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Social impacts

Social impacts of creative participation in arts and cultural activity.

Background

A growing area of policy direction both internationally and nationally is the social impact of 'creative participation' and 'receptive participation' in arts and cultural activity on the community. The economic value of the arts and cultural sector is widely recognised as being only one part of its net worth to the community.

Reports have indicated that the outcomes of participating in arts and cultural activity are manifold. They include: cognitive improvement and educational attainment, social behaviour, community pride/identity, social cohesion, crime prevention, personal security, self-esteem, mood and development of life skills.

Policy development is increasingly focusing on the intersection of participation in arts and cultural activity and other areas of public concern such as education, crime prevention, community identity and development. This focus led to the key national cultural strategy developed and implemented by the Australia Council (in conjunction with State and Territory arts agencies) called 'Promoting the Value of the Arts'.

Why do we care?

As the state arts agency focusing on the social impact of participation in arts and cultural activity both informs and assists the effective direction of resources as we pursue practical development strategies and develop policy and projects.

While decision makers have heard of the many ways in which participation in arts and cultural activity is able to effect change in the lives of individuals and communities, it is difficult to find reliable, Australian-based research that validates its function in other areas of public policy.

Thus we believe that there is a need for a coordinated and evaluated body of research, which examines the social impact of creative participation in arts and cultural activity. Public policy in any field needs to be based on robust evidence, and while much anecdotal evidence exists at present, there is a need to have a stronger focus on robust objective research to allow policy making to be based on more tangible evidence.

Enter the statistics working group

In 2003, the Cultural Ministers Council Statistics Working Group (SWG) of which Arts Tasmania is a member, commissioned the Australian Expert Group in Industry Studies (AEGIS) to conduct a study into the social impacts of participation in the arts and cultural activity. That study had two stages.

Stage 1 - literature review

The first stage of the project aimed to map and assess the current international and Australian research based around the impact of participation in arts and cultural activity on eight focus areas. These were:

  • cognitive skills and educational attainment
  • self esteem
  • community pride
  • mood
  • social cohesion
  • crime prevention
  • health
  • social behaviour.

The project aimed to identify, collate and evaluate existing applied research on the social impacts (benefits and costs) of participation in arts and cultural activity into a searchable database. It aimed to draw together current statistical data and research on the social impacts of participation in arts and cultural activity both from within Australia and overseas with a focus on current, key, quantitative international and national research.

Completed in late 2003, it comprised the collection and review of current literature from selected countries on the social impact of participating in arts and cultural activities and some interviews in the UK with policymakers in the field. The literature was collated into a searchable annotated database that includes reference details, summary information on focus impact, participation, population, methodology and country. Eighty-seven reports and papers were entered into the main database - forty one from the UK, five from Scotland, nineteen from Australia, twenty from the USA, two from Canada and one from Finland.

The literature review can be downloaded here-
Social Impact of Participating in the Arts and Cultural Activities literature database - Excel 3.1 MB

Stage 2 - evidence, issues and recommendations

The second stage of the project aimed to draw together the information collated in stage one and analyse this information in the context of Australia's current arts and cultural policy framework and future directions. The project is viewed as a first step in bringing together current work on the social impacts of participation in arts and cultural activity in order to help identify further research needs and allow for better informed policy development and programming.

The definition of 'participation' used in the study followed the ABS in distinguishing between receptive (passive) participation, such as going to a concert, and creative, such as the active learning of a musical instrument. The methodology used to create the database is outlined in the introduction of the report. 

Read the report - Social Impacts of Participation in the Arts and Cultural Activities- PDF 304 KB