The Arts Council want to 'measure' culture – but they might end up killing it

Watch out – the market researchers are coming, to an arts event near you.  Starting next April, the Arts Council of England will force 300 of its largest clients to take part in a brand-new ‘Quality Metrics’ scheme. The aim is to give a numerical evaluation of the experience of art, to guide future decisions about who gets funding and who doesn’t. To do that, audience members will be asked to say whether they agree or disagree with statements like ‘Enthusiasm: I would come to something like this again,’ or ‘Challenge: it was thought-provoking’.

It’s not the first time an arts funding body has tried to find out what audiences really think about the art that it funds. The problem is that it’s always been on an ad-hoc basis, with each company devising its own questionnaire. Under the Quality Metrics scheme, every client will use the same set of questions, whether it’s a storytelling co-operative, an experimental arts venue, or an opera company. On a technical level Quality Metrics is very sophisticated. There are in fact three different sets of statements for which organisation will have to get evaluations: one addressed to audiences, one to people within the organisation itself, and one to ‘peers’ i.e. similar companies working in the same form. The idea is to balance the expert views with the untutored audience view.

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