Jessica Tanghetti finds Darren Henley’s book about why investment in culture pays full of soul and passion but lacking a call to action.
Darren Henley is Chief Executive of Arts Council England but first of all he is a passionate believer in culture. In ‘The Arts Dividend: Why Investment in Culture Pays’ he guides the reader through a compelling journey across the country, introducing many remarkable cultural spots with real soul and passion.
The book aims to explain to the reader “why investment in culture pays”, as its subtitle suggests. According to the economic theory, in fact, every good investment generates dividends and Henley identifies seven benefits that funding culture can bring to society: enhancing the nation’s creativity (the creativity dividend), improving education (the learning dividend), advancing health and wellbeing (the feel-good dividend), supporting innovation and technology (the innovation dividend), regenerating villages, towns and cities (the place-shaping dividend), contributing to economic growth (the enterprise dividend), and building a reputation for cultural excellence on the global stage (the reputation dividend).
Henley analyses each dividend, which he presents through a range of diverse sources. He draws on stories and micro-case studies, but also quotes from different ‘voices’ in society, from politicians, such as Jennie Lee and Boris Johnson, to prominent culture figures, including Nicholas Serota and John Sorrel, and celebrities like David Bowie. He provides supporting scientific and academic evidence, well-referenced to data, research and reports, which show the value of investment in art and culture, such as the 2015 Report by the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value and the Creative Industries Federation’s report ‘How public investment in arts contributes to growth in the creative industries’.
However, the most significant contribution are Henley’s personal experience and engagement with the arts, which he describes through a variety of characters, anecdotes and images. He also acknowledges his role as Chief Executive of Arts Council England, even if in a delicate and veiled way, highlighting the support, research and contribution provided by the organisation in order to empower each of the mentioned dividends.
In addition to deepening the significance of investment in culture and the relevant dividends, the book draws attention to a wide variety of remarkable culture initiatives across England, which might not have been given enough visibility before. In this respect, the book provides a valuable contribution to the debate on the distribution of cultural opportunities, and related resources, between London and the rest of the country, highlighted by the widely discussed Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital report. Henley’s beliefs support the Arts Council’s current mission of rebalancing the distribution of resources across England in order to develop a sustainable cultural offer across the country.
The messages of the book are absolutely clear and will probably be shared by many. However, what is missing is a concrete proposal on how to reach the described aims in terms of public policies. Taking in consideration the contributions provided by Arts Council England and its role in public policy, it would need to provide a proper call to action to incentivise investment in the arts, ensuring that it will be a priority in the public agenda and that the seven dividends can be enjoyed by everyone.
Jessica Tanghetti is Cultural Partner in Residence – Culture, Media and Creative Industries at King’s College London Faculty of Arts and Humanities. She is co-founder of BeArt, a crowdfunding platform exclusively dedicated to contemporary art. She is also a PhD Candidate with a research focus on business investments in the arts across England.