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a-thought-experiment-on-the-value-of-culture

a-thought-experiment-on-the-value-of-culture

A Thought Experiment on the Value of Culture

Published: Thursday, February 29, 2024

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Joel Edmondson - Previous CEO of QMusic and Queensland Music Festival


Governments use the word 'culture' as a catch-all to describe the arts and entertainment sectors, although sometimes their use of the word also extends to the broader ideas, customs and social behaviour of a particular group of people (as in 'multicultural').



The latter is closer to the way company Boards and CEOs think about culture. While there are endless definitions out there, there is relatively common agreement that a positive and productive company culture is one in which a shared and humane system of values and behaviours enables the most efficient and impactful realisation of the company's objectives.


What would happen if governments expanded their definition of culture and decided to use what we know about organisational culture to invest in the shaping of a more cohesive society? Surely some of the knowledge we have about the relationship between culture and productivity within organisations can be used to support society's collective efforts to create greater prosperity and wellbeing.


For example, we know that organisations are more successful at minimising unnecessary conflict and maximising collaborative output when employees have a chance to get to know and appreciate each other as human beings. Regular social events are a great way to build the bonds that make teams more resilient during times of stress or crisis, and open up dialogue that can lead to unforeseen paths to creative problem-solving and value generation.


Applied to the macro social context, it is glaringly obvious that we are at a tipping point of systems-level economic, environmental and social breakdown that demands a cross-fertilisation of ideas, skills and resources that far exceeds anything previously achieved by our society. We need a new culture of togetherness to survive and thrive. Greater government investment in opportunities for people to come together to recognise and celebrate their shared humanity, that break down barriers of class, race and gender, that re-normalise the robust public exchange of ideas, are needed now more than ever before.


This brings us back to government investment in culture. For decades, scholars, culture industry advocates and policymakers have engaged in a tug-of-war debate: Should the arts only be invested in if they demonstrate a utility value (measurable economic impact), or is their philosophical importance to human civilisation enough to justify the cost?


A broadening of the way governments define what culture is leads us to a synthesised, third-way argument: The civilising influence of the arts is its utility value, because a cohesive society working towards common goals can only be sustained if human beings are regularly exposed to experiences that expand their sense of connection to the world around them, be it through live performance, installation art, or entering the state of mind of another person through a painting or a book.

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