Cultural value, media events & city narratives

Presentation at AIMAC 2015 (Aix-en-Provence & Marseille)



My paper abstract, below:

Ever since the widespread acceptance that the arts can have economic value, artistic interventions have been commonly interrogated through an economic and, often, purely instrumental lens. Economic or – at most – socioeconomic effect narratives and associated methodologies to capture such effects have grown exponentially since the 1980s and become pervasive in the 2000s. Cultural events have been at the forefront of such narratives, viewed as a key catalyst for economic and social change and becoming one of the most sought after vehicles for culture-led regeneration strategies. However, by 2014, it has become apparent (in academic, if not yet political circles) that a narrow focus on economic measurement alone leaves unexplained some of the most valuable – and sustainable – dimensions of the event hosting process.


This paper shows the importance of developing a holistic methodology to capture the value of a cultural event, as opposed to just measuring (or counting up) its economic and social effects. The paper offers an overview of the comprehensive methodological framework developed to assess the multiple impacts of the European Capital of Culture (ECoC), a EU title launched in 1985 and hosted by close to 60 cities in 30 countries. The paper proves that, despite the emphasis on narrow statistical evidence to claim success, the most sustainable event experiences have taken place in cities capable of engaging in and projecting out cultural conversations which require a far more complex, locally sensitive and internationally aware assessment model.


Beyond a broad programme overview, the paper offers a close interrogation of two of the most high profile ECoC examples, taking place in the first and last phases of the title: Glasgow 1990 and Liverpool 2008. It shares for the first time a detailed comparative analysis of the media coverage surrounding two cities from the moment of being awarded the title until several years post award, covering over a decade in each case. Such assessment, which builds on a comprehensive media content and discourse analysis methodology developed over two decades, provides an example of how to capture cultural value and, in particular, the effects that events can have on image change, identity (re)formation and city renaissance debates. The paper concludes with a reflection about the importance as well as limitations of media analysis as a tool to capture cultural value in the context of broader qualitative and quantitative event impact methodologies.