What do we mean when we talk about cultural value?

Ferry painted in multi-coloured stripes
Sir Peter Blake's Dazzle Ferry, part of Liverpool Biennial

I arrived in Liverpool in the summer of 2016, after spending many years working at the University of Stirling in Scotland. What struck me on walking through the city was the vast amount of arts and cultural resources at the city’s disposal, and I began to think that there were possible research opportunities to be developed and exploited here.

Having a background in marketing and entrepreneurship, with a strong connection to the art world, I had previously been a Principal Investigator of an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) grant on cultural value, looking at the different forms of value surrounding an annual contemporary art exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh – there were definitely going to be possibilities to be explored here in Liverpool too.

Liverpool Business School has a growing research ethos, and believing strongly in the worth of cross-disciplinary research, I arranged meetings with other members of staff in the John Lennon School of Art and Design and the Institute of Cultural Capital, among others.  The aim was to expand my earlier work on cultural value in setting up a further AHRC research bid on Impact and Engagement.

This would not just be in Liverpool, but also to my research connections at the University of Tasmania through working with my co-author Kim Lehman, as well as continuing to work with Boram Lee from the University of Stirling. Both Kim and Boram, although business school academics, have strong connections with the art world. (Kim, for example is a practising artist as well as a researcher.)

Cultural value

In developing my activities here in Liverpool it is important to get a feel for what we mean by ‘cultural value’: what I am interested in exploring are the effects that culture has on those who experience it and the difference it makes to individuals and society. These effects can occur on so many levels, some tangible but many difficult to assess in a numerical way.

Actors dressed as grasshoppers at Light Night in Liverpool
Light Night 2017 in Liverpool

What we intend to develop using LJMU as a hub for our activities is to explore how the audiences for contemporary art – visitors, artists, institutions and others who connect to this art – can be widened beyond those who are already interested. We intend to develop a series of regional, national and international events which will help individuals, groups and organisations to engage more with contemporary art, enabling everyone to think about how it impacts on their lives on a daily basis – not just when visiting a gallery.

Contemporary art contains a variety of forms of cultural value which can help people to think differently and solve problems in more creative ways.

We hope to find out about the wider impact contemporary art practised by artists at various stages of their careers has, and compare and contrast what people think about contemporary art made by artists who have different levels of experience.

We will carry out our planned activities in Liverpool, Scotland and Tasmania, to ensure that we can understand the points of view of interested stakeholders from regional, national and international perspectives. This has the potential to contribute to making the economy and society more innovative and creative, and will also help us to reach out to individuals who have not thought about visiting contemporary art spaces so we can include them in our conversations.

Yellow artworks depicting cartoon cyclists
End of year degree show at Liverpool School of Art and Design

Our original cultural value work in Edinburgh involved a team of three. The idea now is that our impact and engagement activities for this project will involve a team of nine people, under my leadership.

We will use our relationships with arts and cultural institutions to enable the communication of first hand, individual and collective experiences of contemporary art to interested parties in workshop settings and other environments. Our programme of activities will help the organisations involved to engage with new audiences, and in doing so secure their ongoing viability and success.  The ripple effect from our activities will also have the potential to impact long after our work has concluded. 


First Roscoe Lecture of the Bicentenary year given to hundreds at St George's Hall


115 international upGrad students celebrated at LJMU


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