Hill Strategies Research on the Benefits of the Arts

The latest issue of Hill Strategies Research's Arts Research Monitor includes four reports that take different perspectives on the benefits and impacts of the arts in society, including a Canadian summary of the benefits of music education, a survey of Toronto residents on the value of the arts, an article examining the arts and our shared values, and parallel research from the sports sector regarding the integration of new Canadians via sport.

The Benefits of Music Education

An Overview of Current Neuroscience Research

Royal Conservatory of Music, 2014
This document provides a useful summary of recent neuroscience research on the impacts of music on mental health and well-being. The report indicates that “neuroscientists are demonstrating that there is a causal connection between music study and cognitive growth”.
The report notes that musically trained people have “stronger neural connections, more grey matter, better information processing, higher IQ, better memory and attention, and better motor coordination”. For children, the report argues that “music education is a powerful tool for attaining children’s full intellectual, social, and creative potential”, by speeding “the development of speech and reading skills”, training “children to focus their attention for sustained periods”, and helping “children gain a sense of empathy”.
Further details are provided about research in these areas:

  • Studies have linked music instruction to improved academic performance, better working memory, as well as improved focus and self-discipline.
  • “In a 2009 Canadian study, young children taking music lessons showed dramatic improvement in their verbal intelligence scores after only four weeks of training.”
  • A study of the brains of musicians found “greater connectivity between brain regions, [which] may help foster increased creativity”.
  • “Collaborative music making can increase empathy in toddlers” and “increase toddlers’ pro-social behaviours, making them more likely to help someone in need”.
  • Music is related to health benefits, including “improved cognitive function as we age”, recovery from strokes, delayed onset of dementia, and the treatment of “a variety of neurological disorders, such as stuttering, autism, and Parkinson’s disease”. 

Toronto Arts Stats: Public Opinion 2015

Toronto Arts Foundation, 2015
Based on a non-random online survey of about 500 Toronto residents as well as three focus group sessions, this report indicates that 97% of respondents “see at least one benefit of the arts to the City of Toronto”. The two most commonly selected benefits to the City were attracting tourists (79%) and highlighting the city’s cultural diversity (71%). Four other municipal benefits were selected by about sixty percent of respondents: “improving the city’s economy” (63%), “making the city a better place to live” (also 63%), “creating a more beautiful city” (62%), and “creating employment” (59%).
Eighty-nine percent of respondents selected at least one personal benefit of the arts. Exposure to new ideas was by far the most common choice (66% of respondents), followed by “making me feel proud of our city” (46%), “touching a spiritual or reflective part of myself” (44%), “helping me develop / express my creative side” (43%), and having the arts as “an important part of my social life” (37%). Only 2% of respondents selected “entertainment purposes”.
Eighty-five percent of respondents indicated that there is at least one benefit of the arts to their neighbourhood, including “engaging young people” (57%), “making my neighbourhood a great place to live” (55%), “bringing neighbours together” (51%), “creating a stronger sense of community in my neighbourhood” (50%), “supporting local businesses (restaurants, stores, etc.)” (49%), and “engaging seniors” (45%).
Other survey findings include:

  • 81% of respondents believe that arts education programs in schools are important.
  • 80% indicated that that opportunities for children to participate in the arts are important.
  • 76% believe that opportunities for families to attend arts events in their own neighbourhood are important.
  • 74% noted that exposure to the arts at an early age is important.
  • 74% agreed that “professional artists have a job like anyone else and deserve appropriate compensation”
  • 72% agreed that “professional artists add value to society”.
  • 69% indicated an appreciation for the contribution that Toronto artists make to the city. 

The survey found that 71% of those who responded “are regular attendees of the arts”. However, barriers to arts attendance were cited by 87% of respondents, with the most common barriers involving cost (63%), being too busy (40%), and the arts being too far from their residence (30%).
Regarding arts funding, 60% of respondents indicated that “support for the arts in Toronto should be a priority for local businesses” and 57% believe that “funding for the arts in Toronto should be a priority for local government”.

Playing Together

New Citizens, Sports & Belonging

Institute for Canadian Citizenship, July 2014
While not related to the arts, this report is an interesting example of research into new citizens’ participation in Canadian life, in the world of sports. The report is based on a survey of 4,157 new citizens residing in urban areas who have participated “in the Institute for Canadian Citizenship’s Cultural Access Pass program”, focus groups in eight Canadian cities, and a literature review of sports organizations’ focus on immigration and diversity. As noted in the report, “since the sample is not a random sample of all new Canadian citizens, a margin of error cannot be calculated and the results are not statistically representative of all new Canadian citizens”. The report indicates that most “new citizens” are not particularly new to Canada, as most survey respondents “have lived in Canada for five to seven years”.
According to the survey, 95% of respondents think that “sports are an important part of Canadian culture”, which the report attributes to two main reasons:

  • “Sports have the ability to generate national pride and a more intense connection to Canada and being Canadian.”
  • “Sports are a natural – or ‘universal’ – connection point between people, helping them feel at home in their new country.” 

Common reasons for participating in sports include staying healthy (cited by 95% of survey respondents), becoming or staying fit (90%), having fun (88%), and reducing stress (82%). Two key barriers to sport participation among respondents include cost (cited by 62% of respondents) and a lack of time (52%). The report notes that these barriers are “structural” ones that are shared by many other Canadians.
The report recommends potential strategies for “getting new citizens in the game”, including:

  • Creating “a centralized online information hub on sports in Canada, especially designed for newcomers”.
  • Providing “basic information about sports and recreation infrastructure in the Welcome Package distributed when permanent residents enter Canada”.
  • Providing sports-related information “where newcomers congregate – at settlement organizations, English/French classes, libraries, and community centres”.
  • Recruiting new citizen ambassadors who could spread the word about sporting activities and sports participation opportunities.
  • Letting new citizens “try [attending sports] before they buy [a ticket]”. 

The report concludes that sports “have the ability to connect people from different backgrounds and provide safe spaces for them to explore different cultures”.

The Art of Life

Understanding How Participation in Arts and Culture Can Affect our Values

Mission Models Money and Common Cause, 2013
Taking the form of a core essay and a number of critical responses, the report attempts to start “a dialogue about how arts and culture impact on our values”, including “deep values” such as “self-acceptance, affiliation, community feeling, freedom, creativity, self-respect, equality, [and] unity with nature”.
Acknowledging that the research underpinning the report is “speculative” rather than definitive, the essayist (Tim Kasser, Ph.D. in Psychology at Knox College in Illinois) argues that engagement in the arts and culture has the potential “to encourage values that support well-being, social justice, and ecological sustainability”. The essayist offers three main reasons for this potential connection:

  1. Engagement in the arts and culture is connected to intrinsic human motivations such as following one’s curiosity and interests, being creative, and “desiring a world of beauty”.
  2. Engagement in the arts and culture generates feelings of “flow, creativity, play, interest, and curiosity that characterize intrinsically motivated activity”.
  3. The arts and culture can provide disruptive experiences that may “act as catalysts to help some people identify the truly meaningful and satisfying values around which to orient their lives”. 

There are many interesting comments in response to the core essay, including:

  • “Culture is about identity and difference as well as the common experiences that make us human.”
  • “What we all need, regardless of our occupation, is not ‘arts and culture’ per se, but simply the time and space beyond the realms of the market, where we can each access knowledge, critically reflect and feel empowered [to] change our lives for the better.”
  • “The way we currently think and talk about art severely hinders its ability to catalyse change.” 

Rather than “art for art’s sake”, the conclusion to the report indicates that we may want to think about “arts and culture for our sake”. The conclusion suggests that researchers develop “empirical work on values in relation to arts and culture in order to find ways of evidencing increases in our individual and collective sense of wellbeing”.


The Arts Research Monitor is funded by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council. For more from Hill Strategies Research visit www.hillstrategies.com.

©2019 BC Alliance for Arts + Culture. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy