Salon 3: Culture and Metrics explored the puzzle of translating cultural values into a vocabulary of indexes and figures for communication among policymakers, economists, politicians, and–crucially–the public. Commercial businesses have a ready way of measuring their impact and success, and policymakers can count on clear metrics to quantify the impact of such sectors of the economy on the local or national baseline. However, when it comes to cultural institutions and initiatives, the traditional yardsticks don’t account for a whole host of intangible personal and social benefits. The contribution of culture and intellectual labor to society cannot be readily quantified, and the absence of direct metrics makes culture vulnerable to ad hoc cuts and obfuscates its urgency.

These are some of the questions we asked our speakers and audience to consider:

  • How can museums appeal to individuals and organizations that—to paraphrase the scientist William Thomson, Baron Kelvin—believe that if a value can’t be measured, it can’t be a factor?
  • Is there a way for cultural values to be translated into compelling data?
  • Can collaboration between museums and relevant academic institutions studying this subject be formulated to move the needle in our favor–and to help the public better understand how cultural institutions are important to their lives?

Reading Resources

Speakers

Robert Crease

Professor, Department of Philosophy at Stony Brook University, New York, and author of World in the Balance: The Historic Quest for an Absolute System of Measurement (2011)

Jer Thorp

Co-founder of The Office for Creative Research and former Data Artist in Residence at the New York Times

Kate Levin

Former Commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs

Andrew Ross

Professor, Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University