Cultural Diplomacy and Cultural Value

Submitting Institution

City University, London

Unit of Assessment

Communication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management 

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies

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Summary of the impact

Research undertaken by Professor John Holden of City University London on cultural diplomacy and cultural value has had a direct impact on cultural policy-makers both nationally and internationally. In the UK it has impacted specifically on the funding of cultural diplomacy activity and the operations of Arts Council England and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Internationally advice has been sought by politicians and cultural administrators around the world including the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Culture in New Zealand, Alberta's Minister of Culture and the Chairs of the main cultural organisations in Hong Kong. Through this, Holden has: (i) provided expert advice to governmental, third sector and private organisations in relation to cultural policy; (ii) influenced directly the thinking of senior government ministers in relation to arts and culture; (iii) proposed new ways of thinking about the methods and mechanisms by which culture and creative practice are supported through the distribution of public funds; (iv) contributed to the enhancement of frameworks supporting the creative industries, which in turn has aided economic prosperity for a range of individuals and organisations; and (v) helped creative industry professionals and those who support them to adapt to changing cultural values.

Underpinning research

Holden's research began in 2003 and was based at City University London from 2006 when he was appointed as a part-time Professor. In a series of works [1-7], notably Cultural Value and the Crisis of Legitimacy (2006) [1]; Democratic Culture (2008) [5]; and Culture and Class (2010) [6], he made a major contribution to debates about cultural value both in the UK and internationally. His research provides a conceptual framework for the articulation of the societal value of culture (broadly defined to encompass the arts, commercial culture and `homemade' culture, both traditional and of the internet age) by identifying intrinsic, instrumental and institutional values. In the UK context, it provides a rationale for public funding and investigates political attitudes to government support of cultural activity; and the relationship of funded culture to the creative industries. Holden argues that the relationship between politicians and professionals working in the cultural sector has become fractious because of the funding system's obsession with targets and instrumental economic and social outcomes. He suggests that legitimacy for public funding should rest on a combination of cultural quality, measurable outcomes and the public value created by cultural institutions.

Cultural Value and the Crisis of Legitimacy [1] was launched by the then Minister for Culture David Lammy, who said, "I know how influential John Holden's earlier work for Demos has been in bringing the concept of public value to life in the cultural sector. So I am pleased to see Demos making another valuable contribution to this important debate. This is a vital area. It is at the heart of the changes I want to bring about as Minister for Culture." The debate on the value of culture, of which Holden was a prime instigator, continues to resonate as evidenced by the AHRC's current £2M Cultural Value Project for which Holden is a member of the Advisory Group.

Following this work on cultural value, Holden, in collaboration with a team of researchers at Demos, investigated the role of culture in international relations. He argued that mass tourism, 24-hour news, migration and the escalating use of the internet would combine to create a situation where peer-to-peer global communication was widespread and where much of the content of that communication would be cultural. Cultural Diplomacy (2007) [2] argued that governments needed to pay more attention to the subject of culture in international relations. The International Journal of Cultural Policy noted that "the report was debated in the House of Lords and the House of Commons. It was credited with heightening the realisation amongst politicians of the importance of culture within international relations." (Nisbett, J. Cultural Policy, 3-4 (2012)). In the House of Commons debate, Ed Vaizey, now Minister for Culture said, "the reason why cultural diplomacy is high on the agenda is the publication of the Demos pamphlet on the issue. I should like to take a few seconds to praise the work of John Holden." (Hansard, 13/3/2007)

Holden's latest report for the British Council, `Influence and Attraction: Culture and the race for soft power in the 21st century' (2013) [7] examines the data and trends in the field of cultural relations and suggests how countries may enhance their global standing through culture by discussing the role of cultural institutions, educational exchanges and the role of the media.

References to the research


1. Holden J. (2006). Cultural Value and the Crisis of Legitimacy. London: Demos. The citation by David Lammy can be found at:

2. Bound K., Briggs R., Holden J., & Jones S. (2007). Cultural Diplomacy. London: Demos.

3. Holden J. (2008). Artists, government and the public. Renewal, 16(2), 14-21.

4. Holden J. (2009). How we value arts and culture. Asia Pacific Journal of Arts and Cultural Management, 6(2), 447-456.

5. Holden J. (2008). Democratic Culture: opening up the arts to everyone. London: Demos.

6. Holden J. (2010). Democratic Culture: opening up the arts to everyone. In D. Araya & M. Peters (Eds.), Education in the Creative Economy: knowledge and learning in the Age of Innovation (pp.565-587), New York: Peter Lang.

7. Holden, J. (2010). Culture and Class. London: Counterpoint, British Council.

8. Holden J. (2013). Influence and Attraction: Culture and the race for soft power in the 21st century. London: British Council.

Cultural Value and the Crisis of Legitimacy and Cultural Diplomacy can be considered as at least `recognised' if not `important' points of reference. The former has received 85 academic citations (Google Scholar) and the latter 35. Furthermore, in Jason Potts' 2012 Key Concepts in the Creative Industries, the author states that: "In summarising the juxtaposition of arts and industries John Holden has drawn attention to how public culture provides a range of benefits" (p.151). The Introduction to Cultures and Globalization: The Cultural Economy, edited by Anheier and Isar, asserts that "John Holden has summarized this well: what is clear is that in a digitised and globalised world the relationship between culture and creativity has become more complex, and in many ways potentially more fruitful" (p.18).

Details of the impact

Cultural Diplomacy and Soft Power

Holden's latest publication, Influence and Attraction, prompted comment from William Hague, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs: `I strongly welcome this report...It makes an important and timely contribution to the debate about how Britain can make the most of its cultural power and influence in the world...we in Government will study this report closely' (foreword to report [7]). The direct political impact of the report is further evidenced by Lord Howell, the Chairman of the House of Lords Committee on Soft Power, who said at the Committee's meeting on 15th July 2013: `The excellent paper that comes from the British Council...states, which I rather like, that "soft power involves the things that make people love a country rather than fear it."[8]

Influence and Attraction had additional impact in promoting public comment and debate about soft power. The Financial Times [9] devoted an article to a discussion of the report, saying that "Governments are waking up to soft power". Dorian Lynskey's article about the report on The Guardian website garnered 226 comments [10]. The report was also covered by the Huffington Post [11] and by London's Evening Standard [12].

The most direct financial impact of Holden's work on Cultural Diplomacy can be seen in the creation of the World Collections Programme (WCP) which provided a grant of £3M between 2008 and 2011 to enable the British Library, British Museum, Natural History Museum, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Tate and the V&A to undertake work in the priority areas of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Melissa Nisbett of King's College London wrote [13]: "There was a general consensus [that the] research was a catalyst for the WCP grant being awarded to the cultural organisations: (1) It heightened the realisation among politicians of the importance of culture in the formation of international relations... (Senior Policy Adviser); (2) That was the trigger that unlocked the World Collections money...(Senior Strategist)...". In turn, Jonathan Williams, Deputy Director of the British Museum, has confirmed the impact of the WCP not only on the partner institutions, but in terms of public benefit: "The partners in the World Collections Programme were established not just to be great London institutions, but to put their collections to work for worldwide public benefit. The WCP brought these organisations together as never before and enabled them to deliver their international programmes in a concerted fashion, working together to enable these six great world collections really to belong to the world." [14] Holden has given public speeches about cultural diplomacy internationally: in Tokyo at the invitation of the Japan Foundation (2010) (covered on TV and in the press), in Barcelona (2009) and in Berlin (2009).

Cultural Value

Holden's papers dealing with cultural value and published by Demos have had a wide impact and have been well-received. The Chair of the Arts Council of Wales wrote `I warmed, as I would have expected, immediately to your wise and determined pamphlet (Democratic Culture). [5] I have nothing but praise' and wrote separately that `Arts Council Wales has relied heavily on the research intelligence conducted and published in recent years by John Holden.' [15]

Between 2008 and July 2013 Holden gave speeches and presentations on cultural value and associated issues to 46 non-academic audiences, 21 in the UK and 25 overseas. Some were at international gatherings of politicians and administrators, such as the Cyprus and Czech EU Presidency cultural conferences (2012 and 2009 respectively) and the Singapore Global Arts exchange (2010). Through these talks Holden has had an impact on that constituency, as witnessed by a comment in a letter from Japan's Kanagawa Foundation (2012): `The following remarks are just a small selection of the many glowing comments we received about your talk from attendees: "As someone who works in government and management, the talk helped me to understand the importance of explaining the role of culture"'.

Some of the speeches have been in professional fora such as keynotes for the Arts Marketing Association (AMA) annual conference in 2008 and 2009. The Executive Director of the AMA wrote: "Feedback from delegates for his presentation was exceptionally high; ... Presenting a coherent and thought-provoking session raising real practical issues." Another practitioner, the Chief Executive of the Historic Royal Palaces, wrote "John has a pre-eminent reputation as a creative thinker, provocative writer and great communicator about cultural policy." [17]

Holden has also given public lectures, including at the Sydney Opera House (2011), Adelaide (2009) and Edmonton (2008). The conference: `Future of the City: The Arts Symposium' (June 2011), organised by The Cultural Policy Center and the Office of Civic Engagement at The University of Chicago and the National Endowment for the Arts, attracted a high-level mixed audience that included the editor of the Chicago Tribune and the writer of The Wire. The organisers later emailed: "Thank you for your excellent introductory talk framing our symposium conversations on June 7. Everyone I have talked with since the event has specifically mentioned how thoughtful and illuminating your talk was. Thanks so much for starting the day out in a way that framed the issues so effectively for a very eclectic audience."

Public impact has also been achieved through media appearances in the UK, where Holden has appeared on the Today Programme, Front Row and You and Yours; and in Australia, Canada, Malta, the Czech Republic, Hong Kong and Japan. There are at least 8 videos of Holden's speeches and presentations posted on YouTube and Vimeo, with 4,807 hits. [19]

Politicians and practitioners have sought direct meetings to discuss cultural value. For example, the Overview and Scrutiny Committee at Maidstone Borough Council, whose members were undertaking an "in-depth review of the value of leisure and culture" wrote to Holden as they were "... extremely keen to discuss with you your work on valuing culture." The impact is also international. As Calgary Arts wrote: `Holden...was invaluable in assisting Calgary's leaders in gaining a clear understanding of the valuable role that culture plays for a city and its citizens.' [21]

Holden has had a major impact on cultural leadership. Together with the British cultural historian Robert Hewison, he advised the philanthropist Dame Vivien Duffield on the creation of the Clore Leadership Programme. As a result she has invested £1M in the Programme each year since 2003 with 253 cultural leaders awarded Fellowships to date. The scheme has, according to Arts Professional, been `widely praised'. In the Daily Telegraph of 25th September 2009, Rupert Christiansen wrote that: `A major agency of improvement has been the Clore Leadership Programme...devised by John Holden and Robert Hewison.' [22]

Beneficiaries of the activities listed here include government ministers and senior policy-makers shaping cultural policy at governmental level; cultural policy administrators working at international, national and metropolitan levels; cultural and creative industry practitioners; journalists and broadcasters and academics in other institutions.

Sources to corroborate the impact

  2. Aspden, P, `Balance of Soft Power' in Financial Times, 22/06/2013, Life & Arts section, p18
  5. Sarah Sands, Editors' Diary, Evening Standard, 18/06/2013.
  6. Melissa Nisbett (2012): New perspectives on instrumentalism: an empirical study of cultural diplomacy, International Journal of Cultural Policy, p 3-4.
  7. E-mail to John Holden, 22nd August 2013.
  8. Letters from Arts Council Wales, 2009.
  9. Letter from Kanagawa International Foundation, Japan, 2012.
  10. Letter from Chief Executive, Historic Royal Palaces, 2009.
  11. Email available.
  12. As at 3rd September 2013 — Search under `John Holden Culture'.
  13. Email from 8th February 2010, Maidstone Borough Council.
  14. Letter, Calgary Arts Development, 19th November 2008.
  15. Clore Leadership Programme: and

In addition, the following can be contacted to provide further corroboration if required;
Deputy Director, British Museum
Former Chair, Arts Council England and former Rector, Royal College of Art
Chief Executive, British Council

A statement of corroboration has been provided by:
Executive Director, Cultural Policy Center, University of Chicago