South African academic Jeanette Snowball has written a timely and important new monograph entitled Measuring the Value of Culture.
Snowball’s aim in writing this valuable short review is explained in her introduction:
“Economic impact studies are thus one way of measuring the value of arts, but only one way, and it smethodology is not unproblematic. A better way of capturing the non-market value of culture might be to use contingent valuation (willingness to pay) studies or their newer relation, choice experiments (also called conjoint analysis).” (Snowball, 2008: 3).
Unfortunately for my doctorate, such analyses are typically large and expensive and carried out by professional market research firms. Never-the-less, there is much of value for the professional arts administrator and cultural policy academic in this book. It summarises the debate about willingness to pay studies – in particular , the controversy over the Exxon Valdez environmental damages litigation, where courts used contingent valuation studies as part of their reasoning.
What follows is a detailed analysis of four different ways of measuring culture:
- “qualititative/historical” – art historical and sociological analyses. Snowball is raher weak here when she dismisses this vast field by pointing out that it “does not result in one, easily comparable figure.”
- economic impact – Snowball summarises the controversies over the rubbery figures of economic impact studies, especially of arts events like festivals. She correctly points out that the “multipliers” used by many of these studies are so various as to be basically meaningless
- willingness to pay – in contrast to economic impact studies, willingness to pay or contingent valuation studies represent an imporant methodological advance in the cultural economics literature – however these studies have their own methodological controversies too
- choice experiments – the newest frontier in valuing culture, incorporating some of the discoveries of behavioural economics, choice experiments are also labour-intensive in their survey methodology.
A major disappointment for me in the book was that Snowball has not examined the micro-economic efficiency studies in the musuems sector of researchers like Stefania Funari and Paul Bishop. Even so, it remains an important review.