The value of culture

On 22nd November the Rheinische Post published a guest contribution by Christoph Meyer, general manager of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, as part of their series “Which kind of culture does Düsseldorf need?”.

Does asking this question, says Meyer, imply that there might be some kind of culture that is irrelevant and can be omitted?

He quotes Richard von Weizsäcker, former German federal President, who said that “Culture is not a luxury that we can either allow or deny ourselves: it is the intellectual terrain that ensures our actual inner ability to survive.”

This argument, says Meyer, lies at the centre of every discussion regarding the value and cost of culture.

The research I have been doing over the past years examines how people attribute value to a cultural process, in this case classical music performance in the specialised scene that goes by the name of Historically Informed Performance. I have asked performers, students who are aspiring performers, consumers, promoters and other enablers what this process means to them seen from their perspective.

It may be the case that Richard von Weizsäcker is correct with his assertion that culture is the intellectual terrain that nurtures us as human beings. My results also suggest that people value culture, at least this particular branch of culture, for emotional reasons.

The performers value a work environment that comes with a high amount of personal responsibility, good opportunities for personal and professional growth, and a degree of creative freedom which allows them to be passionate about what they do, both on the stage and off it. They believe they communicate well with their audience because of this, and the audiences I asked felt that this was true. These audiences experienced the musicians as being passionate and communicative on stage and felt included in and enriched by the process. They didn’t think this, they felt it.

The group of promoters and enablers also identified emotional communication between performers and audience as a highly valuable aspect of the process. They attributed this to the high level of social cohesion they observed between the musicians, and spoke in this context of empowered team members, which reflects the musicians’ assessment of their opportunities for personal and professional growth.

The emotional aspect of cultural processes and their importance for people’s long-term subjective well-being (being happy) is coming out strongly in the work I have been doing.

Based on this, I agree with Christoph Meyer, perhaps for more reasons than he puts forward in his article, that there is no kind of culture which might be irrelevant or unnecessary.


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