Arts ‘must adopt language of government’

Subsidised arts organisations need to learn how to use the “language of the government” to secure future public funding, a leading culture researcher has warned.

Dave O’Brien, a lecturer in creative industries at London’s City University, was speaking at a conference at the Victoria and Albert Museum this month, called Subsidy, Patronage and Sponsorship – Theatre and Performance Culture in Uncertain Times.

He said: “There is a profound challenge that now faces the public-funded arts and cultural sector in how it best expresses itself in what’s become the language of government.”

O’Brien has recently completed a report for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on different ways of measuring cultural value. He said other sectors, including health, environment and transport, have “found accommodations with this technical language of social science and economics, whether in terms of the costs of a medical technology on its impact on an individual’s quality of life, or in terms of travel and times of building new roads”.

If the arts sector fails to find a successful way of expressing cultural value to the government, it would be accused of being “untransparent and unaccountable”, he said, warning that this could lead to it being excluded from conversations about public funding altogether.

O’Brien was joined by other arts industry figures, who voiced concern over ways of measuring the value of the arts.

Dan Rebellato, playwright and academic, called for research to investigate the impact of a performance on individual audience members for several years afterwards.

“We are looking to create a research project to model and capture longitudinally audience engagement with theatre after the event – asking audiences, for example, what they remember of a performance a week, a month, a year and five years after they saw it,” he said.

“We want to try, if possible, to capture the quality of engagement in a seated play performance, in an immersive, environmental performance and in a broadcast performance such as National Theatre Live,” he added.

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