Arts value is ‘far beyond money’

Jewish Museum’s Abigail Morris

Jewish Museum’s Abigail Morris

The benefits of the arts cannot always be measured in economic terms, leading figures in the Jewish cultural sphere warned this week.

Responding to Culture Secretary Maria Miller’s call for the arts to demonstrate their economic value to qualify for public funding, the chief executive of the Jewish Museum in London insisted that cultural projects were not something you could “put a price on”, not least because “you can’t know in advance” what will be successful.

Abigail Morris said: “You can’t measure the arts in straight economic terms, because some things that are hugely successful now, weren’t at first.” She pointed out that arts represent only a tiny portion of government spending.

The Jewish Museum relies on both public and private funding, but makes back just 20 or 25 per cent of its costs by bringing visitors through the door. “We are vital to community cohesion and combating antisemitism, which you can’t really put a price on. You can’t really say what the commercial value of that is but you know how bad it is when there are riots,” said Ms Morris.

Hester Abrams, the director of the annual Jewish Book Week festival, agreed that the benefits of the arts sometimes only became apparent “over decades or generations”.

Ms Abrams said that Ms Miller’s comments did not represent a significant departure from those of the previous Labour government. “They agree the arts are very, very important. It’s more about the specific targets they set and whether they are reachable or defensible,” she explained.

“The worry is that funding will shrink. If we don’t have government support, the arts become an ivory tower and private donors become the one leg that you stand on. You’ve got to have diverse sources of funding.”

Helen Frais, the cultural director of the Leeds-based Makor and JFest international, said they had applied for public funding but had been rejected. She called on Ms Miller to make the application process less time-consuming. “You waste months doing paperwork,” she said.

    Last updated: 11:45am, May 3 2013