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Raising our quality of life
The importance of investment in arts and culture

There has been much focus on growing inequalities in living standards, but the majority of discussion has focused on economic measures, failing to recognise the importance of ‘quality of life’. This paper considers the contribution of arts and culture to improving our quality of life. By looking at a range of arguments which recognise the relationship between arts, culture and society, it presents the case for public funding for the arts alongside an inclusive, localised and democratic cultural policy.

Cultural policy under the Coalition has focused on reducing subsidy and state intervention, in favour of private giving and sponsorship, while continuing previous governments’ expectations of ensuring quantifiable ‘returns on investment’. With local authorities increasingly struggling to provide statutory services, funding for arts and culture has become a much lower priority. In contrast, the previous Labour government used arts and culture as a tool for achieving wider policy goals including regeneration, economic development, social inclusion and health.

This paper explores how cultural policy has reached this position whereby policy makers define the value of the arts in terms of their economic value and their contribution to defined policy objectives, rather than their broader value in improving ‘quality of life’. Examining the recent history of cultural policy in the UK, this paper argues that despite the intensive quest to measure the economic and social returns on investment in the arts, which has been heightened in the context of austerity, a better case can be made by returning to the arguments that emphasise the importance of arts to the quality of everyday life.

A large body of evidence on how arts and culture affects the lives of ordinary people is reviewed. These studies are not only concerned with how to demonstrate value through economic means, but consider how people’s quality of life is raised in intimate but potentially scalable ways through their everyday participation in culture. The author argues that a future cultural policy which hopes to fulfil the universal entitlement to arts and culture, must develop capacity within local communities to create places and opportunities to participate and that underpinning all of this must be a strong and secure role for the public sector in arts investment.