A cultural return on investment

January 13th, 2012

Two things prompted me to think about this.  Firstly, two years of working intensively with SROI – and many previous years evaluating cultural projects, has made me fairly certain that creative and cultural projects always offer something over and above what other projects do.  Over and above the different elements of social, economic and environmental return highlighted in SROI.  For a while, I thought it might be that we need to capture a fourth line, personal return.

Then I facilitated a discussion by museums to inform the Arts Council’s new responsibility to look after them too.  Gordon Watson, from Lakeland Arts Trust, commented that what museums do is make social, environmental, economic and cultural benefit.  Which in a sense is my answer.  The job now is to distinguish what that bit of cultural benefit is, that is distinct from social benefit.  At the Happy Museum symposium yesterday I asked the participants what they thought – a brilliant bunch from six museums across the country.  These are my suggested three USPs if you like, coming out of that discussion.  They are about things that we do that are either or both ‘creative’ and ‘cultural’ – make of that what you will!

Being part of creative or cultural experiences helps you practise looking at things differently –  for you personally, that makes life exciting!  (Steve Gardam from LTM described walking down a street in London with some new knowledge about a historic figure who lived there, and how that changed things for him).  For society it enables lateral solutions which tend to be better.  For both individuals and society, the practising helps us to be more resilient.  (I credit Steve with this one)

The cultural world is our collective dreaming.  It’s the place where society sifts, sorts, shares and processes ‘stuff’ in a freeform, not goal focused way.  Dreaming has an important psychological role in individuals – the same is true for society.  (I credit Kim Pickin from the Story Museum with this one)

And at a highly instrumental level, creative and cultural experiences work for people because they allow people to bespoke them to meet their own needs – football doesn’t do that.  And at a more intrinsic level they exercise the soul, playing the role that school does for the brain, and sports does for the body.  (I credit Katherine Ford of the Cinema Museum with that one)

How this translates into a tangible way to plan, do and review creative and cultural delivery, I’m not sure.  But I think its an important step in my thinking at least.

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