“The price of a work of art has nothing to do with what the work of art is, can do, or is worth on an existential, alchemical level”
Jerry Saltz, art critic
Consider this for a moment. How do you place a value on an activity or hobby? Do you think about the inputs such as the time and cost incurred? Or do you also consider the end results - like the enjoyment which is generated by taking part?
As a Research Officer in Health Economics at Bangor University my job involves evaluating health and social care projects. I look at the costs relative to the benefits generated. These days there’s ever increasing budgetary pressure. So funding bodies want projects to demonstrate value for money. They want evidence that investing £1 in Project A is a better use of money than investing £1 in Project B.
Our usual approach to evaluating costs is to ask people taking part in a project a number of questions. How many times have they seen a health or social care worker? How many times have they been to hospital? What medication have they taken? We would ask these kinds of questions at the start and end of the project to find out whether their health care use had changed over time. This information is combined with the cost of running the project and the quality of life improvement that people get from taking part in the project. This helps provide an overall assessment of whether the project provides good value for money and is worth investing in.
So what happens when a project is expected to have an impact. Not only on the people taking part, but on the wider community? A project like Dementia and Imagination may affect the community in different ways. The families of people taking part may themselves feel happier because their relative is enjoying a new activity. There may be a shift in the general public’s perspective from thinking about what people with dementia can’t do to what they can do. And galleries may benefit through increased engagement with the community and the generation of art for an exhibition at the of the project.
The economic analysis of the Dementia and Imagination project is being led by the University of Southampton and will use Social Return on Investment (SROI) analysis. This means it will capture the wider social value of the project instead of focusing narrowly on health and social care use. Once the community-wide impact of Dementia and Imagination has been measured, a monetary value will be produced. The aim is to show funders that for every £1 invested in the project, £X of social value is generated.
Valuing social impact is straight forward when an outcome is easily measurable. For example if people visit galleries more often as a result of taking part in the project we can measure this and assign a financial cost/value for this change in behaviour. What is not so easy to do is to assign a monetary value to non-physical outcomes - like increased well-being or improved communication between people taking part in the project and their families or care staff.
As the quote from Jerry Saltz at the top of this blog suggests, the value of art is far more than the price of the inputs. So one the biggest challenges ahead for the economic evaluation of the Dementia and Imagination project will be deciding how to value art and well-being.