Sara Selwood

Sara Selwood is an independent cultural analyst, Professor of Cultural Policy and Management at City University, London and Hon Professor at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London.

She has written extensively on the relationship between the expectations of UK cultural policy, its implementation, funding and the public’s exerience if cultural provision. Her books inlcude The Benefits of Public Art: the polemics of permanent art in public places (London:Policy Studies Institute, 1995), the first critical analysis of public art in England, and The UK CUltural sector: profile and policy issues (2001).

Sara recently undertook a major review of Renaissance in the Regions, a £300m government investment in regional museums in England. She edits Cultural Trends, a journal which combines statistical evidence on the cultural sector with commentary and interpretation.

What inspires you most in the arts and cultural sector?

Interesting and educational exhibitions, especially when they take me out of my comfort zone. The exhibitions at the Wellcome Collection are usually great – unpredictable, full of discoveries and open up all sorts of questions. By comparison, exhibitions like the current one at the British Museum – the Kingdom of Ife: Sculptures from West Africa don’t really do if for me. The material is stunningly beautiful, but the works are effectively left to speak for themselves.  I want curators to do more than bring things together. I want to know why things are like they are, and what they meant. And, if they can’t do that I want to know more about what they think and why.  I guess it’s about what added value exhibition-making can bring.

Can a thriving arts and cultural sector help pull local, national or global regions out of recession?

The creative industries will contribute. But if you’re asking about the majority of arts and culture that is supported by public money, I doubt it. The sheer scale of the recession needs considerably more than the arts and culture to sort it out – not least because you  have to take the subsidies into account before you start doing any other calculations. That’s not to say that the arts and culture don’t attract inward investment and spending or contribute to exports. But so much of the well being that the supported arts are credited with, and which is meant to encourage an aspirant work force is delivered by the market. Frankly, I think we could do with rather less emphasis on, and  expectations of, the financial contribution of the arts, and rather more on ensuring their CRITICAL, intellectual and emotional intelligence and improving access to them.

How can arts and cultural research consultancies, such as your own, support the sector’s recovery and future growth?
I guess the best guarantee would be if the agencies which commission impartial and objective research took notice of what it said!

If your current research project was a colour, what colour would it be?

Yuk. Please don’t ask me questions like that. Best I can do would be BLOOD RED

What message would you like to give to Arts Research Digest subscribers and site users?

Just to make the best use of it that you can. The problem isn’t so much about there being enough research, it’s about people using it to change the way they work and to make a difference to the sector.