Why economic impact is not enough for the Edinburgh Festivals

Making the case:Fitrovia's flyer for Edinburgh Art Festival www.fitzrovianoir.com

The Edinburgh Festivals Impact Study published this week charts new territory in articulating, evidencing and advocating for the value of the Edinburgh Festivals.

Cultural and civic leaders first began articulation and evidencing the impact of major investment in culture with John Mysercough’s pioneering study on the economic impact of Glasgow’s 1990 City of Culture programme. Until that point, the arts were largely funded because they were the arts but an increased recognition of their role in delivering other social and economic objectives led to new investment in return for impacts in these areas. Over the last 30 years the UK and most of the Western world has largely valued financial growth above all so its not surprising that we have created a highly developed niche service industry which weighs and measures economic impact  with increasing refinement.

But the Edinburgh Festivals Forum has recognised the limitations of measuring only the economics.  After the collapse of the banks, society has moved beyond financial monotheism and returned to valuing our non-material journeys and actions as individuals and communities.  In that context, a contemporary cultural impact study should, as this one does, involve looking for impacts of positive individual learning, enlightenment and learning, and social development. And, in the context of the twin challenges of climate change and shrinking public expenditure, the study identifies that impact will need to be evidenced through the lenses of environmental impacts and financial sustainability, a concept the authors BOP link closely with the Festivals’ diversity of income streams.

The report contains much interesting data and analysis to support public investment.  What it does not focus on is a simple comparison on the difference between the levels of public subsidy, attendances and economic benefit between the last study by SQW in 2005 and this one in 2010.

This is probably because, using a simple comparison, it appears that the economic growth between 2000 and 2004 was, as recognised by the Festivals and funders, unsustainable.  Every £1 public investment in 2004  generated  £61 new output. Using the same measures, every £1 of public investment generated £35 new output.

SQW BOP

2004

2010

public investment £3m £7.5m
no of attendances £3.1m £4.2m
gross economic impact £184m £261m

So the Festivals are wise to move beyond the economic .The report highlights the good news, and the press release further distils positive findings on all these dimensions to present the best picture of the many fantastic benefits of £7.5m public investment in the Edinburgh Festivals including:

The Festivals play a starring role in the profile of the city and its tourism economy, with 93% of visitors stating that the Festivals are part of what makes Edinburgh special as a city, 82% agreeing that the Festivals make them more likely to revisit Edinburgh in the future and 82% stating that the Festivals were their sole or an important reason for coming to Scotland.

85% of all respondents agree that the Festivals promote a confident, positive Scottish national identity; and 89% of Edinburgh respondents say that the Festivals increase local pride in their home city.

The Festivals encourage and widen access to the arts, with 77% of audiences saying that the Festivals had enabled them to discover new talent and genres, and nearly two-thirds saying that the Festivals encourage them to take risks and see less well-known performances, events or films.

Only the most positive findings are promoted  by the Scottish Government including that “ 93% of parents agreed that attending Festival events as a family increased their child’s imagination.”  In fact the social and educational impacts for the Festivals are, as anticipated, significantly lower that those for arts programmes which are longer term and sustained, rather than event based.

As we move beyond economic impact and in to evaluating the benefits of culture through several wider lenses, we need to develop the metrics and methods for impact analysis of the arts so that they are robust, as suggested by Bill Ivey and by John Knell and Matthew Taylor.

But more than that, as a sector we need to have the confidence to put the results of such studies into context and not just to change our methods and level of reporting just to make our case.  We need to move beyond looking for evidence to help our arguments for public funding and design a rigorous and lasting research method which measures what we are trying to achieve.

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2 comments
  1. Catherine said:

    Hi Anne,

    I always enjoy your posts.

    Thank you

    Catherine

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