More and more, arguments for heritage conservation are made in economic terms. Fueled by globalization and the dominance of market ideology, the economic values of heritage are ascendant.

The economic issues involved in heritage conservation are considerable and must not be ignored. But seeing conservation through the lens of markets becomes troublesome because of the tendency for economic considerations to crowd out other social values and benefits (spiritual, aesthetic, cultural, political, personal, and familial). Promises of tourism revenue, for instance, rival and even surpass beauty, cultural meaning, or social significance of heritage as the rationales for conservation action.

The GCI recently began a research effort into the economics of conservation. In early December 1998, an international group of economists, scholars of culture, and conservation experts gathered for a three-day meeting at the Getty Center. The meeting focused on conceptual issues such as understanding the unique insights of the different disciplines on the question of valuing heritage, defining the boundaries between economic values and cultural values, understanding the mechanisms of conservation decision making, and paving the way for more empirical, case-study, and issue-based research projects in the future.

Research commissioned from Professor Arjo Klamer of Erasmus University in the Netherlands formed a background for the meeting. Surveying the work of colleagues in the field of cultural economics, Klamer discussed the limits of economic analysis for guiding conservation decisions. He observed that economists tend to express all values in terms of price and have many sophisticated tools for doing so -- but price is far from an adequate surrogate for expressing the other, noneconomic kinds of value that people routinely find in heritage.

The meeting brought together a group of cultural economists who have been working with the thorny problem of how economics deals with values that cannot be expressed in price and the related concern that conservation decisions should not be made on the basis of market values alone.

The meeting fueled a great deal of discussion about directions for future research on economics and conservation. Consensus grew around a few concepts that bridge economics and cultural concerns and promise to guide the conservation field into a more productive, knowledgeable engagement, both with the economics profession and with the market society.

These concepts included:

  • the idea of sustainability, a notion often invoked in relation to environmental conservation;
  • the notion of cultural capital as a way to bring cultural values into an economic framework without diminishing them unduly; and
  • the "third sector" as an important sphere of society, in which organizations such as nonprofits, local associations, families, and others play an important role alongside governments and markets as sponsors of heritage conservation.

Meeting Participants

Mahasti Afshar, group director, Heritage Recognition, Getty Conservation Institute, USA

Neville Agnew, group director, Information & Communications, Getty Conservation Institute, USA

Lourdes Arizpe, chair, UNESCO World Cultural Report, and professor, Centro Regional de Investigaciones Multidisciplinarias, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico

Erica Avrami, project specialist, Getty Conservation Institute, USA

Daniel Bluestone, associate professor of architectural history and director of the Historic Preservation Program, University of Virginia, USA

Eric Doehne, associate scientist, Getty Conservation Institute, USA

Bruno S. Frey, professor, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics, University of Zurich, Switzerland

Kathleen Gaines, group director, Administration, Getty Conservation Institute, USA

Michael Hutter, professor of economics, Witten/Herdecke University, Germany

Arjo Klamer, professor of the economics of art and culture, Erasmus University, Netherlands

Edward Leamer, Chauncey J. Medberry Chair in Management, Anderson Graduate School of Management, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

Setha Low, professor of anthropology and environmental psychology, City University of New York

Claire Lyons, collections curator, Getty Research Institute, USA

Margaret Mac Lean, group director, Special Initiatives, Getty Conservation Institute, USA

Jef Malliet, Forum, ICCROM, Italy

Randy Mason, senior project specialist, Getty Conservation Institute, USA

Stefano Pagiola, economist, Environmental Economics and Indicators Unit, Environment Department, World Bank, USA

J. Mark Schuster, associate professor of urban studies and planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

Rona Sebastian, deputy director, Getty Conservation Institute, USA

Giora Solar, group director, Conservation, Getty Conservation Institute, USA

Alberto Tagle, group director, Science, Getty Conservation Institute, USA

C. David Throsby, professor of economics, School of Economics and Financial Studies, Macquarie University, Australia

Marta de la Torre, group director, the Agora, Getty Conservation Institute, USA

Isabelle Vinson, program specialist, New Technology for Culture Sector, Unesco, France

John Walsh, vice president, J. Paul Getty Trust, and director, J. Paul Getty Museum, USA

Joan Weinstein, program officer, Getty Grant Program, USA

Peter-Wim Zuidhof, research assistant, Erasmus University, Netherlands