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Leeds to be home of UK's first Centre for Cultural Value

Date: 10/06/2019

New centre will examine the value of arts and culture - from book clubs and pub gigs to fine art and opera

Dance class action
Credit: anna-m. w. from Pexels

Why do arts and culture matter? What difference do they make to people’s lives? How do we know what difference they make to individuals and communities?

These and other key questions are at the heart of a unique new Centre for Cultural Value based at the University of Leeds.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Arts Council England with an investment of £2 million over five years, this centre will collaborate and consult widely to advance understanding of the value of the UK’s arts and culture sector and its unexplored potential.

The centre will focus on the role of arts and culture in areas such as conflict resolution, education, health and wellbeing, and community regeneration, bringing together researchers with expertise in these areas with artists, arts and cultural organisations, audiences, participants and local communities.

What role, for example, might the healing qualities of arts and culture play in our post-Brexit society?

Dr Ben Walmsley, Associate Professor in Audience Engagement at Leeds, who will lead the new centre, said:

“Two questions at the core of the new centre’s work will be: ‘What does it feel like to engage with arts and culture?’ and ‘What tangible differences do arts and culture make to people’s lives?’

“Our work will cover a diverse range of cultural activity from grassroots and community activities to work produced by our world-leading national organisations.

“The Centre for Cultural Value will help stimulate public debate about the role of national and local governments in creating and enabling cultural value, informed by robust and rigorous research.”

The centre will bring academic researchers, policy makers and arts and cultural organisations together in useful dialogue and shared understanding. It will also involve a wide range of artists and arts and cultural organisations from across the UK in planning its programme and its activity.

Professor Andrew Thompson, Executive Chair at the Arts and Humanities Research Council, said:

“Arts and culture can bring value to many areas of society: from the creative industries which drive economic growth, to grassroots arts projects that help to build community spirit. The Centre for Cultural Value will help to advance our understanding of this flourishing and diverse sector, bringing together a valuable evidence base for the importance of culture in today’s world.”

The remit of the new centre is broad and the range of its partners wide, but activities will include the following themes:

  • Conflict resolution
    How can fractured groups in society be brought together through “social healing”? The centre will consider why, although there is growing consensus that arts and culture develop empathy between people of opposing views, evidence in this area is sketchy and evaluation methods poorly understood and applied.
  • Education
    World-leading companies such as Google say they need more creative thinkers, and yet the creative arts are being squeezed out of the National Curriculum. The centre will work with arts and cultural producers, teachers and policymakers to explore the increasingly vital role that arts education plays in young people’s personal and professional development.
  • Arts, culture and wellbeing
    What are the tangible benefits of arts and culture on people’s wellbeing and physical and mental health? The centre will consider the role they can play in social prescribing - where GPs and other primary healthcare professionals refer patients to non-clinical services, such as singing, dance groups or art classes.
  • Cultural regeneration
    How can “placemaking” investment in our towns and cities create better places in which to live that support the development of sustainable and diverse communities? What can we learn from the experiences of European Capitals of Culture, the Cultural Olympiad and UK Cities of Culture, as well as from smaller scale initiatives such as Creative People and Places? The Centre for Cultural Value will partner with researchers and practitioners from these cultural events to investigate the short, medium and long-term impact of these initiatives on local, regional and national communities.

As well as building on existing research and best practice and sharing findings via events organised with partners across the UK, the Centre for Cultural Value will offer £200,000 of seed funding to arts and cultural organisations wishing to explore new methods of evaluating their cultural value with the support of a dedicated academic researcher.

Dr Walmsley said it was hoped the centre would also examine ways in which scientific methods could help assess the health impact and benefits of arts and culture, for example by measuring the body’s responses during performances.

International collaboration was also on the horizon, he said, with a potential initial network of centres stretching from Australia through Europe to North America.

As next steps, engagement events with interested parties will be held in the autumn, ahead of a launch of the Centre for Cultural Value next February.

The centre’s establishment was one of the recommendations of the AHRC’s Cultural Value Project, which examined issues around why arts and culture matter.

Professor Geoffrey Crossick, former Director of the AHRC Cultural Value Project, said:

"The AHRC Cultural Value Project report (PDF, 5.3MB) stressed how individual experience of arts and culture generated so many of its benefits, the need for rigorous evaluation of those benefits rather than mere advocacy, and that cultural practitioners and organisations had to be engaged and know that research and evaluation would help their work.

“I'm delighted that the new Centre for Cultural Value will take forward the work begun in that project and move it in new and exciting directions."

The Centre for Culture Value will be based at Leeds’ School of Performance and Cultural Industries and supported closely by the University’s Cultural Institute, which plays a key role in strengthening the University’s position as a global centre of research and teaching excellence in culture, increasing pioneering research collaborations with creative sector partners, widening cultural engagement and participation in arts and culture, and widening students’ skills.

The announcement coincides with Leeds’ growing status as a flourishing hub for cultural and digital industries, as well as the media - embodied by the decision of Channel 4 to relocate its national headquarters to the West Yorkshire city, already famed for its strong financial and legal sectors.


Associated image credit: Michael Zittel from Pexels

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