What is the impact of cultural heritage on economy? What does it mean to assess the economic impact of a cultural intervention? While it is obvious that cultural heritage is a central element of identity and memory, much less clear is the recognition of the economic impact of cultural interventions.
As reported in SoPHIA’s literature review on the economic impacts of cultural interventions, attaching economic value to a cultural good is not a simple task, since culture and art benefits (such as "expanded capacity for empathy”, “cognitive growth”, “creation of social bonds” and “the expression of communal meanings”) are not easy to measure. Thus, although the economic value of a cultural event is important, it should be further acknowledged that there are certain benefits in cultural and art interventions which existing methods are currently unable to grasp.
Moreover, despite the recent attempts of setting standards and valuable cross domain models (e.g., Impacts 08), there is still much to do to measure the economic impact of cultural interventions as a long-term investment for society rather than a mere cost. Besides, ensuring adequate monitoring and assessment models have become even more urgent due to the current global economic recession, which only allows a limited use of public resources to be directed towards cultural assets.
So, how do we reply to our initial questions? How do we assess the economic impact of a cultural intervention?
Although many methods have proven to be valuable in the evaluation process (e.g., Cost-Benefit Analysis, Contingent Valuation Method or Multi-Criteria Analysis, like collected in the essay mapping gaps, issues and problems), the economic literature review showed that only a holistic model will guarantee a precise analysis of the economic impacts themselves, since the economic domain cannot be fully understood without considering it within a holistic framework. The term 'holistic' implies addressing isolated effects in a comprehensive manner while highlighting the interrelated character of the different perspectives on cultural heritage management. In particular, the literature review analysis revealed one driving force running all domains: sustainability, in line with the overall EU’s strategic goals for smart, sustainable, and inclusive growth. Sustainable development is closely linked with quality of life, the role of heritage in societies, innovative planning models for cultural heritage management based on circular economy, and innovative economic models of cultural events' management.
Therefore, to ensure a more sustainable and effective method to evaluate the economic impact of cultural interventions, we should rethink the way we understand and perceive cultural heritage itself. Moreover, it is important to notice that recent economic evaluation methods should not include only quantitative indicators (e.g., number of people attending the event, tickets sold, etc.) but also qualitative ones to include people perspective and, thus, overcoming the lack of public inclusion.
Roma Tre team.