Quick Study: February 15, 2024

Jo Reed: Welcome to Quick Study, the monthly podcast from the National Endowment for the Arts. This is where we'll share stats and stories to help us better understand the value of art in everyday life. Sunil Iyengar is the pilot of Quick Study, and he's the Director of Research and Analysis here at the Arts Endowment. Good morning, Sunil.

Sunil Iyengar: Good morning, Jo.

Jo Reed: So what are we talking about today?

Sunil Iyengar: Well, as you know, Jo, we in the NEA's Office of Research and Analysis frequently obsess about measurement in the arts.

Jo Reed: Yes, this is why our blog is called By Any Measure, correct?

Sunil Iyengar: Touché. We know the arts also has measurable benefits for individuals and communities, and it's part of the job of our office to try to understand, document, and publish those benefits. So today, I wanted to discuss three novel measurement strategies that some of our peer agencies have used. That is, governmental cultural agencies from three other nations, the U.K., Canada, and Australia.

Jo Reed: Go right ahead, sir.

Sunil Iyengar: Thank you. Let's start with the U.K. Within the U.S., as you know, the NEA has a partnership with the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Department of Commerce. Through this partnership, we were able to create something called the Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account, which reports on a yearly basis the value added by arts and cultural industries to U.S. GDP.

Jo Reed: That's right. We've talked about some of those numbers before on the show.

Sunil Iyengar: Right. It's a fairly complex methodology and took a long time to develop through the BEA and NEA working together. In fact, we expect to release new numbers next month. Well, in the U.K., they're trying to create a set of national accounts on culture and heritage. But unlike the U.S. approach, for example, they note that GDP, gross domestic product, tells only part of the economic story. They want to take into consideration such factors as the benefits to well-being, education, or say, cultural pride. The question they're facing is, what innovative measurement techniques can they use to capture these benefits as economic activity?

Jo Reed: W hat do they mean by something like cultural pride? What do they mean by heritage?

Sunil Iyengar: Yeah. So I should have said it's the U.K. Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport, DCMS, that is pursuing this study. According to their framework, they're considering the following categories. The built historic environment, landscapes and archaeology, a category called collections and movable heritage, performance and performance venues, and digital assets, specifically digital archives or online collections. It's important to note that the whole point of attempting this exercise is that so the U.K. can use the data for decision-making to monitor their investments in culture and heritage, and of course, cultural pride would be part of that, and to make course corrections as needed. But to do so in a way that's consistent with their communications about the benefits of other economic activity, so that culture and heritage can be evaluated in the context of other investments.

Jo Reed: That's quite a challenge. Do you have any sense about how they're going to go about it?

Sunil Iyengar: Well, here, they hope to take inspiration from the U.K. government's current approach in measuring what's called natural capital, that is, quantifying benefits from the natural environment. They also think that conducting surveys like, what are people willing to pay for a specific cultural heritage asset? How does the presence of that asset affect things like real estate prices? Or how people report their well-being or quality of life in relation to that asset? All these techniques can be used to help them quantify the relative benefits of cultural heritage.

Jo Reed: Do we have any idea when the results will be released?

Sunil Iyengar: As I understand it, the U.K. officials are still working on all this, figuring out what are the appropriate data sources and methods for each of these categories and their assets in the culture and heritage framework that they have to make sure they're not missing anything. So the actual results of any studies may still be some ways off.

Jo Reed: And you mentioned Canada, too. Are they trying something similar?

Sunil Iyengar: With Canada, we're talking about a pilot study that was run by Statistics Canada with cooperation from Canadian Heritage and the Canada Council for the Arts. This study wasn't done to obtain financial estimates through innovative accounting methodology. Rather, it tested an app to be used for collecting survey data from people to measure their self-reported degree of emotional well-being in the moment, as it were. So it's an app. The idea was to try to see if those who participated in various cultural activities were also likely to report higher levels of well-being than those who weren't.

Jo Reed: So when you say well-being, what do we mean here?

Sunil Iyengar: The survey questions in this app actually lined up with five distinct measures of well-being. Happiness, anxiety, relaxation, focus, and control of emotions. The four types of cultural activities included consuming it through digital media, of course, participating in culture through creating art or attending arts events, participating in or consuming sports activities, or doing crafts or hobbies.

Jo Reed: Okay, got it. So what did the researchers find?

Sunil Iyengar: So the researchers tested two sampling methods to get at the general Canadian population and understand how their cultural behaviors lined up or did not line up with what they reported as their sense of well-being in the moment using this digital app. What's interesting is that when they tried both methodologies, doing hobbies and crafts was positively associated with all the well-being measures on the survey. Consuming culture through media had a positive impact on all well-being measures except ability to focus, and this was true no matter which methodology was used. Attending and creating arts and culture was associated positively with all measures when you look at one survey method the researchers used, but when you look at the other, it only had a positive impact on happiness and relaxation. And finally, sports engagement was positively associated with all the well-being measures except anxiety, where it seemed to have a negative effect and this was true for both survey methodologies.

Jo Reed: Those are some interesting exceptions, especially the ability to focus, I think.

Sunil Iyengar: Right, and the one about anxiety. Yeah, I assume the Canadian government is considering the long-term feasibility of this survey tool, which is why it's a pilot. It's worth noting here that the app was tested during the COVID pandemic. So the reported rates of cultural participation were actually quite low. That said, it's a novel technique for sure and we in the U.S. are trying out similar methods. For example, through a NEA Research Lab Award to UCLA, we're currently supporting multiple pilot tests of an app called AIMS, or the Arts Impact Measurement System, which, like the Canadian version, surveys people on their well-being in the moment while engaging with arts activities.

Jo Reed: Well, I'd love to talk about that one sometime. But in the meantime, you also mentioned Australia. What's their measurement technique?

Sunil Iyengar: Australia's arts agency, Creative Australia, it's called, analyzed data from something called the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes and they issued a report last November. It's called Creating Well-Being, Attitudes and Engagement with Arts, Culture and Health. I know we have time for only a few findings, but let me just note a few things that stood out for me.

Jo Reed: Sure, what are they?

Sunil Iyengar: Well, according to the report, people who participated in the arts were more likely to register at the extreme high or low end of the happiness scale that was part of the survey. In other words, there wasn't a uniform pattern or relationship between arts participation and happiness, rather a tendency to fall on the extreme ends of the spectrum. People who reported better health subjectively tended also to be more likely to attend arts and cultural events than were others, and most survey respondents said they believed that participating in the arts can have a positive impact on overall health and well-being. The survey also asked some interesting questions about how Australians view, quote, arts on prescription programs, or what we've called in previous podcasts, social prescribing of the arts. But that goes into an entirely different topic, so I'll leave it there for now.

Jo Reed: Okay, but that's definitely a topic I'd love to explore with you sometime. So let's put that on the list. Sunil, thank you. I'll talk to you next month.

Sunil Iyengar: Nice talking with you, Joe. Thanks.

Jo Reed: That was Sunil Iyengar. He's the Director of Research and Analysis here at the National Endowment for the Arts. You've been listening to Quick Study. The music is We Are One from Scott Holmes Music. It's licensed through Creative Commons. Until next month, I'm Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.

In this episode of Quick Study, we look at innovative arts measurement techniques by the cultural agencies of three countries (UK, Canada, and Australia).