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Outcomes of cultural participation

Measuring Cultural Engagement amid Confounding Variables

August 20, 201420 August 2014

Special Issue: Arts participation and engagement

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Beyond simple attendance rates, what can be said of the outcomes of cultural participation? Are there relationships and connections that have broader social impacts?

Symposium participants were told of the Gallup World Poll, a new concept of wellbeing that goes beyond traditional economic indicators to capture (via worldwide surveys and in-person interviews) five key components of wellbeing: career and purpose; social wellbeing; financial wellbeing; physical wellbeing; and community wellbeing.

While the arts and culture do not figure prominently in the Gallup World Poll, one participant noted that a recent Italian study found a direct correlation between cultural consumption and individual wellbeing. A symposium speaker indicated that Canadian research has shown strong correlations between arts participation and positive social outcomes. Participants were also told that, among recent immigrants, social networks are strengthened by arts and culture activities. Another participant argued that the arts and culture build capacity for resilience and the capacity to face crises.

The key question of outcomes research, as phrased by one speaker, is “How do we think about healthy places?” This question includes but transcends questions concerning the health of the arts field itself. The broader question of healthy communities can help make connections with a variety of public policy goals.

Participants were reminded that the power of culture lies in the aesthetic experience. However, the arts are not the only type of special experiences, and there are no automatic correlations between arts participation and positive social outcomes. In-depth research must be undertaken in order to understand how aesthetic experiences might impact broader social outcomes.

Additional information about the event, as captured in participants’ tweets, can be found by searching for #NEACVP on twitter. In the near future, the National Endowment for the Arts will release podcasts of the symposium. A fuller report will also be prepared.

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