University of Sheffield researchers play key role in UK’s first Centre for Cultural Value

Researchers from the University of Sheffield are a key partner in a new centre that will examine the value of arts and culture – from book clubs and pub gigs to fine art and opera.

The UK’s first Centre for Cultural Value will explore questions such as; why do arts and culture matter, what difference do they make to people’s lives and how do we know what difference they make to individuals and communities.

The centre will focus on the role of arts and culture in areas such as conflict resolution, education, health and wellbeing, and community regeneration, bringing together researchers with expertise in these areas with artists, arts and cultural organisations, audiences, participants and local communities.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Arts Council England with an investment of £2 million over five years, the centre will collaborate and consult widely to advance understanding of the value of the UK’s arts and culture sector and its unexplored potential.

The centre will also explore other questions such as what role might arts and culture play in understanding multiple perspectives in our post-Brexit society.

The Sheffield Performer and Audience Research Centre (SPARC), which is based in the University of Sheffield’s Department of Music, is a key partner in the new centre.

Professor Stephanie Pitts from the University’s Department of Music was invited to be a co-investigator on the successful bid, which builds on her previous work for the AHRC’s Cultural Value research project. Professor Pitts will lead on the audience and participation strands of the centre’s activity, which aims to influence policy and debate in education, wellbeing and community engagement, as well as in arts and culture.

Professor Pitts said: “It is very exciting to be part of a national initiative that will synthesise and build upon the already substantial evidence for the value of arts and culture, and use this to effect positive change in practice and policy.”

The remit of the new centre is broad and the range of its partners wide. Its activities will include the following themes:

•     Conflict resolution

How can fractured groups in society be brought together through “social healing”? The centre will consider why, although there is growing consensus that arts and culture develop empathy between people of opposing views, evidence in this area is sketchy and evaluation methods poorly understood and applied.

•     Education

World-leading companies such as Google say they need more creative thinkers, and yet the creative arts are being squeezed out of the National Curriculum. The centre will work with arts and cultural producers, teachers and policymakers to explore the increasingly vital role that arts education plays in young people’s personal and professional development.

•     Arts, culture and wellbeing

What are the tangible benefits of arts and culture on people’s wellbeing and physical and mental health? The centre will consider the role they can play in social prescribing – where GPs and other primary healthcare professionals refer patients to non-clinical services, such as singing, dance groups or art classes.

•     Cultural regeneration

How can “placemaking” investment in our towns and cities create better places in which to live that support the development of sustainable and diverse communities? What can we learn from the experiences of European Capitals of Culture, the Cultural Olympiad and UK Cities of Culture, as well as from smaller scale initiatives such as Creative People and Places? The Centre for Cultural Value will partner with researchers and practitioners from these cultural events to investigate the short, medium and long-term impact of these initiatives on local, regional and national communities.

As well as building on existing research and best practice and sharing findings via events organised with partners across the UK, the Centre for Cultural Value will offer £200,000 of seed funding to arts and cultural organisations wishing to explore new methods of evaluating their cultural value with the support of a dedicated academic researcher.

The centre is also aiming to examine ways in which scientific methods can help assess the health impact and benefits of arts and culture, for example by measuring the body’s responses during performances.

International collaboration is also on the horizon with a potential initial network of centres stretching from Australia through Europe to North America.

As next steps, engagement events with interested parties will be held in the autumn of 2019, ahead of a launch of the Centre for Cultural Value next February 2020.

The centre’s establishment was one of the recommendations of the AHRC’s Cultural Value Project, which examined issues around why arts and culture matter.

Professor Andrew Thompson, Executive Chair at the Arts and Humanities Research Council, added: “Arts and culture can bring value to many areas of society: from the creative industries which drive economic growth, to grassroots arts projects that help to build community spirit. The Centre for Cultural Value will help to advance our understanding of this flourishing and diverse sector, bringing together a valuable evidence base for the importance of culture in today’s world.”

Updates on the centre’s activities can be found on Twitter at @valuingculture and @SPARCsheffield as well as at the forthcoming Audience Research in the Arts Conference, to be hosted in Sheffield from 3-5 July 2019. For more information, visit:


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