WARNING: Research can be bad for your health

I want to draw your attention to a new piece of research commissioned by the Scottish government which offers definitive evidence for the first time that cultural engagement is having a positive impact on the nation’s health and life satisfaction.  Janet Archer, CEO, Creative Scotland, in an address to FST/ITC Reception, 20 August 2013, Edinburgh.

I was there, unhealthily sipping my wine, when I heard Janet Archer mention this new piece research in her speech and immediately my interest was piqued.   When I was Director Centre for Cultural Policy Research (CCPR), at the University of Glasgow, we were commissioned by the (then) Scottish Executive to find the evidence of the link between arts and sports participation and quality of life and well-being.  From this we were asked to develop indicators which could be used to evaluate the effectiveness of a culture or sport intervention. Susan Galloway at CCPR reviewed the extensive literature on well-being and quality of life and we worked with Professor David Bell, an economist from Stirling University who examined the economic literature on subjective well-being.

Quality of Life and Well-being: Measuring the Benefits of Culture and Sport: Literature Review and Think-piece was published by the Scottish Executive in 2006.   In this we concluded:

‘The central issue for cultural social impact research remains the lack of both empirical evidence, and the lack of a theoretical basis with which to support the claims about the impact of cultural participation.’ (p.42)

In summary, we found that there is no evidence of a link between participation in the arts and sport and quality of life and well-being.  This does not mean that there is not one, but there is no evidence.  Moreover there are challenges in researching this area –mainly around issues of definition. What exactly is quality of life and well-being?  We concluded:

‘What this review tells us, however, is that, in the wider policy literature relating to quality of life and well-being, there is no clear definition of terms and that, the absence of such, leads to a lack of clarity in the policy focus. This, in turn, leads to a ‘back to front’ approach to enhancing quality of life and well-being in communities and for individuals: what can be measured is measured, and what is measured drives the policy. The development of new ways of measuring tends to focus on the quantitative with qualitative measures focusing on satisfaction surveys. Anything even attempting a comprehensive approach to measuring the impact on quality of life can lead to unwieldy data sets. ‘(p. 145)

This is a chunky piece of research and my summary does not do it full justice but essentially it flagged up for researchers and policy makers questions which need to be addressed when looking at the relationship between arts and sport and quality of life and well-being.  So when I heard about this new research I was intrigued to find out how they had tackled the problem of definition, methodological questions around qualitative and quantitative approaches, the issue of large datasets and what evidence was being presented.

This new piece of research, published by the Scottish Government, Healthy Attendance? The Impact of Cultural Engagement and Sports Participation on Health and Satisfaction with Life in Scotland uses the Scottish Household Survey as its data source.  Since 2009 this survey has contained questions on cultural and sports participation and on life satisfaction and self-assessed health.  The researchers analysed data from both of these to reach the conclusion that,  ‘those who participate in culture and sport or attend cultural places or events are more likely to report that their health is good and they are satisfied with their life than those who do not participate.’ (p. 5)

In our research in 2006 we said something similar:

‘In as much as culture and sport is seen to have a role in enhancing quality of life […] it appears consistently […] as one of the indicators and descriptors used in domains encompassing subjective well-being, expressed as satisfaction with life as a whole, and social inclusion/social well-being/social relationships.’  (p.137)

So in the area of ‘subjective well-being’ we too found a link. We go on:

‘This is perhaps not unexpected as it is often assumed that participation in culture and sport has a positive impact on aspects of quality of life as it relates to social inclusion. The academic literature suggests, at best, an association rather than a causal link between these. ‘(my italics) (p. 155)  And finally we are more blunt, ‘While the evidence suggests an association between cultural and sports participation and an improved quality of life, there is no evidence of a causal relationship between the two.’ (p. 155)

But then neither does this latest research claim cultural participation or attendance is the cause of good health.  Specifically they state: ‘Being cross-sectional, this study cannot determine causal relationships.’ (p. 17).  Throughout the researchers are careful to point to an association between participation and attendance in culture and sport- not that one leads to another.

What does this mean?

First, this is not the ‘definitive evidence’ policy-makers claim. We might look for associations between other activity and health benefits – for example being part of a religious group, being a volunteer in a hospital or working with refugees, having an allotment – and a myriad of other activities which are part of our social capital. Making a claim for a casual link between the health of our nation and engagement in culture is, frankly, spin.  Echoing this point, Tiffany Jenkins in the Scotsman pointed out that some art might have the opposite effect and ‘culture was not the solution to our health problems’.

And surely we have moved beyond this attempt to account for cultural spend because of non-cultural outcomes?  After all what was the Talbot Rice Gallery speech by Fiona Hyslop all about if it wasn’t underlining the importance of the arts and heritage to ‘our heart, our soul, our essence’?

But the real lesson from this research is to be found there in the Introduction:

‘Sports participation and cultural engagement levels are highest in the highest household income groups in Scotland and decline to be lowest in the lowest household income groups. Similarly, adult participation in cultural and sporting activities varies by area deprivation, with participation increasing as area deprivation decreases.’ (p. 7)

What that tells us is that not only does high deprivation bring with it poor health (which we already know from epidemiological studies in Scotland), but it also brings a reduced participation in arts and sport.  Surely this is all the evidence we need to know that more work has to be done to bridge the gap between those who have all and those who have none?  Let’s move away from making exaggerated claims for the benefit of cultural participation and attendance and focus on what really matters – creating greater access to all for all.






Creative Scotland and the creative industries

The debate around the future of Creative Scotland includes calls for a re-visiting of the role of the arts funding body as laid down when it was first established.  In essence what is being called for is the removal of responsibility for supporting what is called ‘creative industries’.  I disagree, and here is why. 

Jenna is a dancer.  She is a member of Spilt Milk, a company formed by two of her fellow dance graduates.  They produce work which takes a witty, intelligent and sometimes ironic look at social dance.  They have performed in festivals across England and were showcased at the Linbury Studio, the Royal Opera House.  Like all emerging artists, they spend time making applications for public funds – especially from the Arts Council.  And like all emerging artists, they don’t earn much from this work.  So to support herself, Jenna teaches dance at University level.  She has also runs a business which is her passion: weekend dance classes for children and their parents. Jenna wants to do a PhD in inter-generational dance and these classes provide her with the material which will inform her research as well as being a creative outlet and, crucially, an income source.

I met the entrepreneurial Jenna when she came to work with me in the Midlands as we developed a centre to support recent arts graduates establish their own businesses.  We received economic development cash to retain creative graduates in the area, support the development of sustainable businesses, and, through this, create jobs.  We worked with graphic artists, photographers, film-makers, dancers, theatre artists, musicians and web designers Our job was to give them access to advice, mentoring, specialist training, technology and hot desk spaces to allow them to launch their businesses. Or that’s what we said when speaking to people in economic development.  When talking to the Arts Council we spoke about helping artists to create work through providing studio and office space and expert support and guidance from established artists and academics working in their field—as well as providing short courses on things like marketing and finance.  Both these statements meant the same thing.  Jenna and I are bilingual in the language of economic development and art, and for us there was, and is, no tension.

More importantly there was little conflict for the artists with whom we worked and they were happy to accept advice on how to work in a variety of settings if it meant they could make work.  Applying to the Arts Council to do a collaborative project or develop a full-blown show or exhibition, or selling the work to specialist markets— both allowed them to do what they wanted to do.  The desire to make money was secondary in all cases to making work (although some of the web-based companies had half an eye on being the next big thing in social media). However everyone needs to make a living and our role was to help our graduates sustain their practice through accessing commercial and public sector opportunities. Which is precisely what Jenna is doing through her dance classes.

We worked with tiny businesses and fledgling companies so I watched with interest the proposals to establish Creative Scotland out of Scottish Screen and the Scottish Arts Council and make a closer and more explicit link at national level, between work which is supported via arts public funds and work which can be sustained through engaging with the market —sometimes given support from economic development agencies.  However for a variety of reasons the debate in Scotland became sterile and there was a growing mistrust from the artist.   Arts funding equalled good; economic development equalled bad and, worst still commercial equalled selling out.  There was no bilingualism, just babel.

This discontent grew into the rejection of whole the idea of ‘creative industries’. Many a tree has died in critiquing the concept of creative industries- and I too tire of the overblown rhetoric around the concept of creative industries being the saviour of our economy.  But it is foolish to deny the link between of film, broadcasting, publishing, recording, design, games architecture and the rest of the arts sector and build some kind of cordon sanitaire.  Equally it is depressing to promote the notion that if a theatre show makes money in a commercial sense it must be without merit and exploitative of the artist and the art.

Some who reject what they call the ‘ideology’ behind the establishment of Creative Scotland and the term creative industries have their own deeply held ideological position which they will hold fast until we reach the sunny uplands of a new Marxist world.  I however, can’t wait that long.

Another position taken by some is that Creative Scotland should focus on art and the artist, and let another agencies in economic development do the rest.  However, as I have tried to suggest above, it is not always so clear-cut and tidy.  I also think this is a timid position. Surely we want to see leadership from the arts community when it comes to seeing public investment in creative businesses?

The real failure in our approach to the creative industries in Scotland is not that Creative Scotland has funded a cookery programme — that’s bad judgement and rightly pilloried.  No the real failure is that, in common with other industrial and commercial sectors in Scotland, we are brilliant at creating and inventing and terrible at making any money from it.  Thus, we have in our midst, paying taxes and being part of our society, the most successful living writer in the world (J.K. Rowling) but Scotland makes next to nothing out of the ‘exploitation’ of her talent in publishing and film making.  And before anyone tells me that we are too wee to make any impact on the global film industry which is US dominated, I say, Wellington, New Zealand.  And oh if only we could use our fabulous talent in writing, acting, music, design, and technical skills and produce just one TV drama to match that which is coming out of Denmark at the moment!

Not all of this is down to what Creative Scotland supports from its budget — economic development bodies have a role too — but the leadership must come from the arts body, surely.  And in turn its legitimacy will come from the expertise and skills it gains from working with artists whose creative output it supports.   It starts with the art whether we call it a project, business or an industry.

Postscript Spilt Milk is keen to tour to Scotland and especially the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  Follow the link to get hold of them if you can help!


This blog has attracted a few comments on Facebook and Twitter.  I quote them here with my response.

From Robert Dawson Scott on Facebook, two points:

1.    I’m really glad someone has at least come and out argued this case. Like you, Christine, my initial thoughts on the idea of Creative Scotland were not negative; the very fact that government was treating the creative sector as something worth investing in, rather than just a drain on money that could have been spent on schools/hospitals/la la la, seemed to be a positive step. Where it began to unravel, I think, or at least where one of the threads began to work loose, was when it became clear that CS wasn’t going to get any of the resources that, say, Scottish Enterprise, can access to invest in industries. Whether that was the Enterprise network leaning on government to protect their comfy berths for clapped out business men or not we may never know but I shouldn’t wonder. It left CS a bit broken backed from the start; and also made the mash-up of art and commerce more uncomfortable than it needed to be.

Good point – maybe this needs to be re-visited at the very least to make the relationship between Creative Scotland and the enterprise agencies (let’s not forget Highlands and Islands Enterprise) more effective.  There is what is called the Creative Industries Partnership of which Creative Scotland is a member along with Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Funding Council, Skills Development Scotland, Scottish Development International, and Convention of Scottish Local Authorities  (or if you prefer CS, SE HIE, SDS, SDI, COSLA – aka a bad hand at Scrabble). Maybe some clarity is required.

2.    On a smaller point, and you should know better than repeating this, CS has not invested in a cookery programme. It invested in the pitch to get a network programme to Scotland. The cash will be repaid since the pitch was won and the result is about 28 jobs in the TV industry at no cost to anybody (except the licence fee payer). Even cookery programmes need camera people, editors, blah blah. Oddly enough, for all the opprobrium this has attracted, it was actually an example of CS doing something that it was supposed to do. Of course I am an employee of STV so I would say that; but also I am an employee of STV so I do actually know the detail.

I stand corrected and agree I made a cheap dig.  However I do not think this is what CS is supposed to do.  I do not think that its remit should include supporting the core work of a PLC.  I do not think supporting jobs CS’s primary role (although it is always excellent when it does). This perhaps just illustrates how muddled the thinking has been in this area—and I don’t blame STV for trying.

From @johnnygailey on Twitter several tweets and two main points.  I have re-produced the tweets as they appeared but because of the restrictions of Twitter, the points are made in abbreviated form.  I have re-stated what I believe to be the essence of what is being said but happy to correct if I have got it wrong.

1.  it’s not the same thing: one you fund coz it can’t find form in the market, the other you find coz it can, and you expect return

The point is that the creative industries and the arts are not the same thing because you expect a financial return on the former.  I agree with this.  State funding for the arts is indeed about supporting the creation of work which cannot be sustained via the market.  This in itself does not deny the link between the artist/idea and a viable business.  CS has a role in supporting artists directly but it also can, should and does work in other ways to allow the work to be produced and distributed in a way which will make a return.  Whether CS shares in this return depends on what it is.  For example, film funding can be given as ‘an investment’ so the public purse is recompensed if the movie is a hit. But normally the view is that public money is sued to assist the artist – and the work—to reach a wider market and this will in turn help to support future work.  Whether this works as well as it should is a moot point and one I am raising.

2.  The ideology is not to dump ctve ind remit..the ideo is whethr arts should spec. be tied to the Single Overarching Purpose of Govt:”2 focus govt & public services on create a more successful country,with opp fr all of Sctld to flourish,thru increasg sustnble econ growth”

Economic growth is not the only way to ensure a country ‘ flourishes’

Just because there is economic growth, doesn’t mean ALL Scotland is flourishing.

I suggested that the problem with CS is not one of ideology but how the relationship between creative industries and art is managed and developed.  @johnnygailey’s challenge is that the ideological problem is not as I have described but the fact that CS is expected to follow Government policy and in particular the focus on public services being aligned with economic growth. Absolutely fair point. I agree that I have misinterpreted some of what has been said about the underpinning ideology of CS’s remit.

I agree that economic growth is not the only way in which a country flourishes.  I also agree that not all benefit from economic growth. Further, to link the  development of the arts solely to an economic return flies in the face of everything artist stand for – and indeed what we all understand as the role of state funding for the arts.  So far I agree wholeheartedly.

However I think we need to recognise the realpolitik.  The funding is public funding.  Government is responsible for setting the budget and determining how that funding is spent. The current Scottish Government was elected to do just that.  It is not surprising that it expects its public bodies to develop their plans in line with its objectives.  This should not be confused with government interfering with individual funding decisions in terms of what is or is not funded. It is about CS’s plans and priorities.

This is nothing new.  All governments have sought to determine how their money is spent whether directly by them or via another agency.  In reality this works as a continuous dialogue between government and the agency.  I sat around the board room table of the Scottish Arts Council during the last Conservative government in the early 1990s and witnessed the Council managing its relationship with a sometimes hostile—and sometimes not—political reality.  As was said in 1999, the good thing about devolution is that it brings the arts and government closer together and the bad thing about devolution is that it brings arts and government closer together.  For an utterly brilliant and fascinating exploration of all this check out a project led by Susan Galloway at the University of Glasgow, The Scottish Arts Council 1967-2007: arts governance and national identity. A historical analysis of cultural policymaking.

This is neither good nor bad but, like the weather, we have to live with it and how we handle it is part of the democratic process.

From @southfilmfest:  I wonder if JK took HP to Canongate? & no film studio i Scotland, calls for one ignored by Scottish Screen for years.

No idea about whether or not there was an opportunity for Canongate to publish Harry Potter.  It is a remarkable business and has made a great contribution to the cultural as well s economic scene.  I am not an expert int his area but I belive it becomes very hard for small publishers here or elsewhere in the UK to hang on to successful writers as they cannot compete with ‘the big boys’ on advances.

On the issue of film studio, the issue is partly capital investment to create such a facility– which could  attract lottery funding–but also the viability of such a facility.  I realise there is a bit of chicken and egg here but I understand that what is needed is a big commitment from major film and TV companies to make the business plan stand up.

La culture Hollandaise

Two major policy strands dominated the French election.  The first was the economy and the Euro crisis. The President-elect, François Hollande faces a difficult chat next week with Chancellor Merkel about austerity and the Eurozone.  And then there was immigration, an issue led by the far right and Marine Le Pen who took 17.9% of the vote in the first round, forcing the incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy further to the right.  Both of these issues go to the heart of not only French politics but also the politics across Europe. Politicians and commentators, right and left across the region are keenly watching the impact of Hollande’s election.

But what about the arts? Did they play any role in this election?  We tend to believe that the French take les arts et la culture very seriously and indeed they do.  Between the first and second rounds of the election, 362 intellectuals including artists (along with academics of all disciplines, commentators and journalists) penned a long group letter explaining why they were supporting Hollande.  Acknowledging they did not all agree with everything in the manifesto of the Partie Socialiste candidate, they said France would not be France if it if it refused to open itself up to others.  In rhetoric familiar to those who campaign in the UK, they complain that the last five years a ‘managerial ideology’ has been imposed on schools, universities, cultural institutions and research laboratories and that the State has moved from its social and education role and has been replaced by the ‘entrepreneurial State’.  Cuts in budgets, deregulation and the reduction of the Ministry of Culture to ‘ a shadow of its former self’ are accusations laid at the door of Sarkozy.

While it is not possible to know if this intervention had any influence on the vote, it does imply that the next President is expected to deliver something new in the arts and cultural sphere. Hollande’s ‘big idea’, welcomed by the letter-writers, is a commitment to a national plan for arts education and is being spun as his ‘grand projet’ like the Beaubourg modern art museum for Pompidou, the Musée d’Orsay for Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the National Library for Mitterrand and the Musée du Quai Branly for Chirac.

Hollande has not pledged more money but he has promised to protect the budget in these difficult times.  In fact, there was a slight increase in funding for the arts in 2012 under Sarkozy.  He has also indicated he wants to create greater accessibility – another theme familiar to UK arts policy makers.  Hollande has stated he will repeal the Hadopi law which criminalises illegal downloading of cultural content.  This proposal has been challenged by authors, playwrights and composers and Hollande is going to have to square the circle between those whose aim is to protect their livelihood, and those who see regulation as a means of smothering creativity.

Who is to be Minister of Culture? Several names are being bandied about but the favourite appears to be Aurélie Filippetti, a published writer, who was in charge of culture and media in François Hollande’s campaign team.

But in the end François Hollande’s big plus is that he is not Nicolas Sarkozy. The perception is that Sarkozy did not care about French intellectual life, although he did try to change that perception during the campaign. However his love of bling, TV cop shows and a young Italian heiress turned pop star, meant that he was viewed as a bit embarrassing by the French – especially the French intellectual.  M. Hollande may indeed be M. Normale but at least he reads books.