The Menace of Measurement: A discussion about arts indicators

Publication Date: July 2010

Publisher: Saskatchewan Arts Alliance

Author(s): Marnie Badham

Research Area: Culture and religion

Keywords: arts; indicators; measurement; culture

Type: Report

Coverage: Canada


The arts are multifaceted, complex, and have both intrinsic and instrumental values. Intrinsic values have little language to articulate, therefore we typically decline trying to articulate these and rely on evaluating the arts sector through instrumental impacts that are much easier to qualify. Therefore, the arts are measured through economic and social benefits and often, the true nature of the arts - the aesthetic, communicative and cognitive development roles, remain unexpressed. We resist measurement because we are asked to measure the wrong things and we feel little resources should be spent on the creation and dissemination of the arts.

Arts indicators are not evaluation. They are often misunderstood as social or economic indicators, because they are measuring wealth, service provision or evaluating policy. Arts indicators, as a branch of cultural indicators, measure changing social values over time, and as such, not be used to compare locations or measure performance of isolated individual phenomena (like economics) within the arts sector. Indicators require a conceptual handshake between practice and policy, and can provide better understanding of the arts by observing the changing public perceptions. This data, embedded in a larger theoretical framework, can communicate to the public about the value of the arts and, as importantly, provide evidence to decision makers for policy change.

This discussion paper provides an overview of the argument about measurement and the arts, a detailed theoretical review of international arts and cultural indicators, and proposes some thoughts for steps forward for arts indicators in Saskatchewan.