Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Culture has 'feel-good' dollar value

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Research from South Australia shows a hard figure can be put on the worth of a city's major cultural events.

Fly Me Up to Where You Are-Dream Flag Making Workshop part of the Auckland Arts Festival.  Photo / Dean Purcell
Fly Me Up to Where You Are-Dream Flag Making Workshop part of the Auckland Arts Festival. Photo / Dean Purcell

Researchers from Flinders University have come up with a way of putting a dollar value to the "feel-good" factor of a major culture event. They've calculated that this year's Adelaide Festival was worth nearly $95 million to the city's economy.

This is far greater than the $28 million of economic benefit claimed by festival organisers using the traditional measures of tickets sold, hotels booked and the like.

It's research which can only bolster the Auckland Festival Trust's argument as it tries to persuade the new Auckland Council of the merits of the Auckland Arts Festival going annual from March 2015.

In the closing days of March's highly successful Auckland Arts Festival, trust chair Victoria Carter chanced her arm before the old council, telling them that for just another $400,000 of city funds, she could repeat the act in 2014.

There was plenty of goodwill at the meeting. From Mayor Len Brown down, euphoria about the three-week arts extravaganza flowed - but no money. The following year's budget had already been set.

The next festival will now be in March 2015, with the trust hoping that from then it will become an annual event, putting it on the same cultural footing as Australian state capital festivals in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and, since 2012, Adelaide.

Last Thursday, the council budget committee agreed to include the additional funding needed to make the festival an annual event from 2016 in the 2014/2015 annual plan consultation process "to help assess the level of public support".

The festival receives $2.23 million a year, through the council-funded Auckland Regional Amenities Trust, to stage a biennial event. To fund an annual festival would cost an additional $1 million a year, reducing the annual subsidy per festival from $4.46 million to $3.23 million.

The trust says the savings per festival result from better use of overheads such as office rental, staff costs and overseas talent scouting.

Next step in the process will be the presentation of a business case by council officers to the May 2014 meeting of the budget committee.

By all the usual counts, the March festival was a roaring success, with ticket sales of more than 101,000, doubling those of the 2011 event. Another 81,000 attended free events, watching and listening to 1049 artists from 17 countries.

Preparing a business case for an arts festival is, at best, an inexact and incomplete science.

Audience numbers are a sign of popularity, certainly, and economists love to agonise over the additional funds that have been brought into the city as a result of the event taking place.

Over the past decade or so, there have been attempts to assign a monetary value to intangible benefits and costs that can be added to a cost-benefit analysis to show the success of a cultural event.

This led to Flinders University head of tourism Dr Steve Brown setting up a Cultural Value Research Project to evaluate "the real worth of the arts in Adelaide".

What surprised the researchers was that even locals who did not attend any events valued the worth of the festival to the city at more than $18 million. Those who attended, rated its value at $76.7 million.

Dr Brown says: "We now have clear evidence that there is a significant cultural value of the Adelaide Festival among South Australians who do not attend it. It shows how the whole population feels about the festival and it backs up our claim to be the festival state."

The cultural value to South Australians is calculated following face-to-face interviews with attendees and non-attendees who were asked to put a dollar value on aspects of the festival, including its effect on the image and development of Adelaide.

This attempt to measure "non-market" resources in the field of arts and culture is a first for this part of the world, but it has been used in other areas, starting with the 1986 Grand Prix in South Australia.

Announcing the results earlier this year, Dr Brown said is was no surprise those that attended the festival valued it highly. "However, we didn't quite expect people who don't make that investment to value it so much."

He said further surveys would be conducted as the work "promises to put a real, hard dollar figure on the value of arts and cultural activities in this state".

This research is so relevant to our situation, Dr Brown should be invited to speak to Auckland councillors and bureaucrats before any decisions are made.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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