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John Armbrecht

It is certainly not true that one only can measure the value of culture in money. This is shown by the business economist John Armbrecht in his current thesis.
Armbrecht, researcher at the School of Business, Economics and Law in Gothenburg, emphasises the need for more nuanced economic perspectives on culture and its social effects.
– Today, we find ourselves in a situation where an economic viewpoint to a large degree also has come to influence politics. Within the culture sector it is unfortunately common to evaluate institutions and events in terms of how much money they generate. However, one should consider: is the primary objective for cultural activities the creation of turnover according to the principle of revenue and expense?
– Conversely, cultural efforts are about creating experiences and quality of life in a broader perspective. Moreover, the task of many cultural institutions is to function as a social rendezvous or to preserve collections for posterity. Thus, there is an apparent conflict in activities that are not primarily supposed to be profit-generating, having to be evaluated and justified in narrow economic terms.

But money is not the only way to evaluate things within business economics?
– Here's one way of reasoning. If we for example buy a car, the price of the car will fairly well correspond to the value we acquire in a market economics sense. However, when it comes to cultural institutions, the price of experiences is seldom fixed according to the principles of the free market. Not least, culture is often subsidised in order for it to be democratic and available to all, irrespective of the individual's personal economic prerequisites. Thus, price in cultural context is primarily set in accordance with the objective of maximising profit – many people would be willing to pay a price above the subsidised one in order to e.g. visit a museum. Nor should one forget that there are people who themselves never consume culture, paying to attend various events, but who gladly finance the culture activities via taxes, opining that culture enriches social life on the whole.
– In this context, price and income are simply poor universal measurements. Even if price in terms of pounds and pennies undoubtedly are one way of evaluating cultural experiences in numbers, one knows as an economist that there also are many other measuring methods that might yield a truer perspective. One interesting way of ascribing a numerical value to culture is e.g. the distance attendees are willing to travel in order to visit a concert hall or a museum – people can travel both long and far to do things they place a high value on.

You propose a broad social economic perspective?
– Yes, I think one ought to balance the costs of culture against the values that are created in society in a broader perspective. Therefore, I have also bestowed an open and ambiguous title on my study: The Value of Cultural Institutions.
– The thesis contains, among other, a case study of Vara Concert Hall. The Vara citizens probably felt that they grew an inch after the hall was completed. For instance, it influenced how they saw themselves and their municipality, as well as their image of how people elsewhere viewed them. The concert hall in Vara is a good example to clarify the multitude of values that a cultural institution can have. It can offer concrete work opportunities and attract visitors to a town – but it can also provide social capital and be valuable in terms of health promotion and creation of identity, both for the citizens and society at large. The image of such a cultural institution in short becomes very complex, seen from a broader social economic perspective. One then also sees that the concert hall in Vara had significance not only for the citizens, but for the neighbouring municipalities and the region. When measuring culture, one must remember that value so to speak can be created outside the most proximate geographical area and may have a major dispersive effect.

Personal facts

Employment: researcher
Age: 32 years old
Family: common-law spouse and two sons, 3 and 1 years old
Research interests: cultural economics, economic effects and events and tourism
Driving force: how we can use public resources, i.e. the taxpayers' money, in the best possible way
Leisure interests: hunting, fishing, sailing, running

[Interview by Daniel Brodén and published 2013-04-02]

Contact Information

Centre for Culture and Health

Box 200, 405 30 Gothenburg, Sweden

Page Manager: Lovisa Aijmer|Last update: 4/2/2013

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