background image
V I . 7
Between commercialisation and access for all:
Creating a sustainable cultural heritage
In the last years, the cultural sector has gained a great deal of political attention due to its
economic potential and importance for market development in the Information Society.
Fact is that the cultural industries, and especially the creative sector are big business. In most
countries, the cultural economy makes up "perhaps five percent or more of GDP (...) and
by any standards, this is significant in economic terms". (Throsby, 2000: p. 38) As a result,
developing strategies and frameworks for a prospering cultural sector economy has become
a key political agenda point.
Although the digital age has also opened up new opportunities for the cultural heritage
sector, the question remains, if they can really benefit from the growing importance of the
content producing industries in the emerging knowledge society. Can cultural heritage
institutions become active players in the digital cultural economy?
The expectations are high, even within national governments as the primary funders of
memory institutions. Increasingly, cultural organisations and their activities culture which
until now have been regarded as separate from commercial, profit-oriented considerations,
are evaluated in economic terms, having business models in mind that would allow for a
"monetarisation" of symbolic cultural goods in the Information Society.Yet, this view needs
to be reconsidered, paying attention to the fact that, on the one hand, what national
governments are paying for goes far beyond an economic value, and on the other hand, that
commercial success stories in the cultural heritage sector so far have been rare.
Beyond the commercial value: What is the value of cultural heritage?
The commercial value of cultural goods is closely related to their origin in individual
creativity, skills and talent,"which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the
generation and exploitation of intellectual property". (DCMS Creative Industries Task
Force, 1998) In the creative industry sector, a work of art or the copyrights for that work
are traded in the market where it captures its economic value.Through market exchange
the work will acquire a price, reflecting its economic value. (cf.Throsby, 1999)
Besides the economic value that is determined by market demand, the creative work also
conveys an idea that can be exchanged. However, this idea cannot be copyrighted, and
therefore, it cannot accumulate any value in the market. Nevertheless, in the process of
exchange, the "consumers" of the idea determine their individual valuation. As the idea
circulates, it creates value that can be thought of as the aggregation of individual valuations
that comprise the total value of the idea within its sphere of circulation.This aggregation
could be thought of as the cultural value of the work.
"The essence of these propositions is that there exists both a physical market for artworks
and a parallel marketplace for the ideas that are a necessary attribute or product of those
works.The physical market determines the work's economic value; the market for ideas
determines its cultural value.The fact that the physical work is the vehicle for conveying the
idea transforms the work from an ordinary economic good into a cultural good." (Throsby,
1999: p. 29)
What becomes clear is that the value of all cultural artefacts and products is multi-
dimensional, meaning that the value is measured not just through one criterion, its
economic value, but also through a range of other values that define a creative work.Thus,