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The value of arts and culture to people and society – an evidence review

October 15, 201415 October 2014

Economic, social, and health benefits of the arts

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This English literature review was intended as a summary of “the strength of the evidence base between 2010–13 about the economic, social, health and wellbeing, education, lifelong learning and environmental impacts and outcomes of arts and culture in England”. Based on the 90 reports examined, the literature review found that the “arts and culture play an important role in promoting social and economic goals through local regeneration, attracting tourists, the development of talent and innovation, improving health and wellbeing, and delivering essential services”.

The report organized the findings of the literature review, which examined only instrumental impacts of the arts, under four main themes: economy; health and well-being; society; and education.

Regarding the economy, the report indicated that “there are five key ways that arts and culture can boost local economies: attracting visitors; creating jobs and developing skills; attracting and retaining businesses; revitalising places; and developing talent”. The arts and culture industries “employed, on average, 110,600 full-time equivalent employees in the UK and 99,500 in England during the period 2008–11”, representing just under 0.5% of total employment. Thirty-two percent of all international visits to the U.K. involved arts and culture engagement.

Concerning health and well-being, the literature review found that “those who had attended a cultural place or event in the previous 12 months were almost 60 per cent more likely to report good health compared to those who had not”. Furthermore, “a higher frequency of engagement with arts and culture is generally associated with a higher level of subjective well-being”. The health-related benefits of the arts include positive impacts on a range of health and social conditions, including dementia, depression, Parkinson’s disease, loneliness, and anxiety.

The social benefits of the arts and culture include higher volunteering and voting rates, stronger employability, improved community cohesion, and reduced social isolation.

Education-related connections include improved literacy (via participation in drama and library activities) as well as improved math and literacy (via structured music activities). Among lower-income students, those “who take part in arts activities at school are three times more likely to get a degree” than those who do not take part in school-based arts activities. In general, the literature review found that “participation in structured arts activities increases cognitive abilities”.

The literature review also highlighted gaps in the evidence. Examples include: lack of causal proof of broader social impacts; a “need for larger sample sizes, longitudinal studies and experimental methods”; and lack of data on government savings through “preventative arts and culture interventions”.

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