UK’s first Centre for Cultural Value to open in Leeds - Museums Association

UK’s first Centre for Cultural Value to open in Leeds

Examining the value of arts and culture – from gigs and book clubs to fine art and opera  
Yosola Olorunshola
A new Centre for Cultural Value is to open at the University of Leeds.
With collaboration at its heart, the centre will bring together academic and non-academic researchers, artists, arts and cultural organisations, audiences, policymakers and local communities.  

It will specifically focus on the role of arts and culture in four areas: conflict resolution, education, health and wellbeing, and community regeneration.  

The centre is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Arts Council England with an investment of £2m over five years.  The Museums Association (MA) is one of the centre’s official partners.  

Its remit will cover a diverse range of cultural activity, spanning grassroots and community activities, as well as the role of major national institutions.  

Ben Walmsley, the associate professor in audience engagement at Leeds University, will lead the new centre and has set out bold ambitions for its remit.  

“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?’” he said.   

“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.”

Establishing a centre dedicated to cultural value was one of the recommendations of the AHRC’s Cultural Value Project, which examined issues around why arts and culture matter.

Andrew Thompson, the executive chair of the AHRC, 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 challenge of evaluating cultural value is a key concern, and one that the centre will face head on. As well as building on existing research and best practice, 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.

“We experience the benefits of art and culture every day but all too often it can be difficult to evidence the impact of these opportunities in terms of our health, wellbeing and communities,” said Simon Mellor, the deputy chief executive at Arts Council England.  

The centre will be rooted in Leeds, based at the city’s School of Performance and Cultural Industries and supported by the university’s Cultural Institute. Its network will stretch across the UK, with opportunity for international partnerships on the horizon.

The MA’s director, Sharon Heal, said: “We are delighted to be partnering the Centre for Cultural Value on this innovative new project. Cultural value is often seen as something that is nebulous and difficult to pin down but it is more vital than ever that we are able to understand and articulate the value of culture to society. I look forward to working with them closely over the next five years.”

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