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The Values Study: Rediscovering the Meaning and Value of Arts Participation

October 18, 200518 October 2005

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This report is based on online surveys, arts participation profiles of 100 Connecticut citizens, and interviews of randomly-recruited arts program participants by arts administrators and board members. This research “process was designed to juxtapose existing programs with consumer values, and sparked a statewide discussion about mission, relevance and public value” of the arts. An understanding of the complexity of arts participation in Connecticut was developed, as were “new frameworks about how consumers engage in and benefit from arts activities” in the visual arts, music, dance and theater.

Some of the many themes of the report include: the clear impact of childhood arts experiences on adult participation and overall quality of life; the interrelatedness of the arts ecosystem; the ways in which people access one artform through another; the fact that people derive significant value from personal curating; and how “personal connections with artists can bridge a relevance gap and ignite latent arts interests and inspire participation”.

The report argues that “a new framework for building public value around arts activities [should be] centered around benefits to the individual rather than one that responds to the artistic vision and financial needs of arts organizations”. In attempting to develop this new framework, the report provides a map of an individual’s arts activities, including five modes of participation:

  • Inventive arts participation, where participants have the highest level of creative control, “engages the mind, body and spirit in an act of artistic creation that is unique and idiosyncratic, regardless of skill level”;
  • Interpretive arts participation “is a creative act of self-expression that brings alive and adds value to pre-existing works of art”;
  • Curatorial arts participation “is the creative act of purposefully selecting, organizing and collecting art to the satisfaction of one’s own artistic sensibility”;
  • Observational arts participation “encompasses arts experiences that an individual selects or consents to, motivated by some expectation of value”; and
  • Ambient arts participation, where participants have the lowest level of creative control, “involves experiencing art, consciously or subconsciously, that is not purposefully selected”.

The report provides an “involvement framework” – a guide based on the four disciplines and five modes of participation examined – that could be used to map an individual’s arts involvement or the availability of arts activities in a community.

Regarding the question “why do people participate in arts activities?”, the report identifies and describes cognitive, aesthetic, physical, emotional, socio-cultural, political and spiritual values involved in arts participation. In addition, an overarching “identity formation” value set (self-confidence, self-esteem, pride and dignity) is identified in the research. The report provides examples of how this “value framework” could be used, from the experience of sitting on a decorative public bench to seeing a Broadway show to performing with a symphony.

This report, which was not cited in the RAND literature review, provides a substantial framework for examining the intrinsic value of the arts. The report also provides “five strategies for adding value” to the arts experience: 1) better understanding and selling of the value that people derive from programs; 2) improved access to programs; 3) “value-added features that tap into additional value sets”; 4) the creation of relevance at new levels (the specific work of art, specific artists, the discipline, the presenting institution, the relevance of the activity category, social relevance or cultural relevance); and 5) the design and delivery of new programs and partnerships with other organizations that fill specific value needs.

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