On July 9th I attended a workshop held at the University of Warwick about co-producing cultural policy. The workshop is part of an AHRC-funded Collaborative Skills Development project hosted by the University of Leeds, Leeds Metropolitan University and University of Warwick. It was aimed at PhD and early career researchers and sought to facilitate discussion and ideas around the social and economic impact of the arts and arts research.
I haven’t started my PhD yet – I join the School of Media in late September/early October. However, I felt this was a great opportunity to hear more about current issues facing artists, cultural institutions and researchers around cultural value, and this workshop covered all of those bases.
Artists, cultural institutions and value
The morning began with Susan Jones, Director of a-n, the Artists Information Company, which aims to “affirm the value of artists in society”. They carry out research into the value of artists to inform arts policy. Susan talked about on of their current campaigns, Paying Artists which is working to address the issue of artists exhibiting for little or no pay. This was important for me to know about for my research; i’ll be looking at the precarious nature of independent creative work, and campaigns such as Paying Artists highlight exactly how prevalent this issue still is.
Susan was followed by David Fleming OBE, Director of National Museums Liverpool, who talked about examples of social justice in his museums and those around the world, arguing that this approach helps bring diverse audiences into museums. David highlighted several exhibitions which have resulted from collaborative work and had an emotive response from visitors, such as the Museum of Liverpool’s Alive: In the Face of Death in 2013 in collaboration with photographer Rankin. David said he wasn’t all too keen on collecting statistics to measure the impact of museums on society, which is important to organisations such as Arts Council England, represented on the panel by Andrew Mowlah, Senior Manager of Policy & Research. Andrew argued that statistics and numbers should never be ignored in measuring cultural value and impact, but also admits the importance of intrinsic value and points out the difficulty in gauging this.
Dr Eleonora Belfiore of the University of Warwick then talked further about current tensions around cultural value, and raised the following points which were particularly thought-provoking:
- Cultural Value is socially constructed and in no way neutral. Perceptions of cultural value differ between people and their contexts
- There are issues of power relations at play in cultural value – mentions Big Fat Gypsy Wedding as an example – the people in the programme came out of the experience of cultural production negatively because they had no control over how the end product was edited, yet the producers (Channel 4) profited economically.
- The advocacy agenda hides the problematic aspects of cultural value; the current climate is primarily concerned with an economic agenda.
This has prompted me to think about this in terms of my own research; an issue which has been neglected in discourse around cultural value is labour (discussed by Mark Banks in this blog post). Co-production, not only with organisations but with audiences, is becoming easier and more widespread now thanks to social media and mobile technology, so where does the ‘fun’ end and the labour start? Mark Andrejevic’s chapter on YouTube and user-generated labour provides a useful introduction to this issue.
It has encouraged me to think about the distinctions between audience, producer and consumer – as they are becoming increasingly blurred, how do we measure cultural value then? What forms does cultural value take in these instances?
Impact and dissemination of research
The afternoon session was a workshop led by Eleonora Belfiore and Charlotte Mathieson of the University of Warwick’s Institute of Advanced Studies.
Eleonora (pictured above) introduced the session by talking about the ‘impact agenda’ – the positive and negative aspects of it. Ultimately though, she argued that researchers need to integrate impact into their research process, rather than resist it. The main issue is, how exactly do we measure impact?
The rest of the workshop involved activities facilitated by Charlotte which encouraged us to think about communicating our research in a more accessible manner, through short ‘radio pitches’ and blog posts. It was interesting to hear about others’ research projects, and as most of them included some element of cultural value and cultural policy we easily found a lot of common ground and interest.
My PhD hasn’t formally begun, but attending events such as this is valuable in helping me think about it more in advance, and given me some important questions to consider.