The National Arts & Youth Demonstration Project summarizes the results of research into the impact of selected community-based arts programs on children in low-income communities in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver, and a rural town in Ontario. A total of 183 children between 10 and 15 years of age (most of whom were 10 and 11) participated in structured arts instruction, largely theatre-based programs, twice a week over a nine-month period.
Many of the participants were from diverse cultural and ethnic groups, and many came from families with household incomes less than $20,000. Two-thirds of the participants were female. Program managers worked to remove access barriers for these children and to offer "high quality arts programs with a focus on cooperation, conflict resolution and respect for others". The report stresses that the arts programming offered was "structured, cumulative and high-quality", using qualified and supportive arts instructors and incorporating on-going parental involvement.
Based on attendance forms, skills forms completed by research assistants, questionnaires of the children and their parents, school records and interviews, the report finds that the children showed statistically significant improvement in all four categories of direct outcomes related to psychosocial functioning: program participation and enjoyment; arts skills development; task completion; and pro-social skills.
Regarding the "intermediate outcome" of conduct problems and anti-social behaviour, the report finds that the participating children showed a decrease in conduct problems but that this change was not significantly different from age-related changes experienced by a control group of children. The study did find that "engaging boys in art programming may have [particular] benefits in reducing behavioural problems".
Regarding emotional problems, the report shows a "statistically significant decrease in the emotional problems outcome of the participants" when compared to a control group. In addition, compared with other children, arts program participants did not experience the same increase in emotional problems as they progressed through their teen years. Research interviews indicated that benefits to participation included: "increased confidence; improved interpersonal skills; improved conflict resolution skills; improved problem-solving skills; and skills acquisition in arts activities". Among parents, a more positive community feeling developed.
The report outlines the problems experienced by program staff, the need to increase access to arts activities, the need to measure and evaluate arts program outcomes, some desirable elements of arts education programs, and potential research directions.
The report also notes that "stable funding is necessary for building the expertise of community-based arts organizations in developing, implementing and evaluating art programs that are focused on child development and the acquisition of art skills". The report concludes that "community-based art programs are not only beneficial because they expose children and youth to the skills and creativity of the arts but because they also have the potential of contributing to their overall well-being as promising child development initiatives".