Among the many rich strands unfolding here, I remain intrigued by the one about measuring the expressive life. Bill, Adrian, Steven and others are optimistic we can do it. So what would we be measuring, and how?
"Why do you support the arts?" I once asked the man in charge of one of the most generous public arts agencies in the world, the Amsterdam Arts Council. Without hesitating for a second he answered, "Because we get better people."
I am not at all convinced that the official could have provided any objective proof of what he meant by this. I suppose he probably meant intrinsic and psychological factors, such as empathy, openness to others, respect for diversity and heritage, curiosity, reasoning capacity, creativity and inventiveness, etc.
And isn't it true that ultimately most of our public policies are about getting "better people" -- law abiding, educated, healthy, and so forth? We invest in our public policies because of some vision of a healthier, more secure, more productive -- "better" -- society.
So how can we connect the dots between the expressive life and a better society? Between enabling creative infrastructure and obtaining "better people"?
The ultimate success of health policy is measured by variables like declining child mortality and infection rates, as well as positive changes in people's habits. Our cultural indices tend to look instead at the scope and soundness of delivery mechanisms--above all, the overall number and fiscal condition of cultural organizations--which would be somewhat analogous to counting doctors and hospital beds.
So what is it that we would need to measure to unambiguously show that our investments have led to an amelioration in the condition--not just of our cultural institutions and the infrastructures supporting them--but of our communities and fellow citizens?
At what scale of investment do these effects take hold?