Lauren Amery, West Midlands Cultural Observatory
On Wednesday in our final lecture for Creative Industries and Cultural Policy, we were given a talk by Lauren Amery from the West Midlands Cultural Observatory. Lauren (pictured below) carries out research into the social and economic role of culture in the West Midlands. Her department is a subset of the West Midlands Regional Observatory which is overall a hub of information and statistical data about the region. Lauren was a particularly interesting guest for us because we wanted to know what part she has to play in policy making. Her main concern is with collating data and research with regards to the role culture has to play in the West Midlands; one example she provided with us was a survey of cultural participation (i.e. which percentage of the population in the region takes part in cultural activities such as sport, visiting art galleries and so on). Lauren’s working definition of ‘culture’ is the same as that of the DCMS.
She presents her research to policy makers, and makes suggestions for new policies and initiatives. We thought Lauren would be more involved with policy making, but ultimately the decision is out of her hands. An interesting fact she did tell us about was that the only cultural service local authorities have to provide by law is a library – nothing else. I found this astounding, and it made me think whether this could be changed to foster more cultural participation. A large concentration of cultural activities in the region are in the urban areas such as Birmingham and the Black Country, whereas more rural areas such as Hereford are short on the provision of culture. Would making art galleries a legal requirement in all local authorities help increase cultural participation? I suppose the appropriate answer for this is: how long is a piece of string?
What I also found interesting was Lauren’s methodologies, especially her use of online surveys. With my second assignment for this module involving primary research, I was interested to see how people such as Lauren approach research on a large scale. Overall it was an interesting talk, and it made me think about how influential research is in the policy making process.