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At this time of crisis, public funding of the cultural sector is at risk. Cultural organisations are asked to demonstrate their value in terms of short-term financial gain and benefit to GDP, and perhaps how they help to reduce the cost of public services such as Health and Education. This can limit the real value of cultural provision as feeding the imagination and intellectual enquiry, providing intangible benefits that are different for each individual, and leading to unknown future outcomes.

But, what if you can demonstrate your value in terms that resonate with funders, while also tackling environmental and social challenges? This could mean both embracing economic and quantitative approaches to valuation, while rethinking and helping to transform economics.

The work that Culture can do is to catalyse a shift towards a more ecological economics. Oikonomics is my term for an ecologically positive economics. It refers to the original meaning of ‘eco‘ as ‘favourable place’ from the Greek word ‘oikeios’. This is economics as good management of habitat. Other terms for it include Sacred Economics, or a Regenerative Economy.

Culture that is geared towards an Oikonomic approach can:

  • Help people live happier lives by consuming enough (not too much), being active, creative, connected and mindful
  • Support people through loss of thriving places
  • Conserve things and knowledge from lost or displaced cultures and damaged places
  • Inspire virtual imaginings of future thriving places
  • Help remake and regenerate thriving places.

The essential characteristic of an Oikonomic human culture is a well-working system where Culture is held as sacred. ‘Sacred’ is not equivalent in meaning to ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’. Sacred myths, rituals and crafts, as well as formal codes of behaviour, are all geared around the sourcing of necessities for survival in ways that sustain supplies for future generations and non-human cohabitees. These enable co-operation, decision-making, resilience, education and social control. They are sacred precisely because of their practical use but also because of their fragility.

Learning from this, we could say that one job of managing Culture is to balance heritage and creativity, allowing them to feed off each other. However, the health of this balance is dependent on an environment – both natural and cultural – that offers at least the potential for survival, if not thrivability.

An Oikonomic approach aims to create an ecosystem of Culture: In this ecosystem:

  • Art asks questions
  • Design provides solutions
  • Heritage inspires us with questions and solutions from other times, people or places.


For such a cultural ecosystem to work, there is a need for an integration of environmental, social and economic sustainability.

Use the diagram below to analyse how sustainability is conceived in your organisation. Is it in balance? How does it compare with the balance in another organisation you know?

What would balance (or a more Oikonomic approach) look like in your organisation?