The unique place of culture

July 4th, 2012

I’ve just had a very stimulating awayday with Pippa Jones, one of our principal associates and the Director of Create Gloucestershire (www.creategloucestershire.co.uk).  Most of what we talked about was the research we are developing with John Knell and the RSA on ‘Making Culture Work’ (looking for the first time at the whole system of what makes cultural projects really effective in different places).  I’ll come back to that in a later blog.

But we also talked about developing Cultural Return On Investment methodology.  To do that we need to establish what is distinct about a cultural return and what this adds to the (equally important) social, environmental and economic returns.

It’s not just about cultural outcomes, but about cultural inputs and activities too.  Those of you who think about this won’t be surprised to learn that in our quick and dirty assessment, we came up with two fundamental roles for culture.  One is about creating beauty and feeding the soul.  But that, we noticed, is not solely the preserve of arts and heritage projects (and by the way we include education and science in culture.  Discuss). Beauty lies in the natural world too, and those with religious faith of course feed their soul that way.  The second element we thought was nearest to unique was the business of finding and capturing meaning in things, and using that to create better futures.  LARC have done some interesting work on this, and we’ll develop it much more as a centrepiece for the Making Culture Work research over the next year.

But finally it lead us to a discussion about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ culture.  Harriet Walker wrote a really interesting piece in the Independent on 2 June about porn.  She explored how crimes like the murder of Jamie Bulger could in her opinion, be partly explained (not excused) by social reasons – deprivation, neglect and so on.  But that several more recent crimes, like the rape of a 9 year old by a young boy, were more specifically influenced by culture, in this case the use of internet porn.

This leads me to my final argument, that there is a need for public subsidy to generate and sustain ‘good’ culture in a myriad of different sizes, types and ways.  Because if we leave it up to the market, it fills the gap with violence and porn.

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