Debating the value of the arts, in Amsterdam

I will join a panel to discuss the value of the arts, Saturday 13 October, in Amsterdam. The discussion will be held at Felix Meritis, Keizersgracht 324

What is the value of the arts?

Even after endless discussions about cuts to arts budgets, across Europe, in both Britain and Holland, in Italy and in Greece, there seems to be no agreement on the value of the arts. Artists have made impassioned defences but not everyone is convinced. It is hard to make a case for funding another modern dance troupe in the face of the impact of recession on social provision. Why not fund a hospital or care for the elderly? In a world that is increasingly quantified, compared and assessed, it is perhaps only fair that a framework for measuring the value of the arts is put in place. But where to begin?

Economists have argued the arts can stimulate the economy. Some suggest we need to spend more rather than less on the “creative sector.” Some artists too have embraced this view, maybe even a bit too eagerly. Is their use of creativity and inspiration really a boost to the economy? And how new is this way of looking at the value of arts? One could argue that the economistic view is only an extension of how politics have been using arts in recent decades—as a means to promote political ideals, whether nationalism or multiculturalism, not as an end in itself. In the UK, for example, the Royal Society of Arts argues that participation in the arts can actually make people better citizens: that doing art is a tool for social cohesion.

Can science come to the rescue? Psychologists claim art can make us healthier and happier. Some neuroscientists think exposure to great paintings increases blood flow to the same part of our brains stimulated when we gaze on a loved one. We may have evolved the arts as an evolutionary gambit so as to form stronger social bonds and thus increase our chances of survival. Then again, if we want to boost public health, there are probably more direct and cost effective ways to achieve this.

Maybe the solution is simply to ask what people would prefer to see funded and what they would not? But if the answer was that money should only go to football and musicals, what then? Is there a requirement to fund a degree a ‘high culture’ no matter what people think? Is there a value to the arts beyond an instrumentalist, means to an end, perspective? Can we put a value on truth, on beauty? What value do such concepts have in society today? Just how should we value the arts?

Ann Demeester
director, de Appel arts centre and Curatorial Programme; presenter, 4Art, Dutch television
Professor Henkjan Honing
KNAW-Hendrik Muller chair in Music Cognition and professor of Cognitive and Computational Musicology, University of Amsterdam
Dr Tiffany Jenkins
sociologist and cultural commentator, author: Contesting Human Remains in Museum Collections.
Chris Keulemans
artistic director, Tolhuistuin; writer and author
Merlijn Twaalfhoven
composer; professor, “Popkunst”, ArtEZ school of Arts
Alan Miller
co-director, NY Salon; co-founder, London Vibe Bar.