hegemony of neoliberalism.” By the cultural public sphere Dr McGuigan specifically referred to the “articulation of politics, public and personal, as a contested terrain through affective – aesthetic and emotional – modes of communication” on the basis that “dispute itself is a cultural value” and that “it should be an unabashed duty of public cultural policy to resist commercialism and not to under-write it”.

Sinead O’Reilly followed this presentation by contextualising cultural value historically and contemporarily within Ireland. She particularly spoke of the value systems attached to artists and activism in early 20th century revolutionary Ireland, and how these were perceived at the time and discussed the pressures on arts and cultural policies in Ireland today.

Tables and plenary

Following these presentations, the following points were made (this list is not intended to be exhaustive or comprehensive).
• Cultural value is a very difficult term
• Cultural policy should be an open space for debate
• There should be a series of pre-policy making meetings with arts practitioners to discuss issues of importance before policies are finalised
• There is a difficulty with making arguments for the arts that appeal to everyone
• Arguments have become and may have to become increasingly simplistic as the case for the arts continues to be made
• Is neoliberalism sometimes used as a term of abuse for those who don’t agree with us?
• The pragmatism of instrumentalism – it’s about ‘getting on with it’
• Instrumentalism can offer opportunities – i.e. to work in countries that are part of Ireland’s diplomatic mission
• There needs to be a long-term longitudinal study of the value of the arts in Ireland (as suggested at the last meeting)
• Policymakers are not as disconnected as we might imagine
• There is a need for strong arts advocates working in the public arena
• Measurement of the arts needs to be more qualitative
• The arts sector might look to the sports sector who have succeeded in winning the argument for sport
• The concept of ‘pleasure’ as a cultural value should be explored
• Research can lead to dead-end conversations
• Who are the stakeholders of cultural policy?
• Who is ‘us’, who is ‘we’?
• You cannot challenge dominant language or imperatives by using the dominant language
• There is a need for new leadership in the arts
• Not all funding needs to be instrumental
• Should there be a national campaign for culture?
• Story telling is a good way of approaching cultural value
• Cultural value needs are very varied and are weighted differently depending on whose value system you are referring to
• There needs to be a new understanding of intrinsic value
• Australia is doing some important research on intrinsic value
• There are different demands and pressures on policymakers
• There is a need for more research on the impact on children and young people of culture in relation to cultural value
• Is cultural value posed as an alternative to economic value?
• The cultural public sphere is an expression of cultural value
• Can the citizenship aspect of cultural value be something that governments can really (or want to) offer?
• We need more information on cultural consumption
• Research on cultural value needs to consider who it is directed at and what is its purpose
• There is greater cultural literacy needed by policymakers
• There needs to be research on education and subsequent cultural activity
• Balance and reconciliation (of needs) are economic terms!
• We need to be honest about the competition for funding
• The good life and culture
• Livelihoods are at stake in arguments or cases made for the arts, it’s about survival too
• We need to be more imaginative in relation to what it is to be a cultural subject
• We need a stronger philosophical position to underpin cultural policy
• If there is no agreement on cultural value how can we research it?
• There is an ecology of networks relating to cultural value


Cultural Policy in Practice

Response by Sinead O'Reilly to Prof. Jim McGuigan

Colloquy 3


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