The individual experience at the heart of cultural value

Date: 17/03/2016

The UK has a rich and vibrant cultural story and one that we all engage and participate in, whether it is going to the theatre or a concert, streaming a film or going to a weekly book club. Culture, creativity and business meet in this important space and involvement in cultural activity helps define us as individuals and as communities, as well as influencing how the rest of the world views us and wants to engage with us.

A new report Understanding the value of arts and culture by Professor Geoffrey Crossick and Dr Patrycja Kaszynska presents how we think about the value of the arts and culture to individuals and society, and the methodologies we can use for capturing cultural value.

The AHRC’s three-year Cultural Value Project involved 70 original pieces of work that provide the most in-depth attempt to understand the difference made by arts and culture.

Professor Crossick states: “In recent years debate about cultural value has not grasped the range of the ways in which people engage with arts and culture. The Project broadens the scope of the discussion on cultural value to include alongside the subsidised cultural sectors the commercial sector, and amateur and participatory arts and culture, which are how most people engage. It also emphasises the way they are part of a single ecology.”

What emerges from the project is the need to make first-hand, individual experience of arts and culture central to our understanding of their value. To fully appreciate the impact of culture on the economy, on cities or on health we must start with understanding the individual experience, whether this is in helping people to become more reflective about themselves and others or more imaginative and innovative as members of society. So many other benefits flow from that.

Dr Kaszynska commented: “If we start with the individual and work outwards to broader society and the economy we quickly realise we need a wider and more subtle methodological repertoire to talk about the concept of cultural value and how we evaluate it.”

The report sheds new light on a number of areas where research shows arts and culture to make a difference. These include:

  • Personal reflectiveness and empathy, illustrated by case studies of the role of arts and culture in the criminal justice system and their place in supporting professional and informal carers
  • The relationship between arts and culture in producing engaged citizens, more active in voting and volunteering, and more willing to articulate alternatives and fuel a broader political imagination
  • A critical assessment of the widespread use of arts and cultural interventions to help peace-building and healing after armed conflict, including civil conflict such as that in Northern Ireland
  • Whether the role of small-scale arts in generating healthy urban communities might be more important for the health of towns than large-scale culture-led regeneration projects
  • The ways in which arts and culture feeds into the creative industries, supports the innovation system and attracts talent and investment to places
  • The contribution of arts and culture to addressing key health challenges such as mental health, an ageing population and dementia.

In reframing and advancing thinking about our understanding of cultural value and how to capture it, the report draws attention to the need for:

  • Wider use of evaluation as a tool within the cultural sector. Better evaluation can help cultural organisations and practitioners learn from their activities and their audiences, and it should not be seen as primarily undertaken to satisfy funders
  • Appropriate tools to be used for the particular subject being studied with no automatic assumption that quantitative or experimental methods are superior to qualitative or humanities-based ones; it identifies, a broad range of methodologies that include approaches drawn from the social sciences, ethnography, economics, the arts and hermeneutics, and science and medicine
  • The further development of economic valuation methodologies that are recognised by the Treasury for evaluating public expenditure decisions, where the Project has made a significant contribution
  • Better understanding of the ways in which digital engagement is affecting people’s experience of arts and culture, including the rise of co-production of digital content and experiences
  • Finally, the report recommends that the AHRC alongside other funders considers establishing an Observatory for Cultural Value, to help take research on cultural value further.

Professor Andrew Thompson, Chief Executive of the AHRC, comments: “The cultural and creative industries are growing, which means that we are looking at a coming decade with growing demand for research that generates historical, linguistic, intercultural, artistic and religious understanding that feeds the UK cultural sector. We must also have new ways of thinking - and evaluating - how we best capture and communicate that elusive thing we call ’cultural value‘. The cultural infrastructure we support as a Research Council is expanding and we need to prepare for that expansion and be clear about the ways we can support and sustain it. The Cultural Value Project has to be placed in that broader context for its rationale to be properly understood.”

Notes for Editors

For further information from the AHRC, please contact Danielle Moore-Chick on 01793 41 6021 or

  • Understanding the value of arts and culture report (PDF, 5.3MB) presents the outcomes of the AHRC’s Cultural Value Project which looked at how we think about the value of the arts and culture to individuals and to society. For further information about the project please go to the Cultural Value webpages (link).
  • An event will be held at the Mermaid Theatre, Puddle Dock, Blackfriars, London on: Wednesday 27th April 2016 at 6pm to reflect on the launch of Understanding the Value of Arts and Culture report. It will start with a brief presentation of the report by Geoffrey Crossick followed by discussion by a panel that will include Deborah Bull, Tim Robertson, Rick Rylance and Moira Sinclair. Places at the event are limited but if you are interested in attending please email:
  • The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98 million to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK.
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