Cultural Policy workshop at Warwick University

Cultural Policy Workshop at Warwick University / Noa Katz
On 9 July, 2014, a workshop on cultural value took place at The University of Warwick, titled: “‘Cultural Value’ and the Economic and Social Impact of the Arts”.
A day long, the workshop hosted three presentations and one panel session. Attendees were mainly MA and PhD researchers from various universities across the UK including: The University of Leeds, Goldsmiths, University of London, University of Warwick, University of Leicester, and more.
First, a short presentation was given by Susan Jones, Director of a-n The Artists Information Company, on the topic of “The value of the artists”. The presentation revolved mainly around the question of the value of artists to society and the question of public funding for visual arts. Ms. Jones shared some interesting statistics; for instance, she revealed that 72% of artists in the UK earn up to £10,000/year from art practice and that what is found to generally be most important to them is their connection with the public and creating for it. In addition, there are many barriers to exhibiting in the Visual Arts: 63% of the artists turn down offers to exhibit due to financial costs and lack of financial support. Thus, only a few artists are able to exhibit every year in public galleries.
Ms. Jones claimed that it is crucial to develop a better public funding for visual arts in order to keep the diversity in contemporary visual art exhibitions. As to that, she also emphasised that it is necessary for artists to be able to clearly articulate their value and contribution. These issues are addressed by Jones in her work for ‘a-n The Artists Information Company’. The company’s mission is to stimulate and support contemporary visual art and affirm the values of artists to society. It has launched several campaigns over the years such as: “Paying Artists” that features case-studies, a campaign for Growth of Lottery Funding for Visual Arts, various researches, and so on.
Second, a fascinating lecture was given by Dr. David Fleming, OBE, Director of National Museums Liverpool. Dr. Fleming talked about the educational role of museums and their importance in ability to impact social causes, the public, and social inclusion. By ‘social inclusion’ Dr. Fleming means: “accessibility to all, and fighting illnesses in society”. He claimed that museums are full with messages and thus could never, or have never served as neutral spaces. He stated: “museums for me only work if they’re emotional and people respond to them.”.
Therefore, he described the role of the National Museum in Liverpool as “getting generations to talk to each other” and striving for “social justice”. Through actively engaging exhibitions for the public that deal with racism, hostility, and social inequality, the museum aims to represent the fabric of life in Liverpool, promote social inclusion and fight corruption. This, while being diverse and emotionally receptive. Moreover, Dr. Fleming stressed the need for cultural policy to further support such efforts, rather than investing in museums that approach “tourists and students” (big museums in London, Paris, Berlin etc.).
Dr. Fleming’s lecture was followed by a panel discussion and Q&A session. Participating was: Dr. Eleonora Belfiore, Associate Professor of Cultural Policy at University of Warwick and Director of Studies Warwick Commission for the Cultural Value; Dr. Chris Bilton, Director of the Centre for Cultural Policy Studies, University of Warwick; Andrew Mowlah, Senior Manager of Policy & Research at Arts Council England; and Dr. Fleming himself.
Panel participants have commented on Dr. Fleming’s words, and a discussion about the value of culture has developed, focusing on the subject of evidence-bringing. Andrew Mowlah from the Arts Council of England mentioned the assistance the council seeks in providing proof; he explained that in order to support the arts and promote greater funding to them, the council needs to establish a better collaboration with artists as it cannot avoid the process of providing proof. Responding to this, Dr. Fleming stated that as a society, we are “obsessed” with numbers and measuring, and that we do not really need those to know that the value of the arts exists: “there is more to arts and culture; there is passion, there is a debate, there is curiosity, and emotions.” Finally, in response, Mr. Mowlah declared: “With all due respect to passion and instinct, the people who pay for these things are interested in evidence.”
Other claims arising were about the too-long focus of the arts sector in “making a case” for the government instead of focusing on the audiences. Dr. Belfiore said that the question of value should focus on how people in particular and specific places and situations react to the arts.
Last, an interactive afternoon session was given on Research in the Humanities: Value and Impact. It was directed by Dr. Charlotte Mathieson (Research Fellow, IAS University of Warwick) and Dr. Eeleonora Belfiore. The session involved a presentation by Dr. Belfiore who briefly discussed the crisis of the Arts & Humanities in higher education; she mentioned the issue of “reputation” and more importantly, self-perception and self-positioning of artists, that is far more inferior to that of mathematicians, for example. In that context, she emphasised the significance of Social Media in enabling audiences to find artists, come across their work, and generally make artists more visible.
Following that, an interactive workshop was conducted by Dr. Mathieson on how to take one’s research and leverage it outside of the academia. She offered to workshop’s participants different key-points and exercises in promoting one’s agenda outside of formal higher-education systems. Among those: “the Radio Pitch”, “Online Writing”, and more.