Some thoughts on monitoring, evaluating and researching culture


Last week, I participated in a round table discussion organised by the Cultural Value Scoping Project at Tate Modern. The initiative is a collaboration between the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation,  Arts Council England and King’s College London and King’s College London. It aims to explore how research, evaluation, evidence-building and analysis into cultural value might best be supported in the future. Those present included people working in cultural institutions, academic researchers and others involved in the field. About 15 speakers were invited to contribute a 10 minute reflection during the day, with the rest of the time given over to some fruitful discussion. My contribution  – the notes are below – addressed the question:

In what concrete ways could the new platform dedicated to research and analysis into cultural value support the cultural sector?


Value is subjective

There is no universal agreement about what is valuable beyond a small number of essentials, such as life, shelter, education and so on. Because there is agreement about these things, they are described as rights, not values. But there aren’t many: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has just 30 articles.

Everything beyond that (and nowadays, even some of that) is subjective, a matter of choice, including culture. Human beings do not all value the same things. We sometimes find what others value ridiculous or even offensive, including culture. But in a society where human rights are respected, we tolerate other people’s choices.

Voltaire said, ‘Dissension is the great evil of mankind and tolerance its only remedy’. And politics is the means by which we negotiate our disagreements about value and the limits of our tolerance.

Value is comparative

Value is also comparative. Even absolute value, such as the right to life, is evident only when compared with alternatives: being alive is better than being dead. Disagreements about value are also understood comparatively. A democratic society is better than an autocratic one. A kidney dialysis machine is worth more than a public sculpture. Both of these statements are choices that reflect comparisons in the context of values held.

One of tasks of politics is to negotiate the relative value that we give to different things, expressed in the abstract system of money. How we gain and spend money – individually and collectively – is an expression of values, choices made on the basis of comparison. It’s messy, sometimes ugly and often unfair, but we haven’t got a better way of preventing our disagreements about value being resolved by violence.

Cultural value is political

It is many years since I began trying  to understand the value of participation in the arts, first in my own work and then in the work of others. Often that has involved working with people who want to prove the value of art or culture. I understand that desire. If your work depends on comparative choices made by other people, it is natural to want to persuade them that what you do has relatively high value.

The problem is that value, which is subjective, cannot be proven because proof is an objective concept used in the natural sciences. We can prove that the melting point of iron is 1,538 degrees Celsius. Once proven, it is no longer a matter for debate, or an ‘alternative fact’. We cannot prove the value of culture. We cannot even agree a definition of culture.

Acting politically

Those who want culture to have a greater importance in society, public policy and budgets, must act politically, not scientifically. They must engage others – and particularly those who disagree with them about culture’s value – in persuasive debate. Data, evidence and knowledge may all help in that task, but so will the ancient tools of politics: rhetoric, argument, emotion and the rest.

Trying to prove cultural value is like hunting the Snark, and while we are occupied with that fruitless search, we fail both to engage effectively in political debate about culture’s value and to learn from the knowledge that our research does produce.

The purpose of cultural research

If we separate debating value from understanding value we enter into more fruitful territory.  Instead of trying to find proofs that can persuade others to change their beliefs – which, insofar as it can be achieved at all, is a political task best undertaken with political means – we can look for knowledge that can influence the actions of those who already hold certain beliefs about the value of culture. In this context, there is practical value in testing individual subjectivity to find the common ground for shared judgements.

The proper purpose of cultural research, I believe, is not persuasion but improvement.  Whether that research is undertaken independently by academics, commissioned by a cultural actor, required by a funding agreement or simply done by a cultural organisation as part of its everyday operations, its purpose should be to increase knowledge and understanding of cultural activity.

How and why

As such, its questions are concerned less with whether than with how and why. Whether something happens is important, of course, especially to funders and in political discussion. How and why it happens are much deeper and more powerful questions because they have the potential to challenge the cultural actor’s own beliefs and assumptions. They have the potential to influence the way art is created, managed and presented, the programmes offered and the ways in which people are able to engage with them, the interpretation and meaning of culture itself.

In my experience, however, it is not only politicians who are uninterested in how and why cultural experiences produce value for people. The cultural profession – with exceptions – is not very interested either, especially if the insights research produces might point to ways in which they could productively change. As far as cultural policy and management goes, it seems all but impossible to get beyond ‘whether’ and the mirage of proving value.

What might be done?

As we all know, the first thing to do when you’re in a hole is to stop digging. And I believe that research and evaluation into public cultural investment is in a deep hole. Let me clarify that I’m concerned here only with what is done within, and required by, the public cultural sector, whoever is doing it. I’m not referring to the growing body of independent, mostly academic research into the theory, policy, work, management or practice of culture.

The principal reason, as I’ve suggested, is that professional engagement with cultural value  is geared towards an unavailable proof, but over the years a host of subsidiary reasons – such as the adoption of inappropriate public management concepts and practices – have also contributed.

When I say, stop digging, I mean let’s take a pause and look around. The Cultural Value Scoping Project is an opportunity to do that, to ask what we are trying to understand and why. Then we might review what we are currently doing and apply a simple test to it: Does the use to which it is put justify the cost of producing it?

If it were possible to back out of the hole we’re currently in, I’d suggest a different approach to monitoring, evaluation and research, which would begin by distinguishing clearly between the three kinds of activity.


The foundation of knowledge about cultural life must be factual and at least where public spending is concerned, there is a great deal that can be known simply through the process of making grants and monitoring the resulting activity. It should be possible, especially now that the grant-making process is computerised, to design a system that can produce reliable data about the nature and extent of activity supported, say, by Arts Council England.

Accountability in grant making should be achieved mainly through monitoring, not evaluation. If the activity was assessed as having public value at application stage, and monitoring shows it to have been completed as expected, then it should follow that its value was delivered in terms of policy and spending decisions.

Refining the application and reporting requirements so that they are factual, consistent over time and used in across the sector, would enable ACE and independent researchers to analyse the resulting data from different perspectives and produce reports that highlight patterns or inconsistencies.


With monitoring processes that are capable both of demonstrating the public value of grants and providing big data that can be investigated for trends, the evaluation process can be freed from the need to justify spending decisions. It can then become a truly open-minded inquiry into how and why results have been produced from which things can be learned and changes to practice made.

In this context, the Arts Council’s recent focus on self-evaluation is very welcome. Evaluation is a critical part of creative work which artists and arts organisations should be doing naturally and in order to improve their work. It will be very difficult to change a culture that sees evaluation principally as a tool of self-justification. But with time, training support and a greater use of monitoring in assessments, some progress could be made.

At the same time, self-evaluation needs to be reported in a form that can be shared internally and with peers. Again, the collection and cataloguing of this material would provide a huge body of data that could be investigated by researchers.


With more reliable data produced by reformed monitoring and evaluation activity, a body such as the Arts Council would be in a position to commission a range of external and independent studies of cultural activity. Some of that might test the self-evaluation process by looking at a representative sample. Some of it might use the data in order to answer specific questions about sub sectors or kinds of practice. This approach would allow the regular publication of good quality thematic research reports that can contribute to debate within the sector and at the Arts Council and thus lead to changes in policy or practice.

In conclusion

This is no more than a sketch of some ways in which research into cultural value might change to become more influential than it has been to date. This may not be the best approach and, to be honest, even if it were I’m doubtful whether it is achievable given the  entanglement of judgements about the value of individuals and of practices with financial decisions. Better research can give us better knowledge but in the end, politics will determine the decisions we make.


I’ve been writing about cultural value in one way or another for a long time: some of my previous posts on the subject can be found here, though I’m aware that there’s a certain amount of saying the same things again and again:

Please don’t close the shutters


The view from 2003

Recent developments in my country, before and since the Referendum on 23 June 2016, have been very disturbing. Post-war gains that I believed were permanent, such as respect for international conventions of human rights, are now in question. In this context, I remembered a public lecture I gave at the National Museum of Scotland in January 2003, in the anxious lull between the September 11 attacks and the invasion of Iraq. In it, I set out an argument about the difference between culture and citizenship and the vital role of cultural institutions in diverse, divided societies. I re-read that lecture today, expecting it to seem dated but, apart from a few clumsy phrases, there was nothing I wanted to change. So as a small counterargument to some of what I hear now, here is that talk. I’m afraid it’s a long and serious read and, for once, un-enlivened by pictures, but that suits the times. A printable version is available by clicking on the link below:


Getting On: Culture, Diversity and Belonging

Public Lecture by François Matarasso at the Museum of Scotland, 9 January 2003

When I was last in Edinburgh, knowing that I was due to speak here tonight, I took the opportunity to visit the Museum of Scotland. I was particularly curious to see how a new national museum would approach the presentation of a collection intended, in its own words, ‘to explain the land and its people’.[1]

Continue reading “Please don’t close the shutters”

Making nothing happen: art and civil society in troubled times


This is the text of a talk given on 3 September 2016 in Berlin at an event to mark the fifth anniversary of the Tandem Exchange programme. 

On the morning after Britain voted to leave the EU, the novelist Philip Pullman tweeted:

‘We had a headache, so we shot our foot off. Now we can’t walk, and we still have the headache.’

This image seemed to catch something important about the world we’re living in. We face grave problems – everyone knows that – but we and, more importantly, our leaders, often seem confused about what those problems are. Without a clear understanding of the actual challenges that face us, we thrash about in pain and fear and choose bad solutions. To take one current example, it’s hard to see a connection between controlling how women dress and overcoming terrorist murder, yet politicians still ban the burkini because action of some kind is symbolically necessary.  In our distress and confusion, we do not respond: we react. We lash out and put a bullet in our foot.

Continue reading “Making nothing happen: art and civil society in troubled times”

Making ‘arts engagement’ a reality

Opera Dudes performing at Freckenham, drawing by Rosie Redzia from 'A Wider Horizon'
Opera Dudes performing at Freckenham, drawing by Rosie Redzia from ‘A Wider Horizon’

English arts policy has been preoccupied recently with how to increase people’s engagement in the arts. Since most people already are engaged in the arts – walk down a train and see how many people are watching, reading or listening to something if you doubt it – what that really means is increasing engagement in the arts that policy chooses to subsidise.

The idea that people should pay more attention to what Arts Council England and the state support has at least two drivers. The first is the patrician belief that doing so would make us better people, because great art is civilising and spiritually uplifting. The second is the uncomfortable acknowledgement that there is an ethical (or perhaps merely a political) imperative in seeing that those whose money is used to support the arts should benefit as a result.

The pressure to reach people who do not use the public arts offer waxes and wanes. It has grown since 2010 because of the government’s master policy of reducing public spending. In days of ‘austerity’, the legitimacy of arts spending may be called into question, especially if it can be shown to be serving narrow interests. There are professional, media and parliamentary voices calling for change. Arts Council England’s response includes the Creative People and Places programme and its Strategic Touring programme, both of which aim to extend the reach of its funding.

The interesting question in all this is who decides what art is good and therefore worthy of support.

In my experience, the most effective way of extending people’s interest in the arts is to give them a say in what happens. Rural touring schemes have been doing that since the early 1980s. There are about 35 of these in the UK, all dedicated to helping people who live far from urban centres to enjoy live theatre, music and other performing arts. They support local volunteers to choose and promote shows in village halls, schools and other community venues and share with them the risks and benefits involved.

About 2,400 communities in England access live art through touring schemes: that’s quite a level of engagement. It’s not perfect, but it is an effective way of involving people in the arts because it respects their abilities and choices.

NRTF Conference - 3

The National Rural Touring Forum conference is taking place in Norfolk. With its mix of talks, discussions and showcase performances, it’s one of the most enjoyable events of its kind I know, partly because it includes artists, volunteer promoters and managers united in a common enterprise. It’s cheerful, friendly and optimistic, even in hard times. I was there to talk about A Wider Horizon, the latest book in the Regular Marvels series, about a touring initiative in West Norfolk and Suffolk. It argues, among other things, that the rural touring model has valuable lessons for an arts world looking for ways of increasing engagement in the arts, an argument that is framed by two simple ideas:

‘Development cannot be given. It has to be done. It is a process, not a collection of capital goods.’

Jane Jacobs, Cities and the Wealth of Nations

‘With adults I unfortunately see no justification for setting other people’s views of what is good for them above their own ideas of what is good for themselves.’

Bernhard Schlink, The Reader

Any organisation that is serious about arts development and increasing engagement in its offer would be well advised to frame its programmes in ways that reflect these two statements. They might also widen their horizons by asking what lessons the rural touring model might hold for engagement in the arts.

Dancing in a shared world

daCi 2015 Twinning Labs - 2The 2015 daCi World Congress is taking place this week in Copenhagen, bringing together over 700 young dancers for an intensive exchange and celebration of dance. The theme is ‘Twist and Twin’ and it picks up a daCi’s growing commitment helping dancers from different cultures to work creatively together. On Tuesday morning, I was lucky to be welcomed to one of the ‘twinning labs’ where young dancers from Finland and the Netherlands were working on a new piece which will be presented tonight. It was extraordinary to observe the process of choreography happening so fast. It was also a joy to see the happiness of 15 young dancers excited by their shared creativity; (the photos from daCi Youth’s Facebook page give a glimpse of that).

The Congress also attracts many dance educators and academics. On Monday I was at the launch of a new book about their practice in different countries and cultures. Edited by Charlotte Svendler Nielsen and Stephanie Burridge, Dance Education around the World promises a fascinating overview of current trends and new practice. Earlier in the day, I gave the opening keynote, on the idea and value of twinning through dance. The text of that can be downloaded here or from the talks page.

daCi 2015 Twinning Labs - 1

Theatre and community

Kanibadam Theatre Team

It’s been a while since I last added anything here, partly because I’ve been meeting artists whose work is supported through the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation in Central Asia. As ever, I came back inspired by what people do in very challenging circumstances, and how much it matters to those involved; I will write about some of those experiences in the coming months.

For now, here’s a brief account of the work being done to revive the town theatre in Kanibadam (Tajikistan). The performance I saw there was moving and exhilarating in equal measure, and I drew on it when I gave a talk at a community theatre festival at the National Theatre Mannheim yesterday. Here are the first paragraphs of that talk, which you can download in full by clicking here.


Kanibadam is a town of about 50,000 people in the east of Tajikistan, close to the borders of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Like many parts of the former Soviet Union, it has experienced great economic, social and political pressures since 1991. Today, as many as one in four Tajik citizens have seek work abroad, especially in Russia.

Kanibadam Theatre

Two weeks ago, I was lucky to see the première of a new production in the town’s State Musical Theatre named after T. Fozilova. The building is almost 100 years old and in desperate need of renovation: there are earth toilets at the back of the yard. A first, crucial step has been made, with support from the Swiss Cooperation Office in Tajikistan, with the installation of modern light and sound equipment. The play I saw was the first presented with up to date technical facilities and the auditorium was packed for the afternoon performance. There were mothers with children, pensioners, teenagers at the back: only the working age men were few.

The play, ‘Mother, Tomorrow I’m Getting Married’, was adapted from a Russian text and told interlocking stories of families whose young people wanted to marry. Such romantic situations are the stock in trade of theatre, but this play focused also on the risks of early marriage, domestic violence and debt, as families overspend to show Tajik values of hospitality. This is such a problem that it is illegal to invite more than 150 guests to a wedding in Tajikistan.

The audience loved the play. It’s a cliché but the atmosphere really did feel electric as the drama unfolded its alternating layers of comedy and tragedy, and the applause was long and enthusiastic. Everyone stayed to hear the President of the City Council praise the theatre for the excellence of the performance and particularly for having raised urgent problems faced by Tajik society. Then the director, Muhiddin Juraev, spoke passionately about his desire to revive Kanibadam’s theatre and place it at the heart of the city’s life. Fervent applause frequently interrupted both speeches.

Muhiddin Juraev

Afterwards, I spent some time talking to Muhiddin Juraev and Dilbar Sulaymonova, the manager, about their hopes for the theatre. Juraev was born in the city and it was here that he discovered what drama could be. After his studies and an intensive, life-changing stage director’s lab at Ilkhom Theatre in Tashkent, he accepted an offer to come home and revive the theatre in his home town. It was an exceptional chance for a director still in his twenties and he knows its value; he knows too what he must do to succeed. His task, he told me, is to win back the trust of local people. What I saw on stage and the plans he outlined give confidence that Muhiddin, Dilbar and their colleagues will indeed renew the contract between this theatre and its community and so play a vital role in how the city meets its challenges.

Another Angle of Vision

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The last days of September in Orkney: weather fine and sunlit mirrors in Scapa Flow and Hoy Sound. The sky in flux after a day of high wind, creating fantastic cloud shapes. White horses prance on the waves and the ocean at Yesnaby is a frothing mass. I come away from such experience with a head full of light and air.

More prosaically, I also brought home a mind filled with ideas from the rich presentations given at the conference organised by the Centre for Nordic Studies and Orkney Islands Council. Over two days, some 20 papers were given on art, music, literature, archaeology and much more. I learned about the enduring legacy of artists like Gunnie Moberg for some of the UHI art students whose work was exhibited in the hall. There were fascinating accounts of how artists have responded to Hoy over the centuries, and the presence in Orkney of Iain Hamilton Finlay at the start and again at the end of his career. A presentation by Chris Wainwright, with gorgeous images of his light works in response to climate change, connected with the rescue archaeology on Westray where Neolithic sites are being lost to costal erosion.

There were continual and unexpected points of contact between the perspectives of artists and academics, Orcadians and outsiders, and of course far too much to report here: I hope the papers will be published in due course. I was there also to give a public lecture on Orkney’s culture, based on what I learned three years ago when I did some research going back to the 1970s. What struck me, and it shouldn’t be a surprise, was how much I’ve discovered and learned since then. Orkney may only be 380 square miles (allowing for coastal erosion) and home to 21,500 people but its history and culture has been traced back to 6820 bce and the oldest sculpture of a human figure yet found in Britain surfaced five years ago in Westray.

In my talk, I focused on the openness of Orcadians to the world, both through the people who have come to the islands over the centuries and in venturing out to explore and make contact with others. With a confidence in the local and the particular it is possible to welcome everything else. To download the lecture, click on this link: Another Angle of Vision: Some particularities of Orkney Culture.

PS Tomorrow is an important day for Orkney, when justice will finally be done to one of its remarkable sons, the explorer John Rae, who mapped hundreds of miles of Arctic Canada and brought home news of the fate of the Franklin Expedition. The unwelcome truth made him a marginalised figure in his lifetime, but on 30 September 2014, the 201st anniversary of his birth, a commemorative plaque will be installed in Westminster Abbey. At the same time, there will be a service at St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall to honour a brave and honourable man.


Music as an adventure playground

Music: What is it good for?

In the 1970s, at a time when we were less anxious about many things than we are today, there was a vogue for adventure playgrounds in which young people could scramble about, get dirty, build dens and invent games with only minimal adult supervision. It was a good idea, I think: we all need a bit of freedom and wildness, if we are to grow. Most of the adventure playgrounds have gone or been sanitised to meet the standards of today’s more fearful culture. Music, though, cannot be tamed. It is one of our very best adventure playgrounds. Music. What is good for? Playing.

To read the full text of this talk, given at the 2014 Sage Gateshead and Sound Sense community music event, click on the link below.

A Three Pipe Problem (MCV8)

‘What are you going to do, then?’ I asked. ‘To smoke,’ he answered. ‘It is quite a three pipe problem, and I beg that you won’t speak to me for fifty minutes.’

Arthur Conan Doyle (1891)

The term ‘cultural value’ appeared in British policy discourse about 10 years ago, notably in Capturing Cultural Value, a pamphlet by John Holden for Demos. Its use has grown quickly and it is now central to several campaigns, research programmes, and debates (an overview may be found on the website of The Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value).

Whilst this extensive and varied engagement in the value of culture is very welcome, particularly in a British context where such discourse has previously been limited, there is neither clarity nor consensus about what cultural value actually means. The use of an ill-defined and consequently slippery concept to advance knowledge and inform policy is concerning because it risks obscuring the very tensions and complexities its advocates set out to address. Consequently, the term’s intellectual value is eroded even as more capital is invested in its ideological value.

Here’s a brief note developed from a talk given to an Expert Panel for the AHRC Cultural Value Project and supported by the University of Exeter. It considers four areas where discourse around cultural value seems to me confused, including the distinctions:

  • between value and values;
  • between capacity value and effect value;
  • between intrinsic and extrinsic effect; and
  • between what is observable and what is controllable.

There are others, and there is much more to be considered if a stable basis for discussion could be established, so this note should be considered as no more than a beginning.

A small boat on a dark sea

Text of a talk for the Greek EU Presidency conference, “Heritage First! Towards a common approach for a sustainable Europe”

‘Two gross of broken statues’

In August this year, Europeans will mark the centenary of the start of the First World War, a conflict that, depending on your view of history, could be said to have continued until 1945, or even 1989. In 1920, horrified by the results of industrialised warfare, Ezra Pound published Hugh Selwyn Mauberley. It includes these lines:

Hugh Selwyn Mauberley

Shortly afterwards, Pound, an American poet who had, like his friend Eliot, come to Europe for its culture, abandoned England and moved to Paris and then Italy. In the process, he abandoned what he saw as the failed compromises of democracy for Fascism. That would let him down too, but at even greater cost, to himself and others.


Ezra Pound was a difficult poet and an even more difficult man. Much of his thought and conduct is indefensible. But he is not a bad ghost to summon at this feast, to remind us that there are those who would place little value on ‘two gross of broken statues,
and a few thousand battered books’, and also that culture and heritage can be difficult, challenging and contested—and that is part of their importance.

‘Heritage First?’

The aspirations of this conference are admirable. Its objectives to promote recognition and understanding of the value and role of cultural heritage; to raise awareness of the benefits of integrating it into sustainable development policies; to encourage coordinated, collaborative action to make the most of cultural heritage in socio-economic development; and to advocate for a common European strategic framework for cultural heritage are all vital to the future of our societies, our shared European identity and our cultural heritage itself.

But when so many of our fellow citizens do not know how they will house or feed themselves tonight, and when the failures of our economic and political systems bring millions onto the streets, those who believe in the value of heritage must begin by explaining why anyone should care about those broken statues and battered books. We must be able to answer Ezra Pound’s bitter derision. We need, in short, a renewed story of our European cultural heritage and its place in our lives, individually and collectively.

Menander (copy)

Culture disconnected from its purpose

That story begins in recognition that heritage is culture disconnected from the purpose that led to its creation. Whatever we think of a Neolithic stone circle today, the one thing we can be certain of is that it is not what its makers thought about it. To be recognised as heritage—and therefore to be cherished and protected, valued and visited—cultural artefacts must acquire a second meaning, compatible with whatever meanings their creators intended. Heritage must speak to people in the present about things that matter to them: otherwise it will not be seen, or protected.

Europe is fortunate in the length and continuity of its history. That history has given us an exceptionally rich material and immaterial heritage: not just the theatres at Delphi and Athens, but the mythology of the society that built them and even, in a few precious cases, the actual texts that were spoken there. Those texts have been translated, performed and recreated in many languages that the original authors would have considered, literally, barbarian. They would have been wrong. That Agamemnon and Oedipus. Lysistrata and Medea walk regularly on European stages is proof of their universal human value.

The same is true of almost every period of  our history, from the stone circles on islands in the Atlantic Ocean to the musical legacy of Abbey Road. Whatever it meant at the time, this heritage matters because of what it means to us today.

Theatre of Dionysos

Cultural heritage as a resource in a crisis

And, because culture is a carrier of values,  the most important part of that legacy is the ideals our ancestors invented, developed and bequeathed to us, encapsulated in stone, paint, metal and words: ideals such as democracy and justice, faith and humanism, philosophy and theatre, community, hope and courage.

At the start of the 21st century, after a period of relative peace and security, Europe once again faces great uncertainty. There are fundamental threats, some of which we can prevent, others only mitigate. Spectres some had naively hoped banished for good are reappearing on the edges of the scene: fascism, racism and xenophobia feed on poverty, hunger and fear.

It will take a great effort of will, imagination and cooperation to get through the crisis that has already been unfolding for several years. Every part of society, including the heritage and cultural professions, faces challenges that will only be overcome by working together and reaching beyond narrow sectoral or national interests. The objectives of this conference lay out a coherent path, and the speakers in the working sessions will present some of the steps already taken.

But to make real progress, the profession must articulate a new story that speaks to those who do not already see the value of cultural heritage. It must find new meanings, new interpretations, new resonance in this extraordinary legacy that speak to today’s Europeans in today’s crisis.


A small boat on a dark sea

The logo of the Greek Presidency represents a small boat on a dark sea, suggesting the journey of exploration and transition on which the citizens of the European Union are now embarked. In the words of the Presidency, this ‘shared course of democracy and participation’ draws on ideals that ‘forged our past and are now the common inspiration that leads our course’. Cultural heritage could be the breeze that fills that white sail.

In a speech given the year he won the Nobel Prize, Albert Camus—a better guide in dangerous waters than Ezra Pound—spoke of himself as being embarked, as an artist, in the ship of his time. He might not like the conditions or the smell, but he being where he was he must row with the rest. Camus own ‘battered books’, one more of the inexhaustible treasures of our common cultural heritage, show Ezra Pound to have been wrong, in page after page after page.

The dreams, hopes and visions expressed in our cultural legacy, the imagination and skill, the knowledge, craft and beauty, the wisdom and moral authority—these make us Europeans and make us human. The common ground of European cultural heritage, in all its complexity, in its darkness and its light, is not just a resource for us on this journey. It is why the journey is worth making at all.

Related texts

Click on the links to download this and other texts on heritage.