What We Know And How Well We Know It

Createquity just released a valuable tool for arts advocates. They compiled the data from all the studies they could find to provide a comprehensive report on Everything We Know About Whether and How The Arts Improve Lives.

I haven’t had an opportunity to dig deeply into the data and ponder what it all means. What I find most helpful is their graphical depiction about where findings about the value of arts fall on two axis – how strong the quality of the evidence is and does the evidence indicate that a benefit exists.

So you can easily see that there is low evidence that cultural engagement can help encourage healing after traumatic events and that the quality of the evidence is weak. On the other hand there is strong evidence that arts participation in early childhood promotes social and emotional development.

The good news is that no survey found that there is an absence of benefit to the arts. Some people may be disappointed to learn that there is very mixed evidence, leaning toward negative, that arts education may improve scholastic attainment in terms of test scores, grades, etc and that the quality of the research backing that is very strong. As recently as 2016 research has “found no or minimal effects for arts and cultural participation or education on attainment measures.” Even the positive research say “overall, the impact of arts participation on academic learning appears to be positive but low.”

I had heard things along these lines and had started collecting information to verify if this might be the case and assess how valid the findings were. Fortunately, the folks at Createquity have done a lot of the heavy lifting in this regard.

Despite what may seem like disheartening news, a large amount of the findings fall into the “evidence that a benefit exists” category with many having medium to high quality levels of research in support of the findings. Many of those in the low quality evidence sector are only there due to lack of research on the subject.

Createquity admits this project is a work in process. As more evidence emerges, they will update it. If they find that the basic premises and interpretations of the researchers is flawed, they will revise the materials.

So often we hear about so many different research findings about the arts it is difficult to assess the value of the findings. Createquity provides a much needed degree of clarity by putting the research on a continuum. Advocacy becomes much easier when you know what you are saying is corroborated with evidence and you know just how strong the evidence is.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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