Advocating cultural policy change

An arts council by any other nameRecently I was asked by literary journal Overland to respond to an article by Ben Eltham, Culture is bigger than the arts. My response appears in An arts council by any other name.

Those who read the article may have got the impression that I was less than impressed with Ben’s article. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. I agree with Ben that Australian cultural policy needs to be progressive.  But, as a policy researcher and analyst, I found myself reacting not so much to what Ben was arguing, but to how he was arguing it. In my response I identify some methodological problems that I think weaken his case for policy reform.

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An arts council by any other name

An arts council by any other nameThe literary journal Overland asked me to respond to an article in its September 2010 issue, Culture is bigger than the arts, in which Ben Eltham pleads for Australia’s cultural policy to be liberated from its stuffiness. Ben calls for cultural policy to adopt a wider notion of culture – one that  includes game design and all manner of ‘screen based art forms’ – and for policy to move on from supporting ‘elite’ arts.

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Arts advocacy campaign case studies and good practice

The International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACCA) has released National arts advocacy campaigns: overview of case studies and good practice, which explores arts advocacy campaigns run by major government arts support agencies such as Arts Council England and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The report focusses on advocacy campaigns that promote appreciation and engagement in the arts among the general population –  not so much ‘lobbying’ campaigns that target government or politicians.

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Creativity, health and arts advocacy

This paper, written with Taryn Bloom and published in the International Journal of Cultural Policy, volume 10, number 2, 2004, builds on the ideas outlined in Advocating Creativity. The themes explored in the paper are:
1.    The links between artistic creativity and therapeutic benefit.
2.    Arts advocacy, or more specifically arguing for government support of the arts.
3.    Strategic issues surrounding arts advocacy.

As with our previous research, this paper challenges the dominant view that creativity is about new ideas (the ‘invention-cognition’ view of creativity). The paper argues that this view is too narrow to be representative of artistic creativity, as it downplays emotions and traditions that are integral to a full understanding of artistic creativity. The paper pursues what it means to recognise that artistic creativity involves emotions, or ‘affect’ by reviewing evidence from the art therapy literature.

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Advocating Creativity

This paper, written with Taryn Bloom and published in the International Journal of Cultural Policy, volume 7, number 3, 2001, brings together three aspects of my research at the time:

  1. The links between art and creativity
  2. Arts advocacy, or more specifically arguing for government support of the arts
  3. The economics of the arts

The paper examines how the concept of creativity is used by to advocating government expenditure on the arts. It  paraphrases the main creativity argument used by arts advocates – that, through encouraging creativity, the arts encourage innovation and economic growth. It then critically examines the argument, first by clarifying what creativity is and how it relates to art, then by evaluating the argument against theory and evidence from Psychology and Economics. The argument is found to be weakened both by a lack of ‘hard’ evidence and by the way in which it is used by arts advocates. The analysis suggests ways in which arts advocates can improve the persuasiveness of their creativity arguments and provides insights into the design and delivery of arts policies.

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Using economic impact studies in arts and cultural advocacy



‘Economic’ impact studies have been popular in arts and cultural advocacy. Yet the application is inappropriate. ‘Economic’ impact studies are not designed for the purposes of advocacy. In the case of art and culture, they are more likely to be self-defeating. They also distract attention and resources away from the articulation of better advocacy arguments. Economists have warned against the use of ‘economic’ impact studies for advocacy, but their efforts have been only partly successful. This paper summarises the case against using ‘economic’ impacts for advocacy, concentrating on commonsense issues for easy digestion by non-economists.

Economic’ impact studies in arts and cultural advocacy: a cautionary note>
Media International Australia Incorporating Culture and Policy, no.98 (February), 2001

About this paper

This paper extends the arguments in Discussion Paper: The Economic Benefits of Art. Many thanks to the publishers, who have kindly allowed the paper to be reproduced here.
Go to the Media International Australia home page

Discussion paper: the ‘economic’ benefits of art

The phrase the ‘economic benefits of the arts’ has gained currency in arts sectors around the world, largely as a result of a new ‘economic’ rationalism in public policy. As with all areas of public policy, arts and cultural policies have come under the scrutiny of economics. But popular economic models have translated uneasily into the artistic sphere. The relatively young subject known as ‘cultural economics’ is only just beginning to mature. It is hardly surprising, then, that much of the application of economics to the arts has been less than satisfactory.

Some interpretations of how to apply economics to the arts have been at odds with acceptable economic and analytical practice: ‘economic benefits’ and ‘economic impacts’ arguments are an example of this. In their application to the arts, these analyses are only partial economic analyses and are typically associated with exaggerated claims. The word ‘economic’ has been misrepresented and the tools of economics misused with perverse results; the concentration on the financial elements of arts economics has distracted attention from more useful discourses on arts policies, has weakened arts advocacy and has caused undesired policy responses.

This paper is intended as a discussion document as part of Creative New Zealand’s project to outline the benefits of the arts. The overall objective of the paper is to clarify the phrase ‘economic benefits of the arts’. In doing so, the discussion illustrates many of the analytical weaknesses in focussing on the financial aspects of artistic activity. The paper formed the basis of my article Using economic’ impact studies in arts and cultural advocacy: a cautionary note, published in Media International Australia Incorporating Culture and Policy, no.98 (February), 2001.

This paper looks at both art and economics separately, investing particular attention on building a simple notion of economics. The paper then attempts to combine systems of economics with systems of art, as petitioned for cultural economics by Throsby (1996). A number of important lessons are highlighted in the process. The following structure is adopted:

• a definition of ‘economics’ (and an examination of the term ‘economic benefit’)
• a definition of ‘art’
• a integration of the two into the ‘economics of art’
• an investigation of the economic benefits of art, theory and practice

Read the full paper:
Discussion Paper: The Economic Benefits of Art
Christopher Madden
Published by Creative New Zealand, 1998

About the discussion paper
Back in 1998 I wrote this paper under contract to Creative New Zealand, New Zealand’s arts council. It stayed online until the Council re-jigged its website. Creative New Zealand has kindly allowed me to reproduce the  paper on this blog. The usual disclaimers apply – that the opinions are my own and don’t reflect Creative New Zealand policy etc etc.