Patrick McInytre, CEO of the National Film and Sound Archive, about cutting up the pie chart of happiness

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Why do we paint or write poems, bake or beat out our dance moves?

This is a question that Patrick McInytre, future CEO of the National Film and Sound Archive, has spent many hours pondering.

Patrick believes that we need to do a better job of formulating the value of art and culture – and he has devised an ingenious template, called the “pie chart of happiness”, to help.

It was once “a doodle in a margin”, but he recently attended an online Salon Canberra session to reveal everything.

Patrick has worked in the Australian arts and culture sector for more than two decades, most recently as CEO of the Sydney Theater Company. He has held key roles with The Australian Ballet, Sydney Film Festival, Sydney Dance Company and the Sydney Opera House Trust. He really is a coup for Canberra.

Patrick is in an ongoing discussion with people about the value of culture, “and it can be difficult to land in the right language,” he told the Salon Canberra audience online.

Pie chart of happiness illustration provided by Patrick McIntyre.

Words like “improvement” and “better” can alienate some people. “Nourishing” or “enriching” makes art sound like medicine. But no matter what words people use, and no matter their personal or institutional mission, the value of culture boils down to three words: happiness, unity, and understanding.

We all value the value of culture – for our personal happiness, for our connection to the community and our sense of understanding of the world around us – because we all engage in some form of culture. It may be painting or praying, bushwalking or baking, but “culture is everything,” Patrick said. “Once we’re fed and sheltered, everything is beyond that culture.”

Patrick McInytre.

It is not always easy to quantify this value. We can not say with any authority that a certain amount of theatrical exposures will make a person happier, or that reading novels will reduce absenteeism in the workplace, Patrick noted. But there are some compelling pieces of research that can help us weigh the value of culture.

With Patrick for the interview, Arup’s highly talented senior arts and culture consultant Chris Mercer. As a production manager, Chris has worked for the National Theater of Great Britain, the Sydney Theater Company, the Belvoir Theater and more. Now he helps Arup with strategy, feasibility and design advice.

Chris pointed to the UK’s Arts on Prescription ‘program, which was designed to address mental health and led to a 37% drop in GP visits and a 39% reduction in hospital admissions.

The creative and cultural economy makes a huge contribution to our nation, said Chris, who generates $ 111 billion a year – or 6.4% of GDP – and employs close to 600,000 people. “Art and culture help us stay in touch. It tells our stories and it can transform our cities.”

Montreal’s government investment in the Quartier des Spectacles, the city’s primary art district, is an inspiring illustration. An initial $ 200 million investment catalyzed more than 60 mixed-use developments, representing $ 1.5 billion in construction and $ 449 million in tax revenue, Chris said.

But the greatest value of art and culture is its ability to “create social cohesion” by creating new channels for us to understand each other. Through art, barriers are broken and bridges built.

We should not shy away from calculating the economic benefits of culture, but the “external benefits” should not be in the driver’s seat, Patrick added. “It’s more valuable to society to see a great piece in a clapped fibro assembly hall than it is to have a great brand new theater with nothing in it.”

As COVID-19 overturns the world, we have turned to culture to stay healthy during lockdowns, Patrick noted. We have empirical evidence to prove this.

In 2020, social data analyst Neighborlytics tracked the increase in local engagement with art and design during lockdowns. In Melbourne, this commitment increased by 42% in Melbourne and by as much as 100% in Sydney. People posted pictures of their own art when, for example, they could not take a selfie at the recent opening of the gallery.

But culture is not about survival or utilitarianism. “It’s about pleasure and discovery and about bringing people together to create functional communities,” Patrick said.

As the British musician Brian Eno says: “Art is all you do not have to do … For example, you have to eat, but you do not have to invent Baked Alaska. We have to move, but we do not have to make the rumba.”

So while cutting up your own pie chart of happiness, the question you need to ask yourself is: What is my baked Alaska?

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