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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

what are the economic benefits of the arts? (QOTW)

Mona Lisa money

There was a bit of a kerfuffle last week in the U.K. after Culture Secretary Maria Miller

said the arts world must make the case for public funding by focusing on its economic, not artistic, value.

She told arts executives in a speech that they must “hammer home the value of culture to our economy”.

That’s from BBC News; this response comes via the same article:

Former Arts Council England chair Dame Liz Forgan told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “The danger in what she is saying is that people actually start to believe that because art produces huge economic benefits, we should start directing our investment in culture for its commercial potential.

“That’s not only philistine, it’s self-defeating, because then you get accountants making artistic decisions, which is as silly as having artists making accounting ones.

“If you start to invest in art because of an identified commercial outcome, you will get worse art and therefore we will get a worse commercial outcome.”

Bingo. How do you put a concrete, specific economic value on, say, a school curriculum that includes having children study poetry and writing and publishing their own poetry journal or Web site? (Does creative thinking somehow lead kids to become higher earrners and therefore higher taxpayers two decades down the road?) How do you calculate the ROI of, say, a traveling regional theatre? (Does the availability of local arts — as opposed to something that happens in a distant big city — inspire community spirit and, maybe, reduce petty crimes such as vandalism?)

Sir Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr — respectively, director and executive director of the U.K.’s National Theatre — had this to say in The Telegraph:

The 007 producer Barbara Broccoli joked recently that Skyfall (which took $1 billion at the box office internationally) was the National Theatre of Bond: nearly all of its cast and its director are alumni of the subsidised theatre.

They also discuss why private philanthropy of the arts doesn’t work anywhere near as well as government support. It’s a good read.

They’re trying to respond directly to Miller’s request, but even their Skyfall example isn’t something that anyone could have predicted except in the most general way: Investment in the arts pays off in the long run. But it sounds like a much more detailed defense of government-funded art being demanded.

So:

What are the economic benefits of the arts?

Feel free to be as fantastical as you wish. Sure, people who come out to visit a museum will probably spend money in shops and restaurants. But might attending a live-music gig make someone less likely to cheat on their taxes? I don’t know… but it might be possible.

Have economically beneficial fun!

Mona Lisa $100 bill by utahevan.

(If you have a suggestion for a Question, feel free to email me.)



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  • PJK

    By its very nature Art is non-commercial. Any works of Art that have achieved high commercial value have done so not by their intrinsic Artistic nature but by the willingness of certain individuals to splash out large sums of money to posses those works of Art.

    And of course there are shrewd businessmen who call themselves Artists, who manage to convince the buying public that their works will be appreciating value over time and as such they are able to extract large sums of money for their works.

    My guess is that Mrs Miller thinks that all Artists should aspire to this model of Artistry, which in my opinion has only produced kitsch and shlock so far.

    Vincent van Gogh, arguably one of the most admired Artists, died in abject poverty as did Rembrandt van Rijn. Yet they gave us truly great Art.

  • Danielm80

    I’m amused by this quote:

    Former Arts Council England chair Dame Liz Forgan told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “The danger in what she is saying is that people actually start to believe that because art produces huge economic benefits, we should start directing our investment in culture for its commercial potential.

    “That’s not only philistine, it’s self-defeating, because then you get accountants making artistic decisions, which is as silly as having artists making accounting ones.

    “If you start to invest in art because of an identified commercial outcome, you will get worse art and therefore we will get a worse commercial outcome.”

    It’s hilarious that she thinks it’s a hypothetical situation. It’s a pretty accurate description of Hollywood. We’ve already proved that art can have financial benefits. Now we need to show that good art can make a profit. I think we could probably argue that Skyfall and The Avengers and Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy do make that case, but I’m not sure everyone would agree.

    I’d rather argue that the arts can teach us to value imagination, originality, and empathy. All of those qualities can help in the business world. But that’s not an argument I’m very eager to make. It’s more important, to me, that those qualities make us better people. Some art might make us less interested in earning a profit. I’d rather encourage people to treat each other with kindness and compassion, and come up with ideas to improve the world. And if Maria Miller doesn’t see the benefit in that, maybe somebody else should be Culture Secretary.

  • David Runyon

    Not sure if this changes the discussion, but “economic benefits” should not be confused with “profitable to party X.”

  • Tangeu

    I don’t know if it’s a universal feeling or purely a personal one but when I experience ‘the arts’ my most common take away is inspiration. This is where is benefit of the arts lie. When I get home I am inspired to create, but I have little to no artistic talent so my outlet is things like programming or home automation projects. It’s definitely an intangible benefit but not hard to imagine, say as few as 2 people per [viewing/listening/watching/etc] of various skill levels in various disciplines experience an inspiration to create. How long could it be until ‘the next big thing’?

  • Jurgan

    It seems very similar to the argument for funding science. Science is undirected and an individual experiment may not have value, but free, open-ended exploration of the world can lead to enormous benefits. An individual work of art may not make an impact, but an environment where art is appreciated can improve the human spirit and encourage creativity and empathy. It’s in the aggregate that the benefits to society emerge, and so it would be an enormous mistake to insist on justifying each individual action economically.

  • Froborr

    The field of environmental science has come up with a good way to measure the economic value of non-commercial things we don’t want commercialized: You survey people and ask how much money you’d have to pay them as compensation for taking it away.

    So, for example, if you want to measure the economic benefits of a public museum you don’t just subtract the maintenance costs from the amount of money it brings in in donations. As David Runyon put it, that’s just “profitable to party X.” You include the value people in the community assign to it from the survey, add the money it brings in, and subtract the maintenance costs–which usually ends up resulting in a much higher amount that tracks much better to how people really feel about the museum.

  • Froborr

    Oops, I meant “environmental economics,” not “environmental science.”

  • David N-T

    I disagree with the view that the government should fund projects on the basis of likelihood of commercial success on the basis of two reasons. First of all, the private sector already does that, so I can’t help but feel that government involvement in the matter ought to help other talents who don’t fit the mold and might otherwise slip through the cracks find their place. Secondly, I find that the value of a work of art is intrinsic, not commercial: I don’t think that the worth of a piece of art can be measured by its popularity or by the wilingness of someone to spend outrageous amounts of money to acquire it. To wit, take a look at the number of songs and movies topping the box office of dubious artistic merit, and take a look at the amount of quality material that has a hard time finding a venue.

  • Damian Barajas

    The confusion is that art is something people make because its merely profitable, thats confusing cause with correlation, the best way I can explain it, is that we humans make art because we have a drive to assign meaning to things.
    Imagine you live in a city where all the buildings are gray, everybody dresses in gray, all the cars are gray and the same damn model, the same shape over and over again.
    I think that once you admit that the utilitarian use of art we give to everyday objects is not only desirable but necessary, the economic benefits of art start to become clear.

  • Maybe the arts do not have any economic benefits. Maybe we would all be better off living in efficient concrete boxes being zoomed around efficient grid towns with nothing better to talk about then who made what profit and nothing more interesting to watch then each other – but I’ve already lived in Coventry and I didn’t like it much.

  • singlestick

    In the UK, people at least acknowledge an arts tradition, even if they disagree on its value or importance. In the US, increasingly, people disdain the arts as pretentious crap that is held over the heads of “ordinary folks” by snobs and elitists.

    It was sad to see some of the comments reacting to the death of film critic Roger Ebert. A lot of ” who the hell was he to think that his opinion was better than mine?” And often this venom was focused on Ebert’s reviews of pop culture films; scoffers would simply ignore or dismiss or never had a clue about foreign or non-mainstream films he might have reviewed.

    This attitude is echoed in how many people treat arts in school. They pay lip service to arts education, but can’t wait until they get out from under the thumb of teachers and critics, who they see as trying to shove culture down their throats the way that sniffy restaurant critics try to push fancy cookin’ down the throats of people who know that meatloaf with ketchup is the only real food you need to know about.

    Pop culture reinforces this with TV shows about ordinary guys who have to put their women folk in their place when they try to get them to go to the opera. And even writers and directors jump through hoops to downplay the literature and films they might have studied in school.

    I can’t remember the last time a magazine or newspaper (let alone a blog post) had an article about what might be the next Great American novel, or gave any attention to a contemporary playwright, poet or composer. But I can find out the box office for “Oblivion” in a nanosecond.

    And of course, there are those fundamentalists who will tell you that you can find all the art you need in the Bible.

    It’s hard to argue for “arts for arts’ sake” when increasingly people think that the only art that should exist is lowest common denominator popcorn and feel good “entertainment.”

  • iakobos

    Art that I pay for, such as Iron Man 3, benefits me because I am entertained by it. I therefore decide that my $10 is worth less to me than the entertainment I will receive from seeing the movie. It likewise benefits RDJ, Marvel and hundreds of others because it provides for them income.

    Art that is publicly funded is morally wrong. The reason is the government must first take away my money, at the point of a gun. If I took away your money without permission it would be called theft. When the government does it, it’s euphemistically called taxes. Then the government, not I, gives my money to some artist I would not have voluntarily given my money to. If I stole your money and then gave it to an artist, you would say the artist has received stolen goods, ie your money. When the government does this it is called a grant or some other euphemism. In this manner the artist does receive a benefit. I, however, am simply impoverished with no benefit to me whatsoever.

    I am all for the arts as long as I decide how to spend my hard earned money on it.

  • Money does not bring happiness, it never has. Making art and buying art does. It’s simple.

  • Bluejay

    Art that I pay for, such as Iron Man 3, benefits me because I am entertained by it… Art that is publicly funded is morally wrong. The reason is the government must first take away my money, at the point of a gun. If I took away your money without permission it would be called theft. When the government does it, it’s euphemistically called taxes.

    The State of California immorally steals money from its citizens and gives it to public schools like Santa Monica High School. Robert Downey Jr. was one of its students.

    The State of California also gives some of this stolen money to Sunny Hills High School. One of its alumni is Iron Man 3 director Shane Black. Later, Black took theater classes at UCLA, which also receives immorally redistributed money from Californians.

    Ben Kingsley attended the Manchester Grammar School (partly government-funded during his time) and the University of Salford (public research university), both institutions which receive stolen money from the English public. Kingsley later honed his chops at the Royal Shakespeare Company, which gets a large chunk of its funding from money stolen from the public by Arts Council England.

    Downey, Black, and Kingsley have thus been educated, influenced, and trained by institutions that rely on money stolen by the government from the pockets of hardworking citizens. Which means that Iron Man 3, a product enjoyed by millions, is the result of stolen goods (or what flaming, crazy liberals probably like to call “investing in society”). If you didn’t want to enable this moral outrage, then shame on you, iakobos, for enjoying Iron Man 3.

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