When evaluating municipal cultural policy, only the figures seem to be examined. This is not right, in the opinion of Quirijn van den Hoogen, lecturer in art policy and art sociology at the University of Groningen. ‘Financial data and visitor numbers are only a small part of the whole. Cultural policy should be much more about the value of art for the audience and for society.’
According to Van den Hoogen, it’s the story behind the figures that is important in making a proper evaluation. ‘For example, theatre group the Citadel from Groningen plays a lot in schools. This means that they reach a smaller audience than if they performed in a proper theatre, so the price per visitor for a performance is higher. But precisely because they perform in schools, this gives the plays an extra dimension for school pupils. If you only look at the figures, this kind of relevant information is not taken into account.’
‘You can measure much more than people think’, states Van den Hoogen. ‘The fact that people buy a ticket for a performance says something about their lifestyle, about what they enjoy, but nothing at all about what that performance may have meant to them. From that point of view you cannot use ticket sales as a measurement point, and certainly not as the only measurement point. It’s high time we conducted some serious audience research, examining the value of the experiences that expressions of art produce. It’s time to take a serious look at what art does for society.’
Cultural policy can also be evaluated at a social level. Culture contributes to the social cohesion of a city, is the current opinion of many politicians. ‘For example, you can measure what its influence is on house prices. According to research, the number of stage performances in a city plays a significant role in the price of a house. This concerns not only subsidized but also unsubsidized theatre. Municipalities need to seriously examine this aspect.’
Van den Hoogen: ‘Cultural policy is about the value that you generate for the art itself, for its audience and for society. The value for the audience is the key. It takes a lot of effort to seriously chart that value. To do this properly, for example, you would have to balance the audience for subsidized institutions against that for non-subsidized institutions. And you can’t expect the institutions to do all the work themselves. The municipalities will have to play an active role in the process too.’
Although Van den Hoogen is in favour of an extensive evaluation, in his opinion that does not mean that this has to be done at all times and everywhere. ‘Municipalities will have to choose the level at which to evaluate their policy. You could choose to do so at a basic level; just check whether the grants awarded have resulted in beautiful art and leave it at that. However, if a municipality chooses that path it must be aware that it cannot then hold institutions accountable on their economic results.’
You also have to ask yourself how far to go with evaluation data, both in terms of quantitative and qualitative information. Imagine that a performance hasn’t worked; a certain line chosen by the artistic director doesn’t reach its full potential. How can you account for that? Will the grant just be stopped, or do you use that information to change policy? Such information may reveal that it may be necessary to make different choices. That means adapting the whole policy, not just holding an institution to account. Serious policy evaluation is thus rather more than “accountability”.’
Quirijn Lennert van den Hoogen (Soest, 1969) studied Business Studies and Art and Art Policy at the University of Groningen. He has worked as an independent advisor in the field of culture and has been cultural policy advisor for the province and municipality of Groningen and for the Association of Netherlands Municipalities in The Hague. He currently teaches art policy and art sociology for the Arts, Culture and Media degree programme at the University of Groningen. He recently gained his PhD for a thesis on how the performing arts function in an urban society from the perspective of municipal cultural policy.
Contact: Quirijn van den Hoogen, tel. 050-363 6078, e-mail: q.l.van.den.hoogen rug.nl
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