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29th June, 2022

Crisis, what’s a crisis? The impact of Covid-19 on the evaluation of arts


Event Details

29th June, 2022
18:00 - 19:30
Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
62-64 Eton Avenue
Swiss Cottage

Professor Julian Meyrick: Crisis, what’s a crisis? Reflections on the impact of Covid-19 on the evaluation of arts and culture in Australia

This paper presents the findings of a 2021 interview-based research project on the impact of Covid-19 on a cross-section of Southeast Queensland artists and cultural organisations. The interviews were structured but open-ended (“talking about the experience of Covid-19 in the arts”), aimed at capturing the emotional as well as the objective costs of the pandemic on cultural workers. It uses the findings to consider the term “crisis of value” and whether this describes the state of the Australian arts sector at the present time. Following the pragmatic sociology (convention theory) perspective taken by Will Davies in The Limits of Neoliberalism (2014), focused on how neoliberalism’s competitive worldview is constructed and justified, I ask what effect Covid-19 is having on existing evaluative methodologies in the cultural sector.

The paper builds on previous publications of my research team, Laboratory Adelaide, investigating the problem of value in arts and culture, especially: i. a 2017 exchange with cultural economist David Throsby on quality metrics; ii. our 2018 book What Matters? Talking Value in Australian Culture; and iii. a 2020 journal article on public value (details below). Though the paper engages with empirical data, it addresses conceptual concerns. It reflects on the themes, sentiments, and keywords emerging from an analysis of 14 interview transcripts to consider what might constitute “crisis” if it occurred in the mode of “ordinary” evaluation. Under what circumstances would the performance of neoliberal calculations of benefit cease to be convincing, or delivered by convincing people in a convincing way? What are the political implications of a breakdown in credibility of value methods? What would this feel like for those working in the cultural sector?

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