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The urge to measure culture and all its aspect is growing. Everything that can be put in figures should be, seems to be the new motto. Qualitative arguments for why to put money into culture seem to have less value, quantities instead more. An instrumentalization of art and culture has been blowing as a wind over policy offices. Culture should be good for something, and it has to be proven.
In Sweden a range of public authorities or agencies offer studies and observations, the most used is probably Statistics Sweden, who produce statistics of most things in society. The problem with culture is that it has traditionally fallen into the same category as sports, which is a much larger area and therefore the more specific knowledge of culture disappears. Instead other authorities are taking this role, such as Swedish Arts Council, Swedish Arts Grant Committee, SweCult, and of course universities and many others, that has the ambition to also put figures into a context. The difficulty is still definitions, validity and reliability, and a vagueness is there. Is these facts trustable? Have the right thing been measured? A classical problem in any research, but with huge consequences for a small area like the cultural field.
Since some years cultural observatories have grown around Europe, some independent, but most connected to the public authorities. Many of them struggle with challenges such as: Who is the actual audience for the produced statistics? Should there be a common framework for these observatories? How do they cooperate and how do we deal with differences in methods, measurement, definitions?
These questions were discussed in Bilbao recently, where University of Deusto together with Encatc initiated the project and think tank The role of Culture Observatories in the Future in Europe.