What is the value of the arts?

Saturday 13 October, 4.00pm until 5.30pm, Felix Meritis, Keizersgracht 324, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

This discussion will be in English.

Tickets: €7,50. Attend both discussions for €10,- Discount rates: €5,- (one discussion) €7,50 (both discussions).

For more information and to book tickets: Felix Meritis.

Even after endless discussions about cuts to arts budgets, across Europe, in both Britain and Holland, in Italy and in Greece, there seems to be no agreement on the value of the arts. Artists have made impassioned defences but not everyone is convinced. It is hard to make a case for funding another modern dance troupe in the face of the impact of recession on social provision. Why not fund a hospital or care for the elderly? In a world that is increasingly quantified, compared and assessed, it is perhaps only fair that a framework for measuring the value of the arts is put in place. But where to begin?

Economists have argued the arts can stimulate the economy. Some suggest we need to spend more rather than less on the “creative sector.” Some artists too have embraced this view, maybe even a bit too eagerly. Is their use of creativity and inspiration really a boost to the economy? And how new is this way of looking at the value of arts? One could argue that the economistic view is only an extension of how politics have been using arts in recent decades—as a means to promote political ideals, whether nationalism or multiculturalism, not as an end in itself. In the UK, for example, the Royal Society of Arts argues that participation in the arts can actually make people better citizens: that doing art is a tool for social cohesion.

Can science come to the rescue? Psychologists claim art can make us healthier and happier. Some neuroscientists think exposure to great paintings increases blood flow to the same part of our brains stimulated when we gaze on a loved one. We may have evolved the arts as an evolutionary gambit so as to form stronger social bonds and thus increase our chances of survival. Then again, if we want to boost public health, there are probably more direct and cost effective ways to achieve this.

Maybe the solution is simply to ask what people would prefer to see funded and what they would not? But if the answer was that money should only go to football and musicals, what then? Is there a requirement to fund a degree a ‘high culture’ no matter what people think? Is there a value to the arts beyond an instrumentalist, means to an end, perspective? Can we put a value on truth, on beauty? What value do such concepts have in society today? Just how should we value the arts?

Ann Demeester
director, de Appel arts centre and Curatorial Programme; presenter, 4Art, Dutch television

Professor Henkjan Honing
KNAW-Hendrik Muller chair in Music Cognition and professor of Cognitive and Computational Musicology, University of Amsterdam

Dr Tiffany Jenkins
writer and broadcaster; author, Keeping Their Marbles: how treasures of the past ended up in museums and why they should stay there

Chris Keulemans
artistic director, Tolhuistuin; writer and author

Merlijn Twaalfhoven
composer; professor, "Popkunst", ArtEZ school of Arts

Alan Miller
chairman, Night Time Industries Association (NTIA)

Produced by
Anna Barnouw programme officer, Felix Meritis
Angus Kennedy convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination
Marco Visscher journalist; curator, Tegengeluid; editor-at-large, The (Intelligent) Optimist
Recommended readings
Dutch budget cuts leave high arts in very low spirits

Forced to meet EU budget targets, the Dutch government has made sharp spending cuts - an unpopular move ahead of next week's election. Arts and culture are among the biggest casualties.

Anna Holligan, BBC News, 6 September 2012

European arts cuts: Dutch dance loses out as Netherlands slashes funding

Internationaal Danstheater says the government has made cuts too quickly, leaving organisations without alternative suppor

Siobhán Dowling, Guardian, 2 August 2012

Dutch courage needed in face of classical music funding cuts

Proposed changes will put pressure on much-loved companies as the Netherlands's musical-haven status comes under threat

Tom Service, Guardian, 20 June 2012

Should art really be for its own sake alone?

If art museums are the new churches, perhaps they should end the veneration of ambiguity and start serving our inner needs

Alain de Botton, Guardian, 20 January 2012

The Art Market Shouldn't be the Judge of Good Art

Art is a lifelong learning curve and the market is no substitute for putting eyeballs directly on it—smelling it, tasting it and touching it. You need to lift it, hang it, insure it, frame it, pack it, ship it, live with it, damage it, hate it and idolize it.

Kenny Schachter, Rise Art, 24 October 2011

Culture: it’s not the economy, stupid!

Plans to get UK cultural institutions to measure the economic value of art are both philistine and futile.

Tiffany Jenkins, spiked, 6 July 2011

Measuring the value of culture: a report to the Department for Culture Media and Sport

The cultural sector faces the conundrum of proving its value in a way that can be understood by decision-makers.

Dave O’Brien, DCMS, 16 December 2010

Session partners

in association with