2. Narratives of cultural value
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 2 The cultural policy of the United Kingdom tells a changing story about the value of culture. During the twenty-first century, the narrative of value, as expressed in policy, has evolved, with implications for the way that institutions are asked to deliver public goods. Where “access” to culture was once held to be the most valuable thing that institutions could provide – a founding imperative for many museums and galleries in the nineteenth century as accessible repositories of important cultural objects, as well as for the post-war establishment of the Arts Council – the term has gradually been superseded by a more active, inclusive language of “participation” and “engagement”. As David Lammy, then Minister for Culture, declared in 2006:
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 1 In Lammy’s vision, all people would ideally engage actively with cultural life, rather than being the passive recipients of a handed-out culture. Of course, this is a politicized vision, in which participation in culture is a positive step towards the engaged exercise of democratic rights in a nation where “everyone participates in shared civic life”. This new narrative of participation quickly informed the criteria for public funding: Arts Council England’s goals for 2006-8 included “more active participation in the arts by adults and young people.” The shift away from “access” suggested that the value of culture was not simply something that resided permanently in objects, and to which the public only needed proximity to feel the benefits. Value instead began to be articulated as something newly generated in the act of engaging with culture.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 The discourse shift from “access” to “participation” was accelerated in the UK by the application of “public value theory” to cultural organisations. Originating in the US in the work of Harvard scholar Mark Moore, this principle maintains that the value of a public organisation is determined by its shareholders – the public – and that
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 2 The role of public organisations is to create a sense of value for the taxpayers that fund them – not by leaving their influence to the democratic process, but by giving them a new platform for decision-making. Tony Blair’s New Labour government of 1997 began to apply this principle in its program of public service reform. In direct opposition to what it saw as the top-down focus on “targets”, “accountability” and “cost-efficiency” of the previous government’s “New Public Management” approach, the government sought to give the public greater “voice, co-production and choice” in their public services. Applied to cultural organisations such as the BBC and Arts Council England, “public value” theory underpinned new conversations about what the public valued about the arts through surveys, forums and “deliberative democracy” events. There are clear limitations to the approach: how can individual, qualitative responses be multiplied into a public decision? Can debates between the public and arts professionals ever be truly “deliberative”, or is there always an educational agenda? But its very adoption represents a discourse shift, not just towards public participation in culture, but towards privileging the public’s valuation of culture, as well as the valuation traditionally made by institutions.
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Cultural value, then, continued to move further from something regarded as intrinsic to certain objects, or even institutionally determined, to something more subjective. The influential model of cultural value devised by UK think-tank analysts John Holden and Robert Hewison is founded in the principles of public value, and privileges the public in a similar way. Their triangle of value separates out three separate aspects of cultural value. “Instrumental value” is associated with the government and its goals for economic regeneration and social inclusion through investment in culture. “Institutional” value is associated with the work of cultural organisations and the positive relationships they build with their visitors. “Intrinsic” value is associated, in Holden and Hewison’s view, with the public. Applied to the heritage industry, for example, intrinsic value is defined as:
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 By distinguishing between these different imperatives for culture, Holden and Hewison’s model sought to liberate institutions from the dutiful role of conveying a government’s social agenda to passive recipients, and encouraged them to foster more creative, engaging relationships with their visiting publics. But at the same time, by locating “intrinsic” value in people’s “experience”, their model moves value away from being something that resides permanently within institutions, to something that is created on encounter – with implications for the institutions (and there are many of them, since, for example, Accenture calculated the value of the non-departmental public body English Heritage in the same terms) that adopt this method of valuing culture.
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 New technologies of access have facilitated, and perhaps even fuelled, this policy shift towards prioritising the viewpoint of the member of the public. Public services such as the National Health Service have enlisted its scope for instant communication by trialling online feedback services under the public-privileging banner “It’s your NHS, your health, and your choice”. This digital initiative is hailed by such figures as dotcom entrepreneur-turned-“Digital Inclusion Champion” Martha Lane Fox as part of a brave new world of public service in which broadcast is replaced by two-way conversation, and the public’s relationship with their health service is transformed. However, this experiment has been viewed by others as “consumerist window-dressing”. Indeed, it arguably appropriates the wider shift in commercial culture, fuelled by Web 2.0 technology, towards the discourse of “you”. But digital media’s capacity for user-generated creativity, as exemplified in such “broadcast yourself” arenas as Youtube, has also been appropriated by the government for its association with creative potential on a seemingly limitless scale.
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 In today’s cultural policy discourse, “creativity” is dominant. In the 2008 Creative Britain report, the UK government envisages Britain becoming “a hub of creative endeavour, innovation and excellence”, in which the arts and creativity are central to a strong “creative economy”. The document rewrites the value of the government’s existing public subsidy of the arts as investment in experiences that will foster creativity in visitors and audience members. Cultural organisations, through schemes like “Find Your Talent” (which proposes that school children engage with culture for five hours of culture per week), are repackaged as “the key that unlocks their [young people’s] creative talents, opening them up to the possibility of a future career in the creative industries” (7):
- ¶ 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0
- attend top quality live performances
- visit exhibitions, galleries and museums
- visit heritage sites
- use library and archive services
- learn a musical instrument
- play music or sing
- take part in theater and dance performances
- produce creative writing, or listen to authors
- learn about and make films, digital or new media art
- make a piece of visual arts or crafts. (7)
¶ 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 2 This list of activities deals in increasingly active verbs for engaging with culture, progressing from “attend” and “visit” (access), via “learn” and “take part” (participation) to “produce” and “make” (creativity – in both traditional and digital media). Read as a sequence, it rewrites the recent discourse shift in policy from “access” to “creativity” as a learning process, in which early, passive experiences of “top quality live performances” lead to future acts of creativity, in the classroom and, it is implied, throughout people’s lives. By this route, the youth of Britain might grow up to be the creative “talent” that will drive the creative industries. The document recasts public subsidy of the arts as well-justified investment in a new, creative economy, by suggesting that the chief value of traditional cultural organisations is their capacity to stimulate creativity in others.
¶ 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 2 Analysts of cultural policy have already suggested the banality of this upbeat, globalist devotion to a doctrine of “creativity” that needs no specified output to be valuable, and is elastic enough to link the arts with science and technology and, as demonstrated above, positive audience experiences with economy-boosting new industries. Hitherto uninspected, however, are its effects on the funded arts organisations that adopt this discourse and recast their role as providing raw material for future creativity.
¶ 18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 2 In the endlessly updatable websites of the Shakespeare institutions we are examining, designed both to appeal to the public and to satisfy their funders, we can trace corresponding changes in the narratives of value. Organisations present themselves (and their value) not as providing access to important cultural objects but as facilitating exciting experiences and, increasingly, fostering creativity. In 2006, Executive Director Vikki Heywood celebrated the Company’s value in terms of its £57 million contribution to the economy, but also of its staggering effect on the people present:
¶ 19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 … in many ways, the excitement of a child completely wowed by their first trip to the theater, or the play that made you question your perception of humanity, is just as good a measure of what we do.
¶ 20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 By contrast, one of the diverse set of “Voices” presented in the 2008-9 Annual Report, including actors, designers, audiences and visitors, was that of a child impressed by his experience of the theater in a rather different way:
¶ 21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 I came to the Open Day last year and had my photo taken for a Hamlet poster, it was great fun. Open Day was fantastic, I made a video of the day’s events which I edited to music. It was shown to David Tennant and he was impressed, which made me feel very proud.
¶ 22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 3 Images of young people engaging happily with stage practice and performance often feature prominently in the annual reports of Shakespeare organisations: they usefully evoke the winning combination of education and enjoyment that these institutions, unlike schools, are apparently uniquely placed to provide. However, the changing nature of the child as constructed in these two reports reveals the responsiveness of the RSC’s self-presentation to the shifting narratives of value. Where the “child … wowed” connotes the honest, unfeigned enjoyment of a young person early in their education, unfettered by notions of cultural capital, it remains an essentially passive experience, reported by the RSC. The creative child, by contrast, ostensibly speaks in his own “voice”, and is presented as turning that experience into new material. The “child wowed” is an abstraction. The creative child is an individual (“Nat Barber, 15”) who stands as metonymy for the value of the creativity generated by the RSC, and in defiance of the faceless passivity of Adorno and Horkheimer’s “hypodermic” mass culture. Here, creativity is not limited to the people who produce, direct and act in audience-wowing spectacles, but can also be inspired or generated in visitors – including the new writers and creative apprentices whose experiences are currently heavily promoted on the RSC’s website.
¶ 23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 3 Nat’s creativity turns a star actor into an admiring audience (“David Tennant … was impressed”), and disrupts the chain of creative production and consumption that might characterize the way cultural value occurs in a theater. In a similar way, the British Library’s online re-articulation of itself in its website subtitle as “The Knowledge Network” alters the library’s value chain of resource and consumer:
¶ 24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 The British Library is the knowledge network in today’s ever expanding digital world. It contributes to, and advances, the way in which people access and use information across the world, safeguarding history, creating new ideas and making new discoveries. The connections are endless.
¶ 25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 The digital language of “network” and “connections” seems to disrupt the linear, sequential, relationship of information provider and recipient. Or rather, it conflates these roles: the syntax of “safeguarding history, creating new ideas and making new discoveries” elides traditional custodianship with creativity and staff with users, in a shared realm of knowledge, discovery and innovation. Likewise, the BL’s new “Business and IP center”, launched in 2006, encourages users to “Turn your idea into a success story”, ascribing the status of raw material or primary sources to their “ideas”, rather than to the library. In this “network”, the traditional idea of an intrinsically valuable cultural object that is consulted by visitors is replaced by a new sense of creative, potential value.
¶ 26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 2 In presenting themselves in this new language, such organisations begin to rearticulate their role not as gatekeepers of high culture but as providers of potential value – sources of material or experiences that will trigger future creativity. The online job description for the advertised role of “Assistant Digital Media Producer” at the RSC – part of the Company’s growing digital team – lists one of their duties as sourcing “compelling stories, news and information” from colleagues in order to create “digital content”: that is, taking the day-to-day working activities of the RSC and turning them first into narrative, and then into information. The digital term “content” at once ascribes meaningfulness or value to these stories, and transforms them into resources for others to use. The Globe still more explicitly describes itself on its website as
¶ 27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 a unique international resource dedicated to the exploration of Shakespeare’s work and the playhouse for which he wrote, through the connected means of performance and education.
¶ 28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 2 By declaring not simply its website, but itself, as a “resource”, a store of potential for others to use, the theater seems to eschew its own creativity, borrowing rather the language of library and information provision. Tellingly, though, the “resource” is not entirely passive, but is itself “dedicated to the exploration of Shakespeare’s work”: it might facilitate others” exploration, but it also purports to perform that act of exploration itself. This ambiguity suggests that while these organisations embrace their role as providers of potential, future value, they still display a desire to control the nature of that value, and, in particular, the moment when it occurs.
¶ 29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 Thus, at the same time that they claim to be resources for others’ creativity, we can see parallel moves in their online presentation by which these institutions attempt to recoup and reinscribe that value within their institutional walls. The creative child celebrated by the RSC, for all his future potential, seems to have performed his creative act of digital editing within the building, during an Open Day. In a still more tangible sense of reinscribing value, the Globe invites friends and sponsors to have a “permanent and visible” mark of their support etched on the theater’s “Supporting Wall”.
¶ 31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 2 Shakespeare’s perceived global “impact”, his apparent capacity to generate value in innumerable people’s lives, is here rewritten into what is, metaphorically at least, the central fabric of this particular theater. This maneuver is also a reminder that in the struggle to recapture and recoup cultural value, to be the originary place from whence Shakespeare’s nebulous value emanates, these Shakespeare institutions are in competition with each other.
¶ 32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 1 The British Library offers a particularly intriguing example of this process of recapturing the value of its users’ own creativity. In May 2009 the Library emailed its Readers with the question “How has the British Library helped you?”. The library, the email declared, sought to “understand more about the value that we add to your research or work”: had the BL, for example, helped you to complete a postgraduate qualification, write a book, or start a business? It included two examples of people who had created inventive and commercially successful products from the raw materials, or primary experience, of the library: the author of a Costa Book of the Year-winning murder mystery novel and the designer of a new “superfood” fruit juice. While celebrating their success in the wider world, the message reclaimed their value for the library building: both projects were researched exhaustively (and in the case of the novel, “entirely”) within the library’s walls at the St Pancras site in London, the fruit juice in both the Science reading rooms and newer Business and IP Center. One of the intended effects of this request is to encourage more traditional, academic users to reconsider their use of the resource of the library in more creative terms, viewing their research outputs as creative products fashioned from the library’s raw materials (and value-adding customer service). In turn, these readers are also invited, like the author and designer, to “send us your stories”, to transform that creative output into a narrative whose value can be rewritten back into the building. The library is not just annexing user-generated content, as other digital business or online platforms might do for financial and marketing gain, but recapturing “stories” – that new currency of user-generated value as we’ve seen throughout this essay – that can be aggregated to display to funders and public the value of the library.
¶ 33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 2 Even the potential cultural value generated by large-scale creative spin-offs from these Shakespeare organisations – namely the television and cinema broadcasting of stage productions – is carefully reascribed online to the theater buildings in which they originated. The RSC’s press release about the filming, for BBC broadcast, of Greg Doran’s 2008 production of Hamlet, at once celebrates the capacity of television for dissemination, and reclaims the value of the film for the theater. RSC Artistic Director Michael Boyd was declaredly “very pleased that this RSC production will be seen by so many people when broadcast. As the show was sold out for its entire run, this is a really great opportunity for our work to be seen by so many who could not come to the theater and see it on stage.” Despite the remediation of the performance into high-definition film for a new mode of television and DVD consumption, and its being filmed elsewhere “on location”, Boyd here claims it as an amplification, rather than an alteration, of the stage performance: “the screen version of Shakespeare’s great tragedy will retain the quality and tone of the critically acclaimed stage production”. The Globe makes similar moves to downplay remediation and recoup value for the building. Just as its international tour in Seoul was “played very much in the Globe style, with house lights up, direct and honest communication with the audience”, the theater’s recent agreement with arts distributor Opus Arte to “film, screen and distribute” selected plays from the 2009 season in cinemas and, ultimately, on DVD, is articulated as a “partnership”, which will “record highlights of the season in exceptional quality and share these with even more theater-lovers around the world”. Note “theater-lovers” rather than “Shakespeare-lovers”: the Globe, the announcement makes clear, “is beloved around the world for its iconic architecture and vibrant theater productions”, and this new distribution will take not just Shakespeare, but the Globe itself, to a new, worldwide audience. The Globe’s sense of “partnership” with Opus Arte directly contradicts Philip Auslander’s observation that “theater (and live performance generally) and the mass media are rivals, not partners”. Both the Globe and the RSC reclaim for their institution the value of these creative projects by presenting the remediation of their work by other, newer media forms as their own, deliberate appropriation of broadcast technology in order to extend the physical space of the stage.
¶ 34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 2 The digital technologies that these Shakespeare organisations enlist do not just present a useful sense of immediacy, relevance and reach, but also offer another, visible means of recouping value. The digital activities that individuals can perform, independent of cultural institutions, are frequently co-opted back into the organisations. While we might find people individually blogging or tweeting about an RSC performance, posting on Youtube a video of their visit to the Globe or SBT, and writing on the British Library’s facebook wall, we also see the RSC staging its own actor blogs, the SBT publishing its own material on Youtube, the BL trawling blogs for user responses to its exhibitions, and all of the institutions managing their Twitter and facebook pages as part of their marketing. The RSC site’s engagingly matey account of the rehearsal process by a young RSC actor – one instalment entitled “Blogger Luke on week 4 of rehearsals, cold burgers, short hair, sore heads and Nutella….” – isn’t really a blog at all. His suitably candid stories of burgers and bad haircuts, alongside blocking and beautiful speeches, are presented in RSC house style, and, unlike a live blog, offer no space for readers to respond in real time. His first blog begins “so… here’s a lad from Essex, sitting at a computer in the RSC’s Clapham rehearsal rooms – as an RSC actor no less – writing a rehearsal blog for Days of Significance – one of the best plays I’ve ever been near, let alone in. Something’s gone horribly right”. The well-presented, aspirational prose of this “lad from Essex” turned “RSC actor no less” is part of an inclusive mission to “Proactively identify opportunities for digital developments to reach new audiences – especially 16-25 year olds, those new to theater and people from more diverse backgrounds”. The RSC seeks, through such digital means, to attract and keep a valuable young audience, as well as this kind of creative response, in house.
¶ 35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 4 As marketing studies increasingly show, the digitally-enabled “you are what you share” ideology of “We-Think”, that emerging narrative of individuals empowered by user-creativity and mass collaboration, is ironically becoming a potent tool for marketing a product: let people identify with brands, icons and companies in their online self-presentation, and they will spread the word themselves. The presence of these Shakespeare organisations on social networking sites such as Twitter and facebook not only creates a new platform for direct marketing to an interested audience, but is also a means of activating the principles of viral marketing, where the public self-identification with these organisations of their “fans”, “friends” and “followers” potentially sparks the interest of their acquaintances, and wins new audiences. But what commercial marketing is using to recoup monetary value to certain brands and products, these institutions are also trying to use to recoup cultural value. Their use of social networking sites can also be read as an attempt to reassert, in virtual form, their institutional walls, and to reinscribe them with value. In these spaces, the positive experiences of their individual audience members – the creative value of the organisations realized after the event – is literally rewritten on to virtual walls. The BL’s facebook wall suggests the myriad, and more or less meaningful, responses that can be gathered together under their institutional identities: “My fantastic space in London”, “love BL :)”, “Happy Christmas to all the British Library!!!”, “My home-away-from-home when I was writing My Lady Scandalous! I lived in that rare books room. Freezing cold, but what a treasure! Love the British Library :-)”. Similarly, the RSC’s encouragement to “Upload photos on Flickr” creates a central space where numerous people’s visual experiences of the organisation can be gathered under the company’s brand name. All the Shakespeare organisations recoup, in the collected thumbnail images of their fans’ and friends’ faces, a sense of the capacity of the institution to create value in others. They need not detail the creative ideas generated by individuals after their experience of the building, nor even their stories or personal narratives of value: the virtual presence of these individuals alone is enough to recoup value, for the individual’s experience is where the value of culture now seems to lie.