Cut the happiness pie
Why do we paint or write poems, cook or break down our dance moves?
This is a question that Patrick McInytre, the new CEO of the National Film and Sound Archives, has spent many hours pondering.
Patrick believes we need to better articulate the value of arts and culture, and he has devised a brilliant model, dubbed the “Happiness Pie”, to help us.
It used to be “a scribble in a margin,” but he recently joined a Canberra Lounge online session to reveal it all.
Patrick has worked in Australia’s arts and culture sector for over two decades, most recently as executive director of the Sydney Theater Company. He has held key roles with the Australian Ballet, the Sydney Film Festival, the Sydney Dance Company and the Sydney Opera House Trust. It really is a hit for Canberra.
Patrick is in constant discussion with people about the value of culture, “and it can be hard to find the right language,” he told the Canberra Show audience online.
Words like “better” and “better” can alienate some people. “Nourishing” or “enriching” make the arts sound like medicine. But whatever words people use and whatever their personal or institutional mission, the value of culture boils down to three words: happiness, togetherness and understanding.
We all appreciate the value of culture – for our personal happiness, our connection to community and our sense of understanding of the world around us – because we all engage in some form of culture. It might be painting or praying, walking the bush or cooking, but “culture is everything,” said Patrick. “Once we are fed and sheltered, all that is beyond is culture. “
It is not always easy to quantify this value. We cannot say with authority that a number of theater shows will make a person happier or that reading novels will reduce absenteeism in the workplace, Patrick observed. But there is compelling research that can help us assess the value of culture.
Arup’s very talented senior arts and culture consultant Chris Mercer joined Patrick for the conversation. As a production manager, Chris has worked for the National Theater of Great Britain, the Sydney Theater Company, the Belvoir Theater and more. Now he is helping Arup with strategy, feasibility and design advice.
Chris highlighted the UK’s “Arts on Prescription” program, which was designed to treat mental health and has resulted in a 37% drop in GP visits and a 39% reduction in hospital admissions.
The creative and cultural economy makes a disproportionate contribution to our nation, said Chris, generating $ 111 billion a year, or 6.4% of GDP, and employing nearly 600,000 people. “Arts and culture help us stay connected. It tells our stories and it can transform our cities.
The investment by the Government of Montreal in the Quartier des spectacles, the city’s premier arts district, is an inspiring illustration of this. An initial investment of $ 200 million catalyzed more than 60 mixed-use developments, representing $ 1.5 billion in construction and $ 449 million in tax revenue, Chris said.
But the greatest value of arts and culture is its ability to “create social cohesion” by forging new channels for understanding each other. Through the arts, barriers are broken and bridges are built.
We shouldn’t hesitate to calculate the economic benefits of culture, but the “extrinsic benefits” shouldn’t be in control, added Patrick. “It’s more precious for the community to see a great play in a applauded fibro community hall than to have an amazing brand new theater with nothing in it.”
As COVID-19 turns the world upside down, we’ve turned to culture to stay sane during lockdowns, Patrick noted. We have the empirical evidence to prove it.
In 2020, social data analyst Neighbourlytics tracked the increase in local engagement with art and design during shutdowns. In Melbourne, that engagement increased by 42% in Melbourne and a whopping 100% in Sydney. People posted photos of their own art when they couldn’t take a selfie when the gallery was last opened, for example.
But culture is not about survival or utilitarianism. “It’s about fun and discovery, and bringing people together to create functional communities,” said Patrick.
As British musician Brian Eno puts it: “Art is all you don’t have to do… You have to eat, for example, but you don’t have to invent Baked Alaska. We have to move, but we don’t have to do rumba.
So, as you slice up your own happiness pie chart, the question to ask yourself is: what is my Baked Alaska?