Here is a clear and detailed report in Arts Professional: http://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/news/arts-council-impose-quantitative-measures-arts-quality
The scheme so far has apparently cost more than £700k, and the ACE is said to be pressing ahead with it despite concerns, following the pilot scheme, that it's not guaranteed to deliver in an entirely satisfactory way...
So how is this going to work? ACE site provides us with this.
The core quality metrics
Some of these points make more sense in some areas of the performing arts than in others; it would, one surmises, be iffy to apply them en masse not only to theatre and cinema but also to opera and ballet both traditional and contemporary, and to concerts of classical music. One size doesn't fit all. It never did and it never will.
It's tempting to wonder if this is an unintended consequence of the continuing reduction of space for professional critical assessments of artistic work in the national press - now so marginalised that the majority of cultural work never receives any newspaper assessment at all. The notion of public reviews - the 'everyone is a critic' stance - seems to be progressively devaluing the concept of the alternative: this is because consensus is so rare that once you pass a certain number of reviews everything ends up, on a scale of one to five, averaging around three because some like it, some don't, everyone takes a different view for a different reason and nobody really trusts what other people say in any case.
This in itself should demonstrate how problematic it is to assess artistic quality in a generalised way.
Let's try out the Core Quality Metrics on an actual classical concert...
|Yulianna Avdeeva. Photo: C. Schneider|
It so happens that the most recent event I've been to was the debut recital at the Wigmore Hall the other night of Yulianna Avdeeva, the young Russian pianist who won first prize at the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 2010 - the year Daniil Trifonov pulled in in third place. Instead of a review, here is an assessment of the evening according to Core Quality Metrics.
CONCEPT: it was an interesting idea
Of course it's interesting to have the winner of the Chopin Competition make her Wigmore debut six years after the event. She is an extremely fine artist and should be far better known than she is.
PRESENTATION: it was well produced and presented
Find me anything at the Wigmore Hall that isn't well produced and presented? It's the Ritz of concert halls. Such things are never in doubt. As for Yulianna, she is a consummate professional, at ease on the stage and in complete control at every turn. (Presentation? I don't know where she got her pewter-coloured shot-silk jacket, but I'd like one too.)
DISTINCTIVENESS: it was different from things I've experienced before
Yes, because I haven't previously heard Yulianna Avdeeva give a recital at the Wigmore Hall. I'm not sure I've heard those exact pieces played in that exact succession before either. But others might say: well, it's a piano recital, so it's not all that different. To those who love going to piano recitals, it was different for the above reasons. To the non-pianophile bureaucrat, though, would this risk raising puzzlement?
CHALLENGE: it was thought-provoking
That depends purely on the individual listener. Some might experience provoked thoughts such as: here is Bach's English Suite No.2 being played on the modern piano with absolute clarity, great conviction, beautiful rhythmic sense, exquisite sound quality and enthralling virtuosity, so what price those who think it's the wrong instrument, and do those people still even exist? And: here is Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No.8, written towards the end of World War II: it is a massive, nearly symphonic work, full of colour, deeply original and fantastically difficult to perform, and Yulianna is so at one with it and its idiom that she's making me imagine that I am in Moscow looking at Russian modernist art by the likes of Malevich and Goncharova.
I hope this is what they mean by 'thought-provoking', but it's quite hard to tell.
CAPTIVATION: it was absorbing and held my attention
Yup. See above.
ENTHUSIASM: I would come to something like this again
Yup. You bet.
LOCAL IMPACT: it's important that it's happening here
We're going round in circles now. Yes, it is important that Yulianna, a top-class musician with a growing international profile, should have a Wigmore Hall debut, here in central London, and that our discerning audience should have a chance to hear her. See above.
RELEVANCE: it has something to say about the world in which we live
This can only mean what you want it to mean. The concert says that people still adore listening to Bach, Chopin and Prokofiev, that some young pianists are as good as ever at playing them, and that the Wigmore Hall is one of the best places to go to listen to them. But what of the mindsets with which people approach this topic? What do we want an artistic event to say about the world in which we live?
Again, to standardise that expectation would be an unpleasant development. If I come out of the concert without any particular thoughts about the world in which we live, but having had a really great evening nonetheless, isn't that my prerogative as a member of the public? Some people go to arts events precisely to escape having to think about the world in which we live for a couple of blessed hours.
This recital brings us great music, wonderfully played, and people love that. This really ought to be enough. It doesn't tell us whether or not Southern Trains are still on strike, or whether it's a good thing if the third runway at Heathrow gets built, or what's going on now in Syria, and it shouldn't have to do so to be 'relevant'. Music connects people to one another across time and space - listening to Chopin we're in a way communing with the soul of a human being who died in 1849, and the souls of everyone who has played or listened to his music since then. That tells us something about ourselves as human beings at our best, and perhaps that is one of the many things that music is for. Can we hope that this registers as valuable in this 'core quality metric'?
RIGOUR: it was well thought through and put together.
Self and peer only (including this because it's there):
ORIGINALITY: it was ground-breaking
In the sense that it was Yulianna playing in a venue that is new to her, and that venue hosting her for the first time, I guess that's a yes. In terms of musical content, not necessarily; but I don't really care because I enjoyed it so much.
RISK: the artist really challenged herself
And how. People forget what an enormous feat of accomplishment it is to play extremely complex music to a world-class level for a discerning public for about two hours. (Besides, she's hardly going to sit up there and play Chopsticks, is she.)
EXCELLENCE: it was one of the best examples of its type that I have seen
It was bloody excellent. But if every piano recital I attend has to be "one of the best examples of its type that I have seen", I think that would be a problematic way to assess them. This one was indeed top-quality artistry. But I've previously attended plenty of piano recitals that have been most enjoyable, not necessarily "one of the best" of all, yet still worth giving, worth listening to and worth loving.
Core Quality Metrics as a measurement technique, then, seems a mixed bag. The bits that work would work anyway. The bits that don't work probably never will. And everything, but everything, depends on how the criteria are applied, and by whom, to what - and to which ends, with what effect.
For the moment, one has to try to set aside the unpleasant visions that a quango's "one size fits all" policy conjures up, with all our instinctive shudders about Stalin, Kafka and Orwell, and hope that this latest bizarre algorithmic development may somehow be able to do more good than harm. I can't say I'm holding my breath.