The Contingent Valuation of Culture

February 1, 2002 - 9:00am to February 2, 2002 - 5:00pm

Gallery 37
66 East Randolph Street, Chicago, Illinois

Conference Overview

Agenda and Papers


Conference Overview

What value do Americans attach to exhibitions of visual art? To the publication of novels and short stories? To the production of handicrafts and the presentation of grand opera? Concrete answers to questions like these would significantly improve the capacity of cultural policy makers to nurture cultural programs and allocate resources toward a more vibrant and accessible mix of cultural opportunities. Currently, however, we do not possess sufficient information of this sort to support effective decision-making in the field.

In response to this lack of information, some economists have begun adapting a survey methodology called the Contingent Valuation Method (CVM), already in use to gauge the public's willingness to pay for such environmental goods as the preservation of species and the cleanup of toxic waste. CVM studies have helped resolve tenacious conflicts over whether to preserve or allow the economic development of environmental resources. The attraction of this method is that it produces information about what the people who are affected actually want, not based on what a few vested interests desire. CVM gives better information about the desires of the public, and that helps policymakers make better decisions about how to allocate funds.

Until now, CVM methodology has been applied for the most part to the measurement of the value of environmental goods, but recently it has also been applied to the study of other public goods such as arts and culture. Just as people value pristine environments or rare species that they will never use or even directly observe, people value cultural goods whether or not they use or participate in them. If the public enjoys certain cultural resources for free, CVM can help determine how much these goods are actually worth to the public. Recent CVM cultural policy studies have dealt with the value of parts of the cultural heritage. Our research, which examines the entire spectrum of cultural activities, suggests that CVM could be useful for measuring public support for a much wider range of culture than previously thought. The implications of this study are far-reaching and merit extended discussion and debate.

CVM promises to clarify the real value the American public assigns to cultural activities and products. What is needed now is (1) the development of reliable and manageable instruments that build on established CVM survey methods to yield good data on the value attached to various cultural products and programs; and (2) a research agenda for CVM within the cultural realm-a set of broad agreements about which cultural goods to examine and the range of prospective applications of findings that might result.

This will require the participation of every major constituency having a stake in the results. Arts policy makers in government, philanthropy, and cultural institutions in every major artistic domain must work in concert with policy researchers to develop strong methods and protocols, determine research priorities, and identify ways decision-makers in the cultural realm can most effectively use the findings. Such a dialogue must also fully address the concerns of those who worry that findings will be misused to support only those cultural forms that already enjoy broad public support in the marketplace.

To bring these stakeholders together to explore these topics in depth, we convened a conference at the University of Chicago on February 1 - 2, 2002. This conference gathered culture and economics researchers with policymakers and arts advocates from a range of cultural and political contexts.

For further background, see Doug Noonan's Bibliography of Contingent Valuation Studies of Cultural Goods. Also listen to Center visiting professor J. Mark Schuster and conference speaker Richard T. Carson, Jr., as well as Princeton's David Schkade, discussing contingent valuation on the Chicago Public Radio WBEZ program Odyssey on January 31, 2002.

We are grateful to Joan Shigekawa and the Rockefeller Foundation for the generous grant that made this event possible.


Agenda and Papers



Chair: Don Coursey

Most members of the public seem reluctant to entertain the notion that cultural values can or should be measured. But most members of the public seem not to want to confront the ubiquity of scarceness regarding the allocation of resources. Can monetary measures of cultural value play a larger role in determining policy? Members of the public seem to be getting more and more accustomed to questions of the form, "Would you be willing to spend $X on program Y?" What implications does that have for public attitudes toward culture?

Michael Hutter, "How modern Societies maintain Cultural Values by financing Cultural Goods"

David Throsby, "Determining the value of cultural goods: How much (or how little) does contingent valuation tell us?"

Michael Rushton, "Contingent Valuation and the Public Interest in Privately Owned Cultural Property"


Chair: Doug Noonan

The demand for culture, like other goods, is probably endless and only ultimately limited by income and technology. But the understanding of cultural demand and its limits is complicated by the vast range of interests that define culture. How do income, education, density of residence, gender, and other variables affect demand for cultural programs in various settings? 

Mark Berger, "Valuing the Arts: A Contingent Valuation Approach"

David Maddison, "Valuing Congestion Costs in the British Museum"

Edward Morey, "Using Stated-Preference Questions to Investigate Variation in Willingness to Pay for Preserving Marble Monuments: Classical Heterogeneity and Random Parameters"

Paul Thomassin, "Valuing the Conservation and Restoration of a Cultural Heritage Site: The Historical Core of Split"


Chair: Richard Epstein

We know most about CVM for situations where we require its application the least. When there are markets reflecting private cultural values, we know that CVM will approximate values obtained from more traditional techniques. But the tougher values involve public cultural goods with often intangible values. What do we know about the nature of these values? 

John Whitehead, "Willingness to Pay for Submerged Maritime Cultural Resources"

Arthur Brooks, "Does Public Art Have Bequest Value?"

Michael Jennings, "Assessing the Public Service Element of Irish Public Broadcasting – The Validity of the Contingent Valuation Method"


Chair: Lawrence Rothfield

This discussion will address techniques associated with drafting productive and accurate surveys, assigning meaning to results, and using findings to inform scholarship and support good decision-making in the field. What is the correct calculus for cultural value aggregation? How can we determine exactly what CVM is measuring? How can we draft productive and accurate surveys, assign meaning to the results, and implement strategies on the demand side to ensure that CVM be used democratically to resolve conflicts over the support of culture?

Franco Papandrea, "Contingent Valuation and Cultural Policies: Some Challenges and a Case Study"

Cass Sunstein, "Coherent and Incoherent Valuation: A Problem With Contingent Valuation of Cultural Amenities"

Patricia Quinn, "Is CVM an appropriate evaluation methodology to support national public policy and decision-making in the contemporary arts?"

Dick Stanley, Respondent 



Chair: J. Mark Schuster

Despite ongoing critiques, the rational choice model of economics still generally predominates. However, despite the fact that many economists dismiss arts impact studies, economists keep producing them on demand. The same could happen with CVM whatever the academic consensus. What are the politics of the use of CVM? Are there ways to ensure that the method is not inappropriately adopted? Are there alternatives to the CVM model that can estimate cultural values more accurately or more often? What role will CVM play in the future of cultural policy?

Bruce Seaman, "CVM vs. Economic Impact: Substitutes or Complements?"

Richard Carson, "The Contingent Valuation Debate: Lessons for the Valuation of Cultural Resources"

Richard Epstein, "The Regrettable Necessity of Contingent Valuation"



Mark Berger, William B. Sturgill Professor Of Economics; Director, Center for Business and Economics Research, University of Kentucky

Arthur Brooks, Associate Professor, Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University

Bill Brown, George M. Pullman Professor of English and of the Humanities, University of Chicago

Richard T. Carson, Professor and Research Director for International Environmental Policy Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, University of California at San Diego

Don Coursey, Ameritech Professor of Public Policy, University of Chicago

Richard A. Epstein, James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law, University of Chicago

Michael Hutter, Professor, Universität Witten Herdecke

Michael Jennings, Postgraduate student, Department of Economics, Trinity College, Dublin

David J. Maddison, Associate Professor of Economics, University of Southern Denmark

Edward R. Morey, Professor, Department of Economics, University of Colorado at Boulder

Doug Noonan, Ph.D. Candidate, Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago

Franco Papandrea, Associate Professor of Communication and Director, Communication & Media Policy Institute, University of Canberra

Patricia Quinn, Executive Director, Irish Arts Council

Randall Rosenbaum, Executive Director, Rhode Island State Council on the Arts

Lawrence Rothfield, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature; Faculty Director, Cultural Policy Center, University of Chicago

Michael Rushton, Professor, Department of Economics, University of Regina

Bruce Seaman, Associate Professor, Department of Economics; Senior Associate, Policy Research Center, Georgia State University

J. Mark Schuster, Visiting Professor of Cultural Policy, University of Chicago; Professor of Urban Cultural Policy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Joint Editor, Journal of Cultural Economics 

Joan Shigekawa, Associate Director, Creativity and Culture Program, Rockefeller Foundation

Dick Stanley, Director, Strategic Research & Analysis, Dept. of Canadian Heritage

Cass Sunstein, Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor, Law School and Department of Political Science, University of Chicago

Paul J. Thomassin, Associate Professor, Department of Agricultural Economics, McGill University

David Throsby, Professor of Economics, Macquarie University

John C. Whitehead, Associate Professor of Economics and Finance, University of North Carolina at Wilmington