Value of Art

In 2014, in a report prepared by VicHealth defined the value of art as enabling people to share their experiences, thoughts, feelings and imaginations. It is a means by which people can express their sense of identity. It enriches our lives by providing us with a means to see and experience the world through the eyes of others. The report went onto state that art is intrinsically valuable because it:

tells powerful personal and community stories;

  • helps us to understand other people’s experiences, developing our sense of compassion and humanity;
  • challenges mainstream ideas and presents alternatives;
  • helps us see differently;
  • encourages the imagination;
  • opens a space for critical thinking;
  • brings hope – it can help us to imagine what does not exist, and give it shape;
  • transforms us, our communities, ideas and situations: and
  • provides a public platform for expression.

A quick glance through the list above may go a long way towards explaining the current Government’s apathy towards the arts sector. Who would want to fund a sector that encourages creative and critical thinking amongst the masses?

Research by Rand Corporation provided an insight into the intrinsic benefits of increased engagement in the arts. The framework developed from their research illustrates those benefits along a spectrum.

One of the report’s conclusions is that the most enduring arts benefits, both instrumental and intrinsic, are created through sustained involvement. To identify the factors behind this type of involvement, the authors analyzed the differences between people who participate frequently in the arts and those who participate only occasionally. They found two important distinctions for frequent participants: they had often been exposed to the arts when young — that is, early arts experiences provided a gateway to future involvement‹and they were motivated to seek future experiences by the high quality of their arts experiences. Such strong experiences are marked by high levels of engagement — emotional, mental, and sometimes social. In other words, the individual’s capacity to become fully engaged in arts experiences is fundamental to gaining value from the arts.

The value of art is not just in the output, the painting, show, event, sculpture – the physical output; the value is also in how that output makes the audience feel. This ambiguity can create problems for arts organisations.

Artists needs to make a living and arts organisations need to generate revenue. Logic suggests the way to do that is produce something they know the audience will like. The assumption being that if the audience like something then they will purchase a ticket to come along and view it. This can inhibit a risky artistic program.

Funding bodies want something to measure. Measuring the value of art is difficult. One person’s joy may be another persons terror. Funding bodies look for measures such as the number of artists employed, revenue growth/cost management, audience numbers and number of events. This may also inhibit risky artistic program.

Assuming audiences want to see only the popular blockbuster may be a mistake. Audiences want to ‘feel’ something when they engage with your event. They want something to talk about. Even if they don’t actually enjoy the show, some form of emotion will have been stirred up. A safe artistic program may actually drive an audience away.

How do arts organisations navigate these multiple needs? They begin with long term planning of their artistic program. Planning 3-5 years ahead provides your organisation with a whole bunch of positive messages for your marketing team to share with your family of supporters. You give them something to look forward to, and to talk about. Before they have even participated in an event you are guiding and influencing their feelings. You are creating art and adding value.

When you plan ahead, you are also able to engage in long term marketing. Instead of marketing an event only when tickets are available you start the conversation much sooner. Long term planning, plus long term messaging allows you to build a diverse family of supporters, whereas short term marketing preaches only to the converted! When you build a diverse family of supporters you will have an audience for all your artistic program – the safe and the risky bits.

John Coxon is founder of art4u.australia, a consulting agency helping arts organisations to become viable and sustainable through application of The Cycle a proven model for arts organsiations. Shout out to John as you look to identify the value of art in your community.

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