Arts organisations call for better evaluation tools as research reveals that the cultural sector is under-selling its role in promoting wellbeing and stronger communities.
diamond geezer (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Cultural organisations are failing to appreciate the impact they are able to have on health, wellbeing and social capital, according to a new report documenting the impact of culture-led regeneration. Research conducted as part of the AHRC Cultural Value Project took place in three coastal resorts in Kent and East Sussex, all of which have seen significant investment in cultural activity and infrastructure in recent years. The study has found that whilst many people feel intuitively that there is a “connection between cultural activity and feeling good”, cultural organisations neither prioritise health and wellbeing as an outcome for their activities, nor view them as a driver for programming.
The report, ‘Cultural Value and Social Capital’, concludes that the three cultural organisations that were the subject of the study – Turner Contemporary in Margate, the Creative Foundation in Folkestone and the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on Sea – make a “significant, but at present largely undefined, contribution to social capital and to delivering health and wellbeing in their respective communities”, but that outside the specialist field of arts in health practice, “this important aspect of cultural value is currently hidden”. Des Crilley, Chair of Kent County Council’s Strategic Group for Arts in Kent commented: “I don’t think arts and cultural organisations are able to define the impact they are able to make. They don’t trace it and make it visible… They change someone’s life and they don’t even realise.” The three organisations involved in the research said they would “welcome the introduction of simple-to-use evaluation tools that might shed light on levels of wellbeing or positive affect generated by their everyday activities”.
Among the report’s recommendations are that national cultural policy makers should do more to encourage the cultural sector to acknowledge, understand and evaluate the contribution it makes to social capital, health and wellbeing, and to introduce guidelines with models of good practice. Cultural organisations should do more research into barriers to further public engagement with their work, and give more consideration to the potential for delivering “targeted interventions aimed at addressing specific health and social issues”, including through commissioning.