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Notes from the Chair 23rd April 2012

This week I thought I’d start with the Institute of Economic Affairs proposal to close the DCMS, and more specifically about their use of the ‘cost per visit’ argument to suggest that the market rather than the public purse should be footing the bill. The politics of that position, although interesting, are not what I’m going to focus on: what really interests me here is the use of statistics, and the numbers that are, and aren’t used.
Cost per visit is a relatively simple calculation, if you have both visitor numbers and total expenditure; and, as DCMS clients, either directly or through one of the arms length bodies, these figures for the organisations listed will be in the public domain. Cost per visit tells you something about what is going on, but not terribly much. Before we can use it to help us make decisions, there are lots of other numbers we might want to take into consideration, but these can be much harder to calculate.
We might want to add in the value of the benefit from those individual visits: a student working towards a qualification is motivated to work harder and achieve a better grade; a designer is inspired to produce a bestselling new range; or someone just feels happier as a result of the experience. We might want to think about the value of maintaining the institutions, the value of the skills and knowledge held within them to the economy, and the costs of having to build them up again if they were lost. And although it might not be my preferred way of measuring, it is also possible to quantify these values, put them into monetary terms and make that economically based decision making more ‘accurate’. In other words, if our sector and it’s need for a place within national government is to be understood purely in economic terms, can it at least be understood within the full context of its economic value, as one of the most successful economic sectors in the country, drawing on our remarkable cultural wealth?
That brings me back full circle to the DCMS, and it’s role in generating the very numbers that are being used against it. Because we have the DCMS, we have the ability to collect the data, carry out the analyses, understand the wider impact of the arts, and have an increasing number of tools to help us make the more difficult judgements about what is and what is not, value for money. Whether we always agree with those analyses is beside the point, we need them to be done.
If you aren’t already using it, I would like to direct you to the very useful DCMS CASE programme as a very practical example of my point. It ranges from the very practical local profiles tool for arts and culture, which brings together a whole range of relevant data, and enables straight forward comparisons with other areas; through to papers exploring the drivers of engagement.
Jane Wilson
Chair of AD:uk
Tel: 01353 669022 Email: jane.wilson@adec.org.uk