‘Arts lack data to show unique value’ – ACE report

Arts Council England chair Peter Bazalgette. Photo: Philippa Gedge
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The cultural sector does not have sufficient data to demonstrate how it is “unique” in providing a range of benefits to society, a report by Arts Council England has found.

More evidence must be gathered to raise awareness in the public, cultural, education and political sectors that the industry is a “strategic national resource,” and to make arguments for public investment, it says.

Gaps in research include the sector’s impact on people’s health, how participation in cultural activities may reduce rates of re-offending among criminals, and how these may save the government money, the study reveals.

In his foreword to the report, ACE chairman Peter Bazalgette said: “While we do not cherish arts and culture because of the impact on our social wellbeing and cohesion, our physical and mental health, our education system, our national status and our economy, they do confer these benefits and we need to show how important this is.”

He added: “We lack longitudinal studies of the health benefits of participation in arts and culture, and comparative studies of the effects of participation in the arts as opposed to, say, participation in sport. We cannot demonstrate why the arts are unique in what they do.”

The arts council is, for the “first time” committing to substantial research grants to “plug some of these gaps in our knowledge,” said Bazalgette.

The Value of Arts and Culture to People in Society: An Evidence Review, states that more information is also needed to help identify areas where the sector is failing to make an impact.

Despite public investment, there are “significant disparities” in levels of engagement with the sector across the country, the report says.

“Those who are most actively involved with the arts and culture that we invest in tend to be from the most privileged parts of society; engagement is heavily influenced by levels of education, by socio-economic background, and by where people live,” it states.

Further research will be commissioned by ACE to address equality and diversity issues, the report says. There will also be additional investigations into how digital technology can benefit the arts and the sector’s contribution to the economy, it adds.

The report concludes: “ Driving the development of evidence and research in understanding the impact arts and culture plays on the wider society will be critical to shaping and developing arguments in favour of sustained public investment in arts and culture.”