Academic journal article Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly

Happy Now? Well-Being and Cultural Policy

Academic journal article Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly

Happy Now? Well-Being and Cultural Policy

Article excerpt

Although much of the debate in UK policy circles has been on the definition and measurement of well-being, there have been as yet relatively few attempts to apply a well-being lens to specific policy areas. One partial exception has been cultural policy.

In 2010 the Culture and Sport Evidence Programme (CASE) reported on a three-year research project into the drivers and impacts of participation in sports and cultural activity. CASE was a major programme within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the UK's ministry of culture. A key strand of the programme was to understand and assess the benefits of cultural engagement. The project assessed in terms of subjective well-being the value to the individual of participation in sports and engagement in cultural activity (CASE 2010, 5).

In a policy area often criticized for its lack of investment in research and evidence-gathering, the size of the programme alone--[pounds sterling]1.8m for an effort that brought together all the main cultural policy organizations in the UK--could be taken as a sign that the "well-being agenda" held out some promise for cultural policy-makers.

Indeed, it could be argued that cultural activities, with their associations of conviviality, "flow-like" engagement (Csikszentmihalyi 1992), and attention to questions of both meaning and belonging, offer fertile ground for policy engagement with well-being. Yet despite the rather startling finding that a visit to the cinema once a week had an income compensation value of [pounds sterling]9,000 per household per year (CASE 2010), developing a well-being-inflected cultural policy is proving quite problematic.

Although debates about culture and the good life are of ancient lineage, our concern is with the UK policy regime of the last fifteen years or so, first under the New Labour government (1997-2010) and later under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. This corresponds with the growth of well-being as a policy discourse, both in the UK and internationally. Given that, we use the term "well-being" as is commonly done in policy circles to refer to a combination of subjective well-being with more eudemonic measures, although we recognize that these definitions are both contested and confused.

Although we understand "culture" in a broad sense to include the arts (visual and performing arts, music, literature, and so on), the media (film, TV, radio, videogames, and other social media), heritage (museums, built and natural heritage), and sport, the focus of this paper will be largely on "cultural policy" as it concerns the arts and heritage.

The link between participation in sports and well-being is reasonably well-demonstrated (Scully et al. 1998; Chatzisarantis and Hagger 2007), whereas media use is more often associated with debates about its role as a source of ill-being and a variety of moral panics (Kraut et al. 1998). Media policy-makers may legitimately wish to stress the well-being benefits of media participation, and in the case of film they sometimes do (DCMS 2012), but theirs is often a rear-guard action against the suggestion that media use is often harmful, particularly for children (Livingstone and Haddon 2009).

In the arts, however, the struggle for legitimacy, and hence the call for public spending, is generally stronger, and the use of instrumentalist arguments for advocacy purposes is more fully developed. The arts have thus been the focus--along with heritage--of well-being-influenced policy discourse.

New Labour's Cultural Policy: The Emergence of Well-being

Until recently, the engagement of cultural policy with ideas about well-being in the UK has been primarily of two sorts: encouraging arts and creative activities as a part of education, and using arts therapy as treatment for ill-being of various sorts.

The latter form has perhaps the longest history: from the therapeutic benefits accorded to visual expression for sufferers of schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis, to the use of art as a form of therapy for depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses (Staricoff 2004; Heenan 2006). …

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