Why this petition matters
DEEPENING THE TRANSFORMATIVE IMPACT OF ARTS AND CULTURE THROUGH EVIDENCE-BASED APPROACHES
We, the signatories of this Declaration
- Being aware of the emerging connections between art, education, technology, innovation, heritage and scientific culture, and of their strategic value for the projection of cities and territories into a future of reinforced rights in a democratic society;
- Recognising the need of framing and promoting those connections within new, human-centred policies aimed at responding to challenges such as the health crisis, the climate emergency and persistent social inequalities;
- Welcoming the new wave of diffused legitimisation of cultural policies after the huge budget cuts initiated after the 2008 global financial crisis, which had prioritised “efficient” public expenditure, including in cultural heritage;
- Having well in mind that nowadays, art and culture are widely recognised for their capacity to facilitate societal cohesion and citizen engagement, build and improve common spaces for living and socially interacting, and ultimately improve people’s well-being and health;
The vision of the latest EU Work Plan for Culture (2023-2026), which delineates a holistic perception of culture that is articulated across many policy fields, and more specifically, acknowledges culture’s capacity to define our foundations, shape our daily lives and structure our collective future.
In a world that is more globalized but also more fractured, where the green and digital transitions are becoming imperatives, and unknown societal risks are likely to appear, we need ambitious cultural policy goals. We concur on that vision and share its ambition to build a more coherent European cultural policy ecosystem.
At both the local and global levels, the role of science is accelerating. This is due to the growing understanding that science is an integral part of culture, not only responsible for exciting technological advances, the evolution of innovation systems, and the development of more open, participatory, and transdisciplinary research and knowledge transfer processes.
This is witnessed by the recent introduction of the New European Bauhaus, a movement that puts culture, creativity and innovation back at the centre of the debate on sustainable development and social inclusion, which has been reinforced in the aftermath of the pandemic crisis.
Within this framework,
- We contend that until today, European stakeholders and citizens have shared a sort of intuitive perception that the cultural experiences of people and related projects, programmes and policies able to support them, are an important factor for the social, political and symbolic cohesion of the Community.
- However, the advocacy of the relevance of art and culture needs to make further progress from a mere accumulation of anectodical evidence episodes, supported by well-intentioned and attractive narratives, but showing too little rigour and replicability to become truly conceptual and operational tools for designing better, fairer and more efficient interventions.
- We believe that a further argument in favour of such progress is the recent surge of investigations on the design of science for policy tools, which include new evaluation mechanisms, competencies, and more democratic and effective ethical codes, which surely have an impact on academic science but can also turn out to significantly contribute to tackling societal challenges.
In light of the above,
Our view is that we are at an inflection point where we must grasp this unique and invaluable opportunity to dig deeper into the relationship between culture, the arts and cultural heritage, and societal transformation.
The challenge of the EU funded project MESOC was to develop new approaches and improved methodologies and tools for capturing the wider societal value of culture, which includes but is not limited to economic impact. We wanted to support new, effective and inclusive policies and institutional frameworks that offer a convincing vision for citizens to cope with current cultural and societal transformations.
However, concepts such as social cohesion, personal and collective wellbeing, or urban renewal allude to enormously complex societal problems, and it would therefore be illusionary (and ultimately, disappointing) to convey the idea that art and culture are always a good solution to these challenges.
To achieve that, we need the articulation of different methodologies, both quantitative and qualitative, to be more precise and concrete in the direction, dimension and causality of impacts. It is time to propose common and concerted protocols and procedures for new cultural policies to be evidence-based and truly pursue social transformation objectives.
We demand the attention of cultural policy makers so that all operators interacting across the cultural ecosystem acquire certain commitments, including:
- To explicitly and concretely highlight in cultural projects, programmes and policies the social, economic, cultural or other objectives pursued by the implementation of such projects or programmes.
- Allocate in the design of cultural projects, programmes and policies the necessary resources (5% of the budget) to develop evaluation and monitoring processes, without compromising on cultural funding.
- We must deepen the collaboration among all the agents of the cultural ecosystem, to generate indicators, connected to specific objectives but also to key enablers, as well as new sources of data and methodologies to capture all the relevant dimensions of culture.
- In a field such as culture, which is so heterogeneous and so dependent on the specific territorial context, it is particularly necessary to converge towards harmonised (albeit flexible) evaluation protocols.
- We must convince and engage the practitioners using intensive data analysis and, where possible, artificial intelligence that culture is at the heart of many of the great questions around humanity’s societal challenges.
- And we also have to push for more official statistical institutions to be sensitive and responsive to the demands of the cultural ecosystem.
We believe our demands are central to building a prosperous, cohesive, just, resilient and beautiful Europe. This declaration is a first step towards a cooperative and united response that we will pursue by continuing to promote the implementation and evaluation of cultural projects aimed at societal transformation. It is also a call for contributions from various horizons: cultural workers, researchers and policy makers to discuss these proposals, recognise the importance of context in impact assessment, and most importantly to test and experiment these ideas in the field.
Paris, 10 March 2023
MESOC has received funding from Horizon 2020 - the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (2014-2020) - under Grant Agreement n°870935.