On the Economic Impact of Culture

Today, 24 April 2013, Maria Miller, gave her first major address as Culture Secretary of the UK. Given at the British Museum, her speech was a rallying call for arts organisations in the UK to focus on the economic impact of the arts and cultural sectors to the wider economy.

The full transcript of the speech, entitled “Testing times: Fighting culture’s corner in an age of austerity”, is now online, but emblematic extracts read:

“I come to you today and ask you to help me reframe the argument: to hammer home the value of culture to our economy.”

“When times are tough and money is tight, our focus must be on culture’s economic impact.”

Whilst many may find the notion of focusing on the contribution that arts and culture play to the economy unpalatable, as recipients of taxpayers’ money, most arts organisations I know are mindful of the need to evidence the economic impact arts funding has. As the artistic director of an organisation, Lighthouse, which Arts Council England invests in, I certainly am.

As such, I would like to accept Maria Miller’s challenge to make the case for the economic impact of the arts and cultural sectors in the UK, by drawing on two studies*, to make the following points:

* For every £1 invested into the arts in the UK, the arts return at least £4 into the economy.

* The arts sector is responsible for nearly one million jobs in the UK

* The 67,000 cultural businesses, or arts organisations, as we tend to call them, contribute £28 billion per annum to the UK economy

Further, the arts are a vital subset of the wider sector known as the creative industries, which is one of the growth areas of the UK economy.

* Creative industries accounted for 6.2% of the UK gross value added in 2007, a figure which has likely risen by now.

* Exports from creative industries were valued at UK£16.6 billion as of 2007, again likely to be higher now

* Creative industries constitute a greater proportion of GDP in the UK than in any other country in the world

To my eyes, these statistics paint a picture of a thriving arts ecosystem, which is enriching the UK economy. Any industry which employs a million people, returns £4 for every £1 invested, injects £28 billion per annum into the local economy, and is responsible for £16.6 billion in exports, seems well worthy of support and investment. This is all in addition to the arts sector’s primary function, which is to create artistic and social value. The UK sector’s success in doing that is well documented in other studies.

The issue, it would seem to me, isn’t an absence of data, or a failure of the sector to make the argument about economic impact. We have been illustrating the economic value of our work for years now. For example, during my time as director of AV Festival in the North East of England, we spent a great deal of our time and resources evidencing the impact of the public investment in our work. We took our responsibility to do so very seriously, and shared this information with our sector.

I believe the issue may lie with encouraging government to accept the validity of our arguments that the arts and cultural sectors are vibrant contributors to the UK economy.

Following her address today, we warmly welcome Maria Miller’s support in helping us make this case to Treasury.

* Data from:

1. Driving growth through local government investment in the arts, March 2013
Summary: http://is.gd/artseconomicimpact
Full report (PDF): http://is.gd/h6h5rZ

2. BECTU’s submission to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s enquiry into arts and heritage funding, August 2010
Summary: http://is.gd/bectureport
Full report (PDF): http://is.gd/iqZbAy

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