Understanding the value of art

Jeoffrey Mukubi

WHEN we talk about the value of arts and culture, we should always start with the intrinsic – how arts and culture illuminate our inner lives and enrich our emotional world. This is what we cherish.

But while we do not cherish arts and culture because of the impact on our social wellbeing and cohesion, our physical and mental health, our education system, our national status and our economy, they do confer these benefits and we need to show how important this is.

We need to be able to show this on different scales – on individual, communal and national levels – so that we can raise awareness among the public, across the cultural, educational and political sectors, and among those who influence investment in both the public and private sectors. We need this information to help people see arts and culture for what they are: strategic national resources.

We also need to see where the impact of our work is felt, and where we don’t yet reach. We want to understand how we can do better, so that arts and culture can be truly enjoyed by everyone.

The common misconception around art is that its value is reserved entirely for the wealthy and elite. This is because over the years there has been a stronger emphasis on the fundamental value of art that is consumed by the few in private spaces, making it exclusive and out of reach for ordinary individuals to enjoy and even relate to. But art, when made accessible and located in the broader context of public culture, also has an instrumental value in that it has the potential to stimulate broad growth.

In a country such as ours where there are many competing interests, whether social, political, economic or cultural, it is important to appreciate the instrumental role art can play in creating platforms for understanding and mutuality.

In essence, the underlying instrumental value of art is its ability to educate, and promote tolerance and innovation in the most profound ways. This instrumental role, of course, is realised when art, with its inherent value, enters the public realm and opens new channels of discourse for broader social benefit.