New year, new approach to wellbeing? Valuing the Arts

03Jan12

New year, new approach to wellbeing
Culture professionals network
Guardian Professional
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New year, new approach to wellbeing?
Why have arts and heritage been left out of the government’s consultation on national wellbeing, asks John Holden in this interesting article for the Guardian’s Cultural Professionals Network. The big question behind all this is how much value does this government place on culture and heritage. The arts are important to our social well-being. Look at the work of Paul Peter Piech. It is socially engaged. Look across Twitter and you’ll find plenty of arts professionals with the banner “I value the artson their profile pictures. But the fact is that following a major restructure in 2010 the main supporter of creativity in England, the Arts Council, is once again faced with significant cuts in the next restructure due in 2013. This comes on the back of a significant shift in funding of arts organisations last year that will start to have an impact in April this year. One might imagine that Clegg and his pals would recognise the value of investment in the arts but actually what we really need to see are all those in the middle who have taken their kids to the fantastic new art galleries, or had artists working in their schools, to stand up and say “actually WE value the arts”.

It’s sometimes quite hard for people to understand how hard it is for artists to make a living. I can remember when my daughters were at primary school a couple of occassions when the general public’s understanding became really apparent. The first was when I was asked to come in to school for the day to run a workshop because I was “creative” (I actually studied for 7 years in the visual arts and had been exhibiting and working with community groups for even longer). This request came from a mother who was a medical professional and whose husband was a consultant doctor. I explained that she would not expect her husband to give free consultations to people who were ill and that, as this was how I made my living, I would only be able to offer my services at the daily rate. The other occasion was when I was attending an event organised for teachers by the gallery education organisation, Engage. The majority of teachers at this event were convinced that anything an artist showed them could be taken, free of charge, and used by them in a classroom situation. There was a complete lack of awareness of how those skills had been learned, developed and used to explore personal ideas. There were many requests for teachers packs with lesson plans.

Until we actually value artists in the mainstream of society we are never going to fully understand the value they bring to our personal well-being.

Artists should not be forced to provide key performance indicators as individuals in order to prove their worth. Nor should should they be valued on the numbers of people who are impacted by them or their work.

It’s a worrying state of play that the work of visual artists may need to be measured in some way to enable it to be supported and developed. As the article points out the cultural and heritage sector does bring in a substantial part of our GDP, but in a world obsessed by figures and percentages it is always going to be a challenge to present the case for individual visual artists.

I would draw attention to the individual random act of kindness that has a knock on effect. Artists working in communities doing residencies or workshops may come into contact with many hundreds of people and we know from conversational evidence that this can lead to individuals thinking or behaving in different ways. It’s a huge missed opportunity not to ask the question about the arts in terms of well-being but it’s sadly reflective of a system that does not appreciate the true value of the arts or artists.

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4 Responses to “New year, new approach to wellbeing? Valuing the Arts”

  1. If there was a way to actually quantify how the arts benefit communities, not only financially but “emotionally” as well, I would be very much interested in any such studies etc.

  2. “Until we actually value artists in the mainstream of society we are never going to fully understand the value they bring to our personal well-being”

    I completely agree…I often wonder how the next generation will get by when every day schools and communities axe more of their music, art and creative programs. We can only hope that people recognize the affect of this shift before the programs go the way of the dinosaurs. Thanks for the illuminating post!


  1. 1 Artists are their own agents of change « Steffan Jones-Hughes
  2. 2 Turning Point Network | For a stronger visual arts. – Turning Point Network Journal – Market Matters: art, economy and opportunity « Steffan Jones-Hughes

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