Accounting for Heritage Assets: Does measuring economic value kill the cat?


Speaker:Shelia Ellwood, University of Bristol
Date: Wednesday 19 November 2014
Time: 14:00
Location: Constantine Leventsis Room, Building One

Further details


Recent changes in accounting directives for heritage assets held by local authorities and charities required the measurement of their economic value and their inclusion in annual reports and financial statements. At the same time, numerous sales of heritage assets by local authorities have occurred. We tell the story of the recent intrusion of economic value in the reporting of heritage assets in the UK using the analogy of Schrödinger’s cat and illustrative vignettes: the National Portrait Gallery and Tower Hamlets Council.  The clash of economic and cultural value is considered as two states. The National Portrait Gallery largely resisted the pressure to place economic values on its collections of portraiture and continues to increase its extensive collections. The London council in the deprived borough of Tower Hamlets, followed the Local Authority Accounting Code and decided to sell its major heritage asset, a Henry Moore sculpture. We examine different approaches to value and the difficulties associated with placing a financial value on a cultural asset. We consider whether the very act of measuring a heritage asset in financial terms changed the situation. Borrowing an analogy from quantum physics, Schrödinger’s cat, we suggest that observing the economic value can in some instances lead to a loss of cultural value such that it kills the cat.


Key words: Heritage assets; cultural value, accounting measurement; economic value, observation theory, Schrödinger’s cat