Can we measure the value of enduring artworks?

Mona_Lisa,_by_Leonardo_da_Vinci,_from_C2RMF_retouched

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci – how much has this enduring work contributed to global culture over the years?

(This post is a continuation of my ruminations on Ann Markusen’s work)

There is something else I saw in Ann Markusen’s report on California’s arts and cultural ecology which I found really interesting.

I saw these words:

‘California’s arts and cultural nonprofits generate new and enduring artworks—they commission an estimated 41,000 theater, dance, musical compositions, and artworks annually (p.33)’

and had one of those moments of nerdy, impact evaluation realisation (you know the ones ;-).

I have never tried to capture the value of the enduring nature of works of art. Sure, we all talk about heritage value, bequest value etc (thanks to John Holden). But normally when I do impact or value assessments for arts clients, I am very focused on the intrinsic experience of the art and the social, educational and personal outcomes for the participants.

I have always included ‘contribution to society and culture’ as an element of Artistic Vibrancy (a framework for measuring the health and impact of an arts organisation). But I never thought of measuring the contribution to culture through the creation and continued public experience and enjoyment of enduring works.

How can you value the contribution of Shakespeare, for example? Well, it’s invaluable – as you can can always say with the arts. But you can try to translate the value of enduring works into a language that funders can work with (‘Invaluable’ does not cut it in the Cabinet room).

For example, could you start to count the number of works likely to endure over say, 2, 3, 5 years and longer? You could probably come up with a statistical formula based on big data (PhD project anyone?!) And then how many people are likely to see it, engage with it, perform it, derive some meaning from it, and be transformed by it (a kind of pyramid effect)?

I think this would be completely awesome or terribly hard to believe ,depending on how carefully it is done. There is nothing worse for arguments about arts impact than seemingly ambit claims of creating $X in value. But when it’s done well, it’s – well, invaluable.

I’d love to hear other evaluators’ thoughts on this. Do you think it could be done and done well? Or perhaps it has been done?

Jackie Bailey – Principal, BYP Group