Making a Holistic Case for the Arts

Canadian Evidence regarding the Relationship between the Arts and the Quality of Life, Well-being, Health, Education, Society, and the Economy

This literature review, conducted in May 2014, synthesized the findings of 46 Canadian research articles regarding the “holistic case for the arts, i.e., outcomes of the arts related to the quality of life, well-being, health, society, education, and the economy”. The report concluded that “there are a myriad of potential benefits of the arts”. That being said, the report cautions that “studies of causal links (rather than statistical associations) are very challenging to conduct”.

The literature review found that “research into the arts and health appears to be a burgeoning area, and many other projects have examined the arts and education, the economy, or the quality of community life”. However, “one focus area that appears to have less research is society and identity…. Other than public opinion surveys, it appears that no research has been conducted into the arts’ contribution to Canadian identity and its standing abroad.”

Regarding the arts and the quality of life, Canadian research has shown that “the arts can have ‘intrinsic benefits’ such as pleasure, stimulation, and meaning”. Canadian surveys have shown that the contribution of the arts to the quality of life appears to be supported by a large majority of the public. Many recent reports have focussed on public engagement in the arts, a concept that attempts to capture “a broader view of arts participation and connections between artists and the public”.

Concerning individual well-being and health, the literature review noted that recent Canadian research has found a strong correlation between arts participation, health, and well-being. In addition, a Vancouver project concerning seniors’ arts participation “demonstrated that participating seniors had an improved sense of well-being and social inclusion”. A separate literature review found that “the arts are important in Aboriginal health and well-being”.

The literature review found that “the arts help build various elements of social capital, including enhancing local creative capacity, pride, and relationships”, including in rural areas and Aboriginal communities. Regarding Aboriginal healing, the literature review noted that “participating in creative arts activities can support healing among Aboriginal people and contribute to their sense of identity”.

Regarding the arts and education, the report indicated that “a number of research efforts have shown a link between arts education and student engagement in the education system”. Specific Canadian studies reviewed in the report showed a link between structured theatre programs and “children’s confidence, social skills, and conflict resolution skills” as well as between “music and reading comprehension, students’ self-esteem, discipline, creativity, and musical ability”. An international report on arts education “argued that the acquisition of artistic skills and ways of thinking should be prioritized over other, ‘non-intrinsic’ benefits” of arts education.

At the time of publication of the literature review, information from the 2010 Canadian Culture Satellite Account was not yet available. As such, the literature review focussed on the preliminary estimate from 2009, which has since been updated. (A summary of the 2010 data is provided elsewhere in this issue of the Arts Research Monitor.)

The literature review noted that a number of reports have examined specific elements of the connection between the arts and the economy, including “consumer spending on culture, the economic impacts of cultural tourism, impacts of portions of the music industry, as well as provincial and local data” for certain jurisdictions and cultural sectors.

Not all of the research reviewed for the report showed a positive connection between the arts and economic or social growth. The literature review noted that “research has not consistently shown a connection between the arts and knowledge industries or overall employment growth, although a link has been posited”. In addition, a report for the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation found that “research findings on the innovation-related impacts of arts education are largely inconclusive throughout OECD countries, including Canada”.

Summary: 

This literature review, conducted in May 2014, synthesized the findings of 46 Canadian research articles regarding the “holistic case for the arts, i.e., outcomes of the arts related to the quality of life, well-being, health, society, education, and the economy”. The report concluded that “there are a myriad of potential benefits of the arts”. That being said, the report cautions that “studies of causal links (rather than statistical associations) are very challenging to conduct”.