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.


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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