Scoping Culture and Heritage Capital* is a 6-month research project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and DCMS, aimed at developing a consistent approach to valuing the benefits of culture and heritage to society.
To ensure the approach takes account of multiple perspectives, the study team is a collaboration between the arts and humanities, heritage science and economics, bringing together academics, cultural sector partners and policy makers.
The project contributes to the Culture and Heritage Capital (CHC) Program led by DCMS. The key conceptual and methodological questions under interrogation flow from the CHC framework underpinning the CHC Programme.
The objective of the scoping study is to establish what is known about valuation and to identify avenues for future research and practice within this framework.
Both policy makers and those working in the cultural sector have been dissatisfied with the terms and tools at their disposal to capture and communicate the value of arts, culture and heritage.
Expressing the value of cultural assets and cultural labor ‘in numbers’ is often controversial. The arts, culture and heritage have had various numbers attributed to them – numbers whose meaningfulness is sometimes disputed by the sector. This is because some numbers claim to measure things that are not perceived as fundamental to creative activities and cultural engagement, most simplify, and some overpromise what cannot be delivered.
Accordingly, the ambition of the CHC Program is to go beyond GDP and the traditional economic registers. Rather, the aim is to answer how the value of spiritual, emotional and aesthetic outcomes can be captured and how to reflect the value of expression, reflection and wellbeing; in more collective terms, how to meaningfully capture a sense of belonging and identity, community engagement and symbolic connection, as well as awareness of history and trans-cultural dialogue.
Currently, the value of these ‘services’ is often partially missed and sometimes completely omitted, potentially leading to poor decisions around investments and maintenance, particularly when they are considered as inputs into other arenas of economic production.
Understood in these terms – as an attempt to measure what matters about the arts, culture and heritage from a number of different perspectives, including those of the producers as well as consumers of culture – the CHC Program is needed because there are not well-established approaches to capturing the value of this ‘higher-hanging fruit’ in Social Cost Benefit Analysis terms, which provide a basis for decision making.
culture as capital
The capitals framework – a methodology used widely in government and, more recently, employed in the context of Leveling Up – provides a valuation process which is consistent with the underpinning principles of economic statistics in the national accounts, but which offers a novel means of expressing value in decision making.
Crucial to using the capitals framework is the notion of capital which delivers a stream of returns over time. Those returns can be financial (for example, a higher wage received as a result of gaining a qualification) or non-financial (such as a wellbeing benefit from visiting an area of outstanding natural beauty). Further, capital can depreciate, and that depreciation can reduce the present value of expected future returns; or alternatively appreciate.
Thinking of culture as capital has huge consequences for how cultural assets are valued. First, it presents challenges.
In traditional economics, the assumption about the beneficiaries of flows would ideally hold that welfare gains (the benefits people get) are symmetrical across individuals and places. This is not the case in practice. Cultural participation is stratified and cultural value differs between individuals: both subjectively, and as a function of their budget constraints (income levels). To these challenges for traditional economic approaches, the capitals framework adds an additional, duration-related layer of challenge.
Accounting for value across the life span of stocks entails a need to account for the fact that the health of stocks changes over time, which affects its value. Moreover, it forces the need to make assumptions about the future: what will cultural engagement look like in ten, fifty and hundred years from now? A key component of the scoping study is to better understand how the health of the stock and the demand for the stock impact changes with time and make recommendations for future research to incorporate changes into decision making.
But the capitals framework presents opportunities too. In general, working with capitals implies changes to the timeframe of policymaking. This is why there are explicit and overt links between cultural capital and considerations of sustainability and equity.
Essentially, the way value is constructed through the prism of capital problematises the notion of value as linked to temporally-specific individual preferences and with this, it nudges a departure from the calculative predictive models in policy-making towards those more open to uncertainty and anticipation. . Another opportunity is to think of value in terms of enable.
What is crucial from the perspective of arts, culture and heritage is that the capitals framework comes with new concepts. One that is particularly exciting in bridging different disciplines and sectors is the concept of ‘enabling assets’.
Enabling assets are those that are valued because they make other things possible, like public transport infrastructure makes trading possible; and public education supports innovation in business. The idea of enabling in this approach is simply that, rather than just capturing the contributions to consumption, it can also account for the production of other effects: the enabling of other things.
This articulates an old idea in the humanities, namely that arts and culture orient our judgment of other goods; that they provoke reflection on what matters in life and give a vantage point to formulate a vision of a good life, which in turn influences other choices. This is what many people in the cultural sector mean when they talk about the value of what they do. For anyone familiar with the AHRC Cultural value project report this is what the first two most important chapters are about – the value of being a reflective individual and engaged citizen.
Converging discourses on value
So, the idea of reconceiving the value of arts, culture and heritage through the prism of the capital framework offers a way of using dormant ideas from the arts and humanities – such as enabling – that resonate with the sector, expressing them in a new language of economics and making them visible in terms of policy making. This is exciting and perhaps reassuring. The latter because it shows that the different discourses of value – by all the different stakeholders involved – can converge.
It is however crucial that this convergence is not reduced to one dominant way of speaking which would permanently silence the ‘chorus’ of voices.
If duration is one important feature of the capitals framework – and what ushers in due considerations of sustainability and equity – the success of the capitals approach with the sector would require that different temporalities are genuinely registered and that these are allowed to reveal disagreement and uncertainty regarding what is to be valued, that is, what the arts, culture and heritage are.
Moreover, we must understand that these disagreements and uncertainties are not something to be permanently solved with the right technical approach but form the basis of an ongoing and necessary negotiation that is inherent in vibrant cultural ecologies, not to mention in open and plural societies.
Dr Patrycja Kaszynska is Senior Research Fellow, Social Design Institute at University of the Arts London.
*The project is led by University of the Arts London, working with four other organizations – University of Glasgow, University of Cambridge, Museum of London Archaeology, and a consultancy Simetrica-Jacobs – ten partners, an Advisory Group and an Oversight Group.
For a recent, multi-perspective discussion of the CHC Programme, please see Valuing Culture and Heritage Capital Conference 2022.
The report from the Scoping Culture and Heritage Capital research project will be published in the summer.