About Cultural Economics
Art and Avarice is an online journal of cultural economics. It is an informal inquiry into the problems and solutions being found in the world of arts and culture.
Formal research into cultural economics came into prominence in the 1960’s with the work of economists William Baumol and William Bowen on the phenomenon of “cost disease” in the performing arts (Towse, 2003).
Economist James Heilbrun (as cited in Towse, 2003) explains,
The economic dilemma Baumol and Bowen referred to was the problem of financing the performing arts in the face of ineluctably rising unit costs…the conditions of production themselves preclude any substantial change in productivity because ‘the work of the performer is an end in itself, not a means for the production of some good.’ Since the performer’s labour is the output – the singer singing, the dancer dancing, the pianist playing – there is really no way to increase output per hour. It takes four musicians as much playing time to perform a Beethoven string quartet today as it did in 1800.
In other words, the labor costs of production steadily increase because wage rates for performers rise in tandem with the general level of the economy, but the final good stays the same, therefore labor productivity in the performing arts is constant. You cannot simply speed up the string quartet to improve efficiency! (Frey, 2003). Cultural economics also gained popularity as a distinct discipline due to the rise of support for “official public cultural policy” after World War II in a number of countries (as cited in Zimmer and Toepler, 1999),
While continental European countries, in particular, have provided substantial support for the arts and culture for a number of centuries, the development of explicit and clearly defined cultural policies is a relatively recent phenomenon. The nation that took the lead in the inauguration of a specific cultural policy was France, where the Ministry of Culture was founded in 1959 (Wangermée, 1991, p. 57). Shortly thereafter, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was established in the United States (1965); in the same year, the first junior Minister with special responsibility for cultural policy was appointed in Great Britain (Ridley, 1987, p. 229); and a Ministry of Culture, Recreation and Social Work was established in the Netherlands (Dutch Ministry, 1994, p. 53).
Arts, culture, and public policy is one area of cultural economics that is more prominently studied today. A quarterly scholarly journal dedicated to cultural economics began in 1973, and has been sponsored by the Association for Cultural Economics International (ACEI) since 1979. The stated mission of the ACEI is,
…to promote scholarly investigation of issues involved in the economics of cultural activities and to provide opportunities for sharing the results of this research among members of the academic community, the community of arts and heritage organizations, the community of arts practitioners, the community of the artists, and other interested parties. (About page, n.d.)
AECI further defines the field of cultural economics as,
Cultural economics is the application of economic analysis to the creative and performing arts, the heritage and cultural industries, in both the public and private sectors. It is concerned with the economic organization of the cultural sector and with the behavior of producers, consumers and governments in that sector. The subject includes a range of approaches, mainstream and radical, neoclassical, welfare economics, public policy and institutional economics and it also espouses interdisciplinary analysis connected to these topics. (Home page, n.d.)
I have written some papers on the topic as well, which I will be posting here and expanding upon the ideas in the blog.