How the Arts Impact Communities
IMA`S as a private institution seeks innovative ways to employ the arts to improve and strengthen communities, it has become increasingly interested in assessing the impact of its investments. In this context, arts advocates and researchers have made a variety of ambitious claims about how the arts impact communities. These claims, however, are made problematic by the many complications involved in studying the arts. Just consider the possible definitions of the phrase, “the arts impact communities.” When speaking of “the arts,” do we refer to individual participation (as audience member or direct involvement?), to the presence of arts organizations or to art/cultural districts, festivals or community arts? When speaking of “impact,” do we refer to economic, cultural or social impact; do we refer exclusively to direct community-level effects or do we also include individual- and organizational-level ones? By “communities,” do we mean regions, cities, neighborhoods, schools or ethnic groups? Of course, there are no authoritative answers to these questions, since different research questions require different definitions. And as one might expect, arts impact studies employ these heterogeneous definitions in a variety of combinations. Given this array of definitions, how would we go about measuring the impact of the arts on communities? One problem is that researchers and arts advocates rarely seem to consider such complications when making claims about the broader impact of the arts, and seldom discuss the implications of making particular theoretical and methodological choices. In this context, we will lay out some of the issues that need to be addressed when thinking about and studying how the arts impact communities, in addition to providing an introduction to the literature on arts impact studies. We begin discussing the mechanisms through which the arts are said to have an impact.
The arts have been heralded as a panacea for all kinds of problems Arts integrated school curricula supposedly improve academic performance and student discipline (Fiske 1999; Remer 1990). The arts revitalize neighborhoods and promote economic prosperity (Costello 1998; SCDCAC 2001; Stanziola 1999; Walesh 2001). Participation in the arts improves physical and psychological well-being (Baklien 2000; Ball and Keating 2002; Bygren, Konlaan and Johansson 1996; Turner and Senior 2000). The arts provide a catalyst for the creation of social capital and the attainment of important community goals (Goss 2000; Matarasso 1997; Williams 1995). Given these claims, the question arises of how to elaborate the causal mechanisms through which the arts have an impact (i.e., the intervening factors that connect a particular arts activity with a specific outcome). Below is a grid that lays out two dimensions that will help in thinking about this.
The rows represent three aspects of the arts typically highlighted in the literature: direct involvement in arts organizations, especially that which entails personal engagement in some form of creative activity (most often associated with community arts programs and the use of the arts in education); participation in the arts as an audience member (mostly associated with cognitive ability, cultural capital and health improvement arguments, as well as economic impact studies of the arts – i.e., whether the arts have an economic impact by drawing audience money from outside the community); and the presence of arts organizations in a community (mostly associated with economic impact studies and social capital arguments).
Presence of arts organizations in a community mostly associated with economic impact ,studies and social capital arguments.