New publication:What Matters? Talking Value in Australian Culture

Type of post: Association news item
Posted By: Glen McGillivray
Status: Current
Date Posted: Fri, 24 Aug 2018
Julian Meyrick, Robert Phiddian and Tully Barnett, with contributions from Heather Robinson and Fiona Sprott.  
Monash University Press, 2018

For authors Julian Meyrick, Robert Phiddian and Tully Barnett, cultural leaders and policy makers too often chase the perfect metric for activities whose real worth lies in our own personal experience.  When, they ask, did culture become a number and experience become data?

The authors, now four years working collectively as Laboratory Adelaide, have researched the main challenge facing Australian culture today – how to demonstrate its value to governments, business and the public.  

What Matters? charts a new way through an important debate stranded between the hard heads (for whom the arts are just another industry) and the soft hearts (for whom they are too precious for dispassionate analysis).

As other sectors from sports to banks, churches to media platforms, reappraise their core purpose, this book argues our cultural values have likewise been distorted by political forces, the empty language of ‘function’ and methodological confusions.  For artists, managers, policy makers and board members, here are practical solutions to the current metric madness.  Say the authors,

 “The aim of the book is to rescue discussion about the value of culture from three flawed approaches – the bland but deadly platitudes of policy-speak; the obscure locutions of cultural theory; and the elitist ‘club’ talk that gathers around particularly high art forms. 

As citizens of a multicultural, pluralistic democracy, we must be able to talk about the value and purpose of cultural activities in a way that makes sense both to artists and the public.

Theatre director and Strategic Professor of Creative Arts, Julian Meyrick; Professor of English, political satire scholar and co-founder of the Adelaide Festival of Ideas, Robert Phiddian; and English lecturer and digital humanities expert, Dr Tully Barnett, reject the bogus idea that it is possible to measure the value of arts and culture without knowing anything about them.

“There is no algorithm that will objectively rank an art gallery against a publishing house or a computer game company.  We have to acknowledge that culture only has value through direct, meaningful human experience. This is why What Matters? is full of actual examples.”

The time is ripe to find a better way to value our culture – by finding a better way to talk about it.