Hill Strategies Research on Social and Economic Benefits of Arts and Culture

The latest issue of Hill StrategiesArts Research Monitor focuses on the socio-economic benefits of the arts and culture, including a Canadian survey regarding culture and talent attraction, an Australian report on arts participation and mental health, a major synthesis of reports from the United Kingdom on the value of culture, and reports that attempt to measure the social return on investments in the arts and culture.

Culture for Competitiveness: How Vibrant Culture Attracts Top Talent

Business for the Arts, June 2016
Author: Nanos Research

This report examines perceptions of the arts and community attractiveness based on surveys of 500 Ontario-based skilled workers and 508 Ontario-based businesses with more than 20 employees. Each survey has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Among skilled workers, 65% of survey respondents were in agreement that “a thriving arts cultural scene is something I would look for when considering moving to a new community” (31% agree + 34% somewhat agree). Similarly, 64% of businesses agreed that “a thriving arts cultural scene is something that makes it (would make it) easier to attract to talent to the community” (35% agree + 29% somewhat agree).

One-third of skilled workers (32%) indicated that they take part in a local arts and culture organization as a donor, volunteer, or regular subscriber. One-quarter of businesses (25%) said that they make an annual financial contribution to an arts and culture organization in their community, and another 16% sometimes do so.

The survey results show that skilled workers place more importance on artistic aspects of a community than businesses:

  • Regarding “theatre, plays and music concerts”, 36% of skilled workers indicated that they are an important element of what they look for in a community, while only 16% of businesses believe that plays and concerts are important for people considering moving to their community to work.
  • 34% of skilled workers indicated that “arts and cultural events and festivals” are an important component of what they look for in a community, while 25% of businesses believe that arts and cultural events and festivals are important for people considering moving to their community to work.
  • Regarding “museums and galleries”, 28% of skilled workers indicated that they are an important element of what they look for in a community, while only 9% of businesses believe that museums and galleries are important for people considering moving to their community to work.

Among seven different community elements in the survey, the above mentioned arts and culture aspects ranked fourth, fifth, and sixth (respectively) among workers and sixth, fifth, and seventh (respectively) among businesses. Parks and recreation activities ranked first for both groups. Proximity to natural environment ranked second among skilled workers and fourth among businesses. Restaurants and cafes ranked third for workers and second for businesses.  Sports facilities ranked seventh among skilled workers and third among businesses.

Skilled workers appear to be slightly less satisfied than businesses regarding what their community offers in terms of the arts and culture (except museums and galleries):

  • 52% of skilled workers and 60% of businesses are satisfied with their local arts and cultural events and festivals.
  • 49% of skilled workers and 52% of businesses are satisfied with their local theatre, plays and music concerts.
  • 49% of skilled workers and 48% of businesses are satisfied with their local museums and galleries.

These satisfaction levels rank relatively low among the seven community elements noted above (fourth, sixth, and seventh respectively among skilled workers, and fifth, sixth, and seventh respectively among businesses).

Given these findings, the report identifies a risk “that businesses do not see the potential to attract skilled workers to their community because they overestimate how well the community provides what skilled workers think is important”.

The art of being mentally healthy

A study to quantify the relationship between recreational arts engagement and mental well-being in the general population

BMC Public Health, 2016 (16:15)
Authors: Christina Davies, Matthew Knuiman, and Michael Rosenberg

This article notes that, “with an emphasis on self-expression, creativity, enjoyment and social inclusion, the arts are receiving increasing attention from health professionals, researchers, clinicians, policy makers and the general community as a means of improving population health and mental well-being.” Based on a survey of 702 adults in Western Australia, the article shows that people who had high arts engagement (i.e., at least 100 hours per year) reported better mental health than people who participated less frequently or not at all, even after adjusting for other potential factors in mental health.

The survey found that 83% of Western Australian adults participated in the arts in at least one of 14 ways, including arts attendance (six questions), arts creation or participation (five questions) arts classes, arts work or volunteering, and arts-related membership (one question each). Women, younger respondents, and those with high education levels were more likely to engage in the arts. Respondents were asked how many hours they typically spent in these activities, and the totals were summed over the course of a year. On average, respondents spent 101 hours on the arts during the year.

More specifically, 78% had attended at least one of the six arts activities (average of 16 hours total over the course of a year), 48% had created art or participated in art making (average of 63 hours total during the year), 11% had taken part in arts-related learning (average of five hours in the year), 11% had worked or volunteered in the arts (average of nine hours during the year), and 10% had been involved as “a member of an arts society, club or organisation” (average of seven hours in the year).

Four groups of respondents were identified, including those with no engagement (0 hours during the year; 17% of respondents), low engagement (less than 23 hours during the year; 33% of respondents), medium engagement (23 to 99.9 hours during the year; 24% of respondents), high engagement (100 or more hours during the year; 26% of respondents).

Compared with other groups, respondents with high engagement in the arts had higher measurements on 13 out of 14 indicators of mental health, with particularly high scores “regarding optimism, interest in other people, thinking clearly, feeling loved, being interested in new things and feeling cheerful”. (There was not a significant difference in mental health scores between those with no, low, or medium engagement levels.)

Given the survey findings, the article indicates that “100 or more hours/year (i.e., two or more hours/week) of arts engagement may have the potential to enhance mental well-being in the general population”. The authors note that this finding mirrors some recommendations for volunteering and physical activity (i.e., minimum of two hours per week, or about 100 hours per year).

The study has some limitations: it was limited to Western Australian residents with landline telephones, and it made an observational connection, not a finding of causality. The authors suggest that future research could investigate potential “enablers and barriers to the arts-mental health relationship” as well as any differences between artforms and between modes of arts engagement (i.e., attendance, art making, arts learning, arts work or volunteering, and arts membership).

The authors conclude that “the arts may have a unique contribution to make to population health” as part of “holistic solutions that provide members of the general population with knowledge, choice and the capacity to attain higher levels of wellness and self-care”.

Cultural Value Project

Arts & Humanities Research Council (U.K.), March 2016
Authors: Geoffrey Crossick and Patrycja Kaszynska

This report summarizes the findings of 70 specially-commissioned research studies regarding the value of culture in the United Kingdom – “the difference to individuals, society and the economy that engagement with arts and culture makes”.

Working outwards from the individual experience of culture, the report outlines many components of cultural value, such as:

  • Shaping reflective individuals, by generating “greater understanding of themselves and their lives, increasing empathy with respect to others, and an appreciation of the diversity of human experience and cultures”.
  • Producing engaged citizens who vote, volunteer, and may “articulate alternatives to current assumptions and fuel a broader political imagination. All are fundamental to the effectiveness of democratic political and social systems.” However, the report indicates that there has been “very limited evidence about the success” of government programs designed to build influence and trust internationally.
  • “Peace-building and healing after armed conflict, helping communities to deal with the sources of trauma and bring about reconciliation”.
  • “Supporting healthier and more balanced communities”, especially via “small-scale cultural assets – studios, live-music venues, small galleries, and so on” rather than major building projects.
  • Economic impacts, although the report “questions the significance and at times the quality of economic impact studies”, arguing that “the distinctive contributions of arts and culture to the economy” are “the ways in which arts and culture feeds into the creative industries, supports the innovation system, and attracts talent and investment to places”.
  • Improving health and wellbeing, supported by “powerful evidence” into topics such as “dedicated arts therapies, the use of art and design to produce better healthcare environments, community arts interventions to improve social inclusion and mental health, and the benefits of engagement for older people and also for those suffering with dementia”.
  • How arts in education underpins “learning, such as cognitive abilities, confidence, motivation, problem-solving and communication skills”.

Key challenges in understanding the value of culture include “inequality of access to arts and culture”, the wide variety of settings and modes of engagement in culture, as well as the “growth of digital technologies, which not only provide new ways for people to connect with cultural institutions but also new ways to experience commercial culture”.

The report also considers methodologies used to measure cultural value. As noted by the authors, “identifying what happens in cultural experiences is not an easy task”. In this context, the report calls for a “wider application of evaluation as a tool within the cultural sector itself” (not just for accountability). It also argues for increased standards of rigour in cultural research and “multi-criteria analyses and a range of [research] approaches”.

The Value of the Nonprofit Arts and Culture Field in Illinois

A Social Return on Investment Analysis

Social Impact Research Center with Donors Forum, March 2015
Authors: Amy Terpstra and Jennifer Clary

Using a social return on investment framework, this report assesses the impacts of the $1.9 billion in public and private investment in over 1,400 Illinois not-for-profit organizations working in the arts and culture. The headline finding is that “every dollar invested into the Illinois nonprofit arts and culture field generates an estimated $27 in socio-economic value”.

The report notes that, “for each positive change that arts and culture programs create for youth and their families and for society, value is created. Some of the value that is created is quite easily put into monetary terms, such as how much more money a person will earn annually with a high school diploma than without one. For other outcomes, such as people being more civically engaged, the value is less tangible because it does not have an inherent market value.” The report’s findings are based on a range of secondary data sources, a survey of arts and culture organizations, and program evaluations. These sources provided the researchers with proxies for the value of difficult-to-measure individual and societal changes.

The vast majority of the social return “accrues to individuals participating in nonprofit arts and culture programs, events, and activities”, through increased economic security and workforce inclusion as well as improved well-being, social cohesion, and tolerance. Of the $27 in socio-economic value for every dollar invested, $23 was experienced by individuals.

The other $4 in socio-economic value is an estimate of the societal impact of arts and culture programs through workforce engagement and economic development.

The report argues that its findings are partial, in that research is lacking in some areas, such as the “impact on how people think”.

Two similar studies from Australia examined the social returns of a community arts project in Western Australia that tries to connect Aboriginal youth with their language and culture and a program offering film workshops for youth.

The Arts Research Monitor, created by Hill Strategies Research in 2002, provides synopses of qualitative and quantitative research findings in the arts and culture. The Monitor should be useful to artists, arts managers, funders, policy makers, researchers and others with an interest in learning more about the arts and culture. The Arts Research Monitor is funded by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council.

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