Hill Strategies Reports on Cultural Participation and Social Benefits of Culture

In this issue: Four reports from Canada and the US on cultural participation, public perceptions of the benefits of culture, the value of the performing arts in communities, and the correlation between arts participation, health, and well-being. 

Arts and Heritage in Canada: Access and Availability Survey 2012

Department of Canadian Heritage, November 2012
Author: Phoenix Strategic Perspectives Inc.


Based on a survey of 1,001 Canadians 18 or older in June and July of 2012, this report examines Canadians’ attendance and personal involvement in the arts, culture, and heritage, as well as their perceptions regarding cultural activities and government support of culture.

Regarding arts attendance, 83% of respondents indicated that they attended at least one type of live performance or arts event in the past year. The most popular (and most frequently attended) arts activities are “live art performances (63%), craft shows or fairs (55%), and arts or cultural festivals (52%)”. Three-quarters of respondents visited a heritage institution in the past year, with the most popular being historic buildings or sites (55%), museums or science centres (51%), and zoos, aquariums or botanical gardens (47%).

This survey contains some arts attendance statistics that not available from any other source, including the estimates that:

  • 55% of respondents attended a “crafts show or fair, including where these crafts are also offered for sale”.
  • 28% attended an arts activity “that makes use of film, video, audio or digital technologies, but not including regular movies in cinemas”.
  • 21% attended an event with “an opportunity to interact with artists, such as a question and answer session, a workshop, or meeting with an artist in residence”.
  • 17% attended a literary or poetry reading.

When asked about their experiences, survey respondents “offered mixed assessments of the number and quality of events and facilities in their community. Overall, perceptions of quality exceeded those related to the number of events and facilities.”

The survey findings demonstrate a consensus among Canadians concerning the importance of the arts, culture, and heritage, including large majorities either “strongly” or “somewhat” in agreement with the following statements:

  • “The arts are an important way of helping people think and work creatively” (93%).
  • "Arts experiences are a valuable way of bringing together people from different languages and cultural traditions" (93%).
  • “Arts and cultural activities in a community make it a better place to live” (91%).
  • “Exposure to arts and culture is important to individual wellbeing” (90%).
  • "Canadian actors, musicians, writers and other artists are among best in the world and can hold their own on the world stage" (90%).
  • “The arts and culture help us express and define what it means to be Canadian” (87%).
  • “Arts and cultural activities are important to a community's economic wellbeing” (86%).
  • “It's important to support the arts by volunteering or donating funds or goods” (81%).
  • “The arts and heritage experiences help me feel part of my local community” (77%). 

In addition, a strong majority of respondents agreed that specific arts, culture, and heritage facilities contribute "a lot" or "somewhat" to the quality of life of people living in their community:

  • Libraries (94%).
  • Spaces for live performances (87%).
  • Museums (80%).
  • Heritage centres, "such as an historic village, fort or house" (80%).
  • Facilities "combining several arts and cultural activities in one" (80%).
  • Public art galleries (78%).
  • "Spaces for artists to create and do their work" (73%).

Regarding respondents’ involvement in the arts, 57% indicated that they were personally involved in at least one artistic activity in the 12 months preceding the survey, including:

  • “Making a donation of money, goods, or services to an arts or cultural organization” (26%).
  • “Acting, dancing, singing, playing a musical instrument, or writing or composing or remixing music” (22%).
  • “Making photographs, movies, or videos as an artistic activity” (20%).
  • “Using the Internet or a smart phone to create something creative or artistic” (20%).
  • “Holding a membership in or subscription to an arts or cultural organization” (15%).
  • “Volunteering with an arts or cultural organization” (13%).
  • Creative writing (10%).
  • “Visual art or fine craft, such as pottery, ceramics, leatherwork, and weaving” (10%).

Regarding the governmental role in culture, a large majority of Canadians agree that governments should:

  • Help “protect and preserve Canada's heritage” (95%).
  • Promote “awareness of Canadian arts and cultural events and activities” (91%).
  • Provide “support for arts and culture in Canada” (90%).
  • Partner “with others to ensure that there are enough arts and cultural facilities to serve the public” (89%).
  • Provide “incentives to promote private sector support for arts and culture” (85%).

Interim Report of Findings

The Value of Presenting: A Study of Arts Presentation in Canada

 Strategic Moves and CAPACOA, September 2012
Author: Inga Petri


In addition to providing a profile of performing arts presenters and summarizing research into arts attendance in Canada, this report examines potential benefits of the arts, including impacts on the quality of life, well-being, social engagement, health, education, and communities.

The Value of Presenting Study includes surveys of 288 Canadian performing arts presenters and 1,031 members of the public. The results show that both groups place considerable importance on many community benefits of performing arts presentation. For presenters, the top-ranked benefit is a “stronger sense of community identity/belonging”. For the public, the top-ranked benefit is “bringing energy and vitality”. 

Because the wording of the responses differed somewhat between the surveys of presenters and the public, the findings cannot be directly compared in some cases. However, the findings do suggest some interesting similarities and differences between how the two groups view community benefits of the arts.

There are some areas of agreement between presenters and the public. For example, the second-ranked benefit for presenters is a “more creative community” (52%). This benefit was ranked third out of 11 benefits by public respondents (37%). Similarly, the third-ranked benefit for presenters is “improved health/well-being of individuals/families” (30%), which was asked somewhat differently in the public survey, where 38% cited “improved quality of life and well-being” as a main benefit (ranking second).

There are also some differences in the survey results. The top-ranked benefit for presenters (a “stronger sense of community identity/belonging”) was cited as a key benefit by 76% of presenters. In comparison, only 15% of public respondents cited “stronger sense of identity” as a main benefit (ranking seventh among 11 possible community benefits). 

“Bringing energy and vitality” – the top-ranked benefit for the public – was cited as a main benefit by 42% of public respondents but was not asked of presenters. In addition, “greater economic development” was ranked much higher by the public (fourth out of 11 benefits) than presenters (sixth out of eight benefits).

The public survey also asked about personal benefits from attending the performing arts. From most to least common, the personal benefits are:

  • “Entertainment, fun” (cited as a main personal benefit by 84% of respondents).
  • “Emotional/spiritual/intellectual stimulation” (58%).
  • “Learn/experience something new” (57%).
  • “Exposure to different cultures” (45%).
  • “Opportunity to socialize with friends/meet people” (44%).
  • “A means of expressing myself/themselves” (27%).
  • “Learn about the past/understand the present” (25%).
  • Other (3%).
  • No benefit (3%).


The Arts and Individual Well-Being in Canada

Connections between Cultural Activities and Health, Volunteering, Satisfaction with Life, and Other Social Indicators in 2010

Hill Strategies Research, January 2013
Author: Kelly Hill


Based on Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey of 2010, an in-depth telephone survey of about 7,500 Canadians 15 years of age or older, this report examines the connections between cultural activities and eight social indicators. A key finding of the report is that participants in 18 cultural activities have significantly better results than non-participants for 101 out of 144 cross-tabulations with social indicators. Cultural participants have significantly worse results for only 10 of the cross-tabulations. 

Detailed results for six arts and culture activities are highlighted in the report: 

  • Art gallery attendance has a statistically significant connection with six of the eight social indicators.
  • Theatre attendance has a statistically significant connection with seven indicators.
  • Classical music attendance has a statistically significant connection with six indicators.
  • Pop music attendance has a statistically significant connection with seven indicators.
  • Cultural festival attendance has a statistically significant connection with five indicators.
  • Book reading has a statistically significant connection with five indicators.

The report also summarizes the results of statistical models of the connection between these six cultural activities and three indicators of individual well-being: self-reported health, volunteering, and self-reported satisfaction with life. These models examine whether “participation in these arts and culture activities has an association with social indicators above and beyond demographic information”. The key findings of the models follow:

  • Art gallery visits are associated with better health and higher volunteer rates.
  • Theatre attendance is associated with better health, volunteering, and strong satisfaction with life.
  • Classical music attendance is associated with higher volunteer rates and strong satisfaction with life.
  • Pop music attendance is associated with better health, volunteering, and strong satisfaction with life.
  • Attendance at cultural festivals is associated with better health, volunteering, and strong satisfaction with life.
  • Reading books is associated with better health, volunteering, and strong satisfaction with life.

Based on this evidence, the report concludes that “many arts goers have better health, higher volunteer rates, and stronger satisfaction with life”.

The report cautions that the statistical models do not contain all variables with a potential impact on the three indicators of well-being. Some questions, “such as the influence of smoking or alcohol consumption on health, were not available in the General Social Survey”.


Are variations in rates of attending cultural activities associated with population health in the United States?

BMC Public Health 2007, 7:226
Authors: Anna V. Wilkinson, Andrew J. Waters, Lars O. Bygren and Alvin R. Tarlov


Based on a survey of 1,244 American adults, this research article finds that there is “significant association between cultural activities and self-reported health (SRH)”, even controlling for demographic factors.

The statistical models prepared for the article show that age, marital status, social class, employment status, income level, education, and participation in cultural activities were all correlated with self-reported health. Furthermore, the research also found that “the more cultural activities people reported attending, the better was their SRH…. Each additional event attended was associated with a 12% … increased chance of reporting good/excellent health.”

On the other hand, the researchers note that the models do not show a statistically significant relationship between any single cultural event and self-reported health. “The results therefore are silent as to whether attending each type of event is particularly strongly associated with better health.”

The researchers discuss possible reasons why cultural activities might have positive health benefits:

  • “People frequently attend cultural events with friends; being part of a social group that provides social, emotional and instrumental support has positive health benefits.”
  • “The arts have been used for several decades as a therapeutic health-enhancing tool…. Music, art, and mental imagery can have a beneficial impact on both mental and physical health.”
  • Reduced levels of stress: It is “possible that attending cultural activities serves as a buffer against harmful stress, thereby lowering disease risk”. “Participating in leisure time activities is an effective mechanism of coping with stress and engaging in activities that are perceived to be meaningful may be particularly important during periods of stress.”

The researchers conclude that there is an association between cultural activities and health that should be investigated further. They recommend that future research “use longitudinal experimental methods and clinical end-points” to examine whether cultural participation does indeed have health benefits.


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The Arts Research Monitor is funded by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council.


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