‘Happy now? Wellbeing and cultural policy’

O'Brien, David; Oakley, Kate and Lee, David. 2012. ‘Happy now? Wellbeing and cultural policy’. Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly, 31(2), pp. 17-25. [Article]

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Abstract or Description

While much of the debate in policy circles has been on the measurement of wellbeing how to do it and what the limitations of measurement are there have been as yet relatively few attempts to apply a wellbeing lens to specific policy areas. One partial exception has been cultural policy.

In 2010 the Culture and Sport Evidence Programme (CASE) reported on a three year research programme into the drivers and impacts of participation in sport and cultural activity. A key strand of the programme was to understand and assess the short and longer term benefits of cultural engagement, and it drew upon data from the Arts Councils Taking Part survey of cultural participation, and the British Household Panel Survey. Individual value was assessed by the improvements in subjective well-being and by the healthcare costs saved and improved health-related quality of life, generated by doing sport and engaging with culture (CASE 2010:5).

Despite the rather startling assertion that a visit to the cinema once a week had an income compensation value of 9,000 per household per year (CASE 2010); there is little evidence that wellbeing is, as yet, being used to inform funding or other policy directions for DCMS. Nevertheless, in the rhetoric of arts funding, wellbeing has now joined the long list of benefits educational attainment, self-confidence, health and social cohesion that have at one time been claimed to result from cultural participation.

The aim of this paper is to analyse the use of wellbeing as an idea within cultural policy and too discuss what this tells us, about the adaption of such discourses by policymakers in general, and its potential uses in cultural policy in particular. It will consider the adoption of well being within cultural policy under New Labour, and consider what its retention under a Coalition government tells us about the cross-party appeal of such a notion.

The paper will consider the CASE example, look at other uses of wellbeing by local authorities or arts organisations and ask; what sort of culture might result from an approach based on wellbeing? How would culture fare vis a vis other public spending commitments under a wellbeing approach? And, if linked to a discussion about work and ownership, could well-being offer a way to think about improving working conditions within the cultural industries?

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Institute for Cultural and Creative Entrepreneurship (ICCE)



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04 Aug 2015 09:57

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29 Jul 2016 10:43

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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