In recent years, the term “cultural economy” has reappeared in sources from college business seminars to pioneering art publications. Scholarship on the concept began in the 1990s, but the rapid advances in social media and mass-market culture have transformed the definition of “culture” itself.

The Cultural Economy refers to the conjecture that mainstream taste, deemed “culture,” dictates the flow of the economy, and that creative power has become modern currency. However, the question of manifestation and a fluid definition of “culture” must be addressed thoroughly to understand this phenomenon.

The studies of culture, sometimes substituted for anthropology, and economics began entirely diverged, but with the onset of mass consumption in the mid-twentieth century, it seemed the two were inextricably linked. In their landmark collection of essays, Paul du Gay & Michael Pryke, argue that the barrier between culture and economy has long since ceased to exist, and the two forces instead move in tandem. Indeed, when considering consumer practices and domestic policy, it undoubtedly benefits researchers and academics to consider public opinions and values. These shared preferences are what the social sciences have named “culture.”

However, culture itself is challenging to define. While it is undoubtedly an abstract agreement and mentality shared by a group of people, culture is perhaps too abstract to pinpoint directly. Instead, manifestations of culture paint a clearer picture. Art, in all its forms, is perhaps one of the most revealing manifestations. Art reflects not only the dominant aesthetic preferences of culture, but also the prevailing ideas, values, and taboos. In examining artwork, we are examining the direct creation of a people and culture.

Discussion of art-making opens the door to further discourse on the valuation of creativity. The new Cultural Economy derived from a rejection of an overly utilitarian and practical approach to value. In modern workplaces, innovation is valued above all else, and employers consider the ability to break conventions economically beneficial. With this change, we see a new value assigned to the creative spirit. In this same vein, creative trades, specifically art-marking, also gain new appreciation. Imagination is now a sought-after product, one rapidly gaining value as the internet enables an increase in exposure. The over-saturated arts industry values standing out through innovation; artists are no longer entirely reliant on institutional support.  

Arts Help finds itself in the unique position of examining this shift as it occurs. The new Cultural Economy is still taking shape, and we are committed to learning and adapting to better suit our community and artists’ opinions and needs. As creative power becomes both increasingly influential on economic principles and world populations, we intend to use this power to fight for justice and do good.

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