Memo August 2013


A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in August 2013

Bye, bye summer.

The graph you always wanted to see

The aim of the National Arts Index is to identify the “health and vitality” of culture in the USA. This large undertaking combines 83 indicators for the purpose. Within this, financing of culture is examined from 18 points of view. Here in Europe government spending receives privileged attention. The diagram shows the latest relevant Eurostat figures (data for BE, RO, SK missing).

Both central and local government expenditure is included. The latter represents the greater part of public spending in the majority of countries. 

We should note, however, that the statistical concept of cultural services is far from being harmonised. In Greece, for example, the amount of expenditure that is “not elsewhere classified” is larger than the cultural block; true, even if we add all that culture’s share would reach 0.2% only, still the lowest in the EU. An impressive amount of methodological labour has been invested into this matter, but it will take long before the recommendations are implemented. The European institutions and governments apparently have lots of other priorities at present.   

The graph you hate to see

Let us expand the picture into various directions. Culture will be matched against other sectors in time perspective. We are obliged to expand the content as well because the relevant statistics are available in a broader class only, called “Recreation, culture and religion”. The internal composition of this group (GF08 in the UN classification of the government expenditure) was the following in 2011:

  • Recreational and sporting services                     37%     
  • Cultural services                                                46%
  • Broadcasting and publishing services                  9%
  • Religious and other community services              5%     
  • Not elsewhere classified                                    3%

The next graph shows how this cluster of government spending related to four other fields.

For a benchmark year we chose 2004, the year of the greatest enlargement wave. The five selected sectors in the 27 countries received public funding in the following percentages of the GDP in 2004:

  • Health                                           6.6%
  • Education                                    5.2%
  • Public order and safety                1.8%
  • Defence                                      1.6%
  • Recreation, culture and religion     1.1%

The graph expresses how those positions changed in the subsequent years.

Explanation: in the 27 EU members – Croatia will be added with time – in 2011 the relative position of recreation, culture and religion vis-à-vis the health sector was 8.4% worse than in 2004. At the other end, the recreation cluster was still 7.2% more favoured than defence.

This diagram confirms what we showed a month ago. You may not have felt so but public financing of culture enjoyed an upward trend in the years before 2008. This we attributed in the last memo to investment into infrastructure. Or was it due to the appeal of the creative industries concept? You are free to give your explanation.

We saw also that due to the relative stability of cultural spending on the local level the crisis did not produce a sharp decline. The present diagram nevertheless proves that culture is indeed a victim of the crisis: after 2008 culture (together with recreation and related fields) suddenly became ranked well behind health, public order and education in public budgets.

Health and culture

Health is not a rival to culture. On the contrary, there is close correlation between them. People reporting good health are a third likelier to have attended a craft exhibition in the past twelve months than those who indicated otherwise, at least in Scotland (p.16), “even when other factors such as age, economic status, income, area deprivation, education qualification, disability or long standing illness and smoking are accounted for“. Beyond a joke, this is an important path of research, which slide Nr.22 hammered into culture ministers’ minds in Moscow. (Strange that the related study was not cited by the British paper.) 

The impact of culture

Research like the above does not necessarily overemphasise the instrumental nature of culture. The impact that culture exerts should interest everyone. One working group of a consortium of 24 partners from 18 countries, co-ordinated by an Italian regional body, (funded by the EU Lifelong Learning Programme Grundtvig) spent years, among others, to detect the impact that museums generate. The resulting downloadable 85-page handbook draws from a broader circle and offers a general picture about value analysis and impact evaluation in culture.

Language curtain

We Hungarians usually enjoy being envied by foreigners for our unique and (seemingly) extremely difficult language. Sometimes it is funny to live behind this language curtain. We often lament on the other hand when whatever happens, or is said, in the UK (or another English speaking land), it receives unfair attention just because outsiders are able to follow it in real time.

The latest Compendium update is on Lithuania. We learn that a debate is going on around the newly established Culture Council (Lietuvos kultūros taryba). We infer from the ministry site that the process of electing its members is (or was) under way. But the nature and stake of the debate remain a mystery before being put into world languages. (Besides Polish.)

Have your e-say

Those of you who are in or near the book sector may share your concerns or pleasure about the advances of ebooks. If you do so through this link in the next couple of days your view will hue the picture drawn in the report that is going to be presented at the Frankfurt Book Fair.