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Understanding the Value and Impacts of Cultural Experiences: A Literature Review

November 12, 201412 November 2014

Arts participation and engagement

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This English review of “academically-robust research and influential policy papers from the past twenty years” examines two streams of research about the value and impact of cultural experiences: “1) how individuals benefit from attending and participating in cultural programmes and activities; and 2) the creative capacities of arts and cultural organisations to bring forth impactful programmes”.

The report organizes its review of individual benefits by research methodology:

  • Post-event surveying has provided insights into aspects of individual impacts including engagement, connection, emotion, learning, thinking, aesthetic growth, creative stimulation, social connectedness, and sense of belonging. Limits to post-event surveys include “limited comparability across events and locations” as well as failing to capture longer-term effects.
  • Qualitative post-event research “allows interviewees to express themselves in their own terms” and may allow them to speak more freely about mixed or negative reactions. However, “the results of qualitative studies are not replicable, independently verifiable, or refutable”.
  • Longitudinal studies and retrospective identification of impactful events have attempted to identify “the role that cultural participation plays within the larger scope of people’s lives”, including self-awareness, expanded worldviews, well-being, and self-expression.
  • Regarding physiological and psychometric responses, the authors indicate that knowledge of the relationship between biological functions and aesthetic experiences “will be of considerable value in advancing our conceptual understanding of individual impacts”.

The report identifies a host of questions for future research concerning individual impacts, including: How much culture is enough to generate individual impacts?; Are there impact indicators that “are universal to all kinds of cultural experiences”?; and How do impacts change as an individual’s “knowledge and experience with an artform or domain increases”?

The report defines the creative capacities of cultural organizations as their “ability to conceptualise and present excellent programmes that engage participants in culturally valuable, impactful experiences”. Core elements of organizations’ creative capacities include “clarity of intent”, “risk-taking”, “community relevance”, “excellence in curating”, “capacity to innovate”, “technical proficiency, skill and artistry”, “capacity to engage audiences”, as well as “critical feedback and commitment to continuous improvement”. Secondary elements of creative capacity include “supportive networks” and “sufficient risk capital”.

The report concludes that “while individual experiences are the building blocks of the value system, the literature agrees that cumulative impacts – the effects of a lifetime of involvement in arts and culture – are the fuel for larger societal outcomes”. In this context, “the dearth of research on cumulative impacts of cultural experiences on individuals (and their families) is particularly disconcerting”.

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