This paper explores how cultural policy has reached a position of increasingly unguarded ‘instrumentalism’ whereby policy makers define the value of the arts in terms of their economic value and their contribution to defined policy objectives, rather than their broader value in improving ‘quality of life’. Examining the recent history of cultural policy in the UK, this paper argues that despite the intensive quest to measure and quantify the economic and social returns on investment in the arts, which has been heightened in the context of austerity, a better case can be made by returning to the arguments that emphasise the importance of arts to the quality of everyday life. A large body of evidence, from a variety of sources and professional perspectives, including recent research on everyday participation, on how arts and culture affects the lives of ordinary people is reviewed. These studies are not only concerned with how to demonstrate value through economic means, but consider how people’s quality of life is raised in intimate but potentially scalable ways through their everyday participation in culture. The author argues that a future cultural policy which genuinely responds to the evidence, and which hopes to fulfil the universal entitlement to arts and culture, must be targeted at creating capacity within local areas and communities to work together to develop places and opportunities to participate. To do so the report recommends policy which ensures arts funding is locally sensitive but equally distributed, through better connections and streamlining of funding sources, and that access to arts and culture is democratised and publicly planned, with resources for everyday participation within communities as well as for, and alongside, institutional settings.