Impact of the Arts on Canadian Life

  1. Pleasure
  2. Community development and social cohesion
  3. Local identity and image
  4. Youth and education
  5. Civic support for public spending on the arts
  6. Arts Participation
  7. Health
  8. Economic development
  9. Personal skills and knowledge
  10. Municipal planning

A) Pleasure

The benefits that can be derived individually and as a society from the arts are many and varied. All of these sometimes make us forget that the principal benefit from being around works of art is quite simply pleasure!

  • "Reading was my escape and my comfort, my consolation, my stimulant of choice: reading for the pure pleasure of it, for the beautiful stillness that surrounds you when you hear an author's words reverberating in your head.” – Paul Auster, Brooklyn Follies
  • “Music … it’s one of the gifts of life, it exists to comfort us, to reward us. It helps you to live.” (transl) – Michel Tremblay
  • “Dancing is the loftiest, the most moving, the most beautiful of the arts, because it is no mere translation or abstraction from life; it is life itself.” – Henry Havelock Ellis
  • “I have told myself a hundred times that painting – that is, the material thing called a painting – is no more than a pretext, the bridge between the mind of the painter and the mind of the spectator.” – Eugène Delacroix

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B) Community development and social cohesion

The arts can be an incredible force for the development of a community. Whether they act directly through social programs associated with artists or indirectly by encouraging the civic participation of individuals, the arts have a unique role to play in community development.

  • 2.9% of household spending
  • $841 per person
  • A 28% increase  between 1997 and 2008 (after adjustment for inflation)
  • an increase which is double the Canadian population growth.

Community empowerment

In an important analysis of the effects of civic participation in arts activities (Use or Ornament? The Social Impact of Participation in the Arts) in 1997, British researcher François Matarasso demonstrates that participation in an arts activity can have a whole range of effects on the autonomy of a community:

  • Home-based entertainment: $15.4 billion (56 % of total)
  • Reading materials: $4.8 billion (18 %)
  • Art works and events: $3.1 billion (11 %)
  • Photographic materials and services: $1.8 billion (6 %)
  • Movie tickets: $1.2 billion (4 %)
  • Art supplies and musical instruments: $1.1 billion (4 %)

Social cohesion

In the same study, Matarasso looks at the effect of artistic participation on social cohesion. Arts projects provide neutral places that all for socialization on a level playing field. They also allow diverse social groups to interact. Following are the benefits to be derived from participation in arts projects at the level of social cohesion:

  • Reduce isolation by helping people to make friends
  • Develop community networks and sociability
  • Promote tolerance and contribute to conflict resolution
  • Provide a forum for intercultural understanding and friendship
  • Help validate the contribution of a whole community
  • Promote intercultural contact and co-operation
  • Develop contact between the generations
  • Help offenders and victims address issues of crime
  • Provide a route to rehabilitation and integration for offenders


The arts can contribute to mobilizing a community. The site Making the Case – Arts and Positive Change in Communities, at Creative City Network of Canada identifies five benefits of the arts as a vector of change within communities:

  • The arts are one of the principal means of engaging public dialogue
  • The arts contribute to the development of communities of creative learning
  • The arts support the creation of healthy communities that can take action
  • The arts can be a powerful tool for community mobilization and activism
  • The arts help to forge skills and leadership in the community

Social engagement

Social Effects of Culture: detailed statistical models (Hill Strategies, July 2008) succeeded in proving the effect of cultural activities on various social behaviours such as volunteering or having a sense of belonging.

This study by Hill Strategies derives its validity from the fact that it compares individuals sharing the same demographic characteristics, which means that the discriminating variable is well and truly attendance at cultural events, and not variables like age or income.

  • Volunteering: Canadians who attended a classical music concert are 47% more likely to do volunteer work than those who did not. Figures are 46% for theatre and 29% for reading books.
  • Donations: Canadians who have read a book are 50% more likely to make donations than those who have not. The same goes for filmgoers (42%) and theatre goers (41%).
  • Neighbourliness: Canadians who have visited a public art gallery are 26% more likely to help out a neighbour than those who have not.

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C) Local identity and image

The ability to define oneself rather than allowing others to do it for us is one of the advantages offered by the arts.

British researcher François Matarasso showed in Use or Ornament? The Social Impact of Participation in the Arts that participating in arts projects can have a significant influence on citizens’ feeling of belonging. He identifies eight potential spinoffs of participation in the arts : 

  • Develop pride in local traditions and cultures
  • Help people feel a sense of belonging and involvement
  • Create community traditions in new towns or neighbourhoods
  • Involve residents in environmental improvements
  • Provide reasons for people to develop community activities
  • Improve perceptions of marginalised groups
  • Help transform the image of public bodies
  • Make people feel better about where they live

On the Making the Case – Building Community Identity and Pride website, the Creative City Network of Canada says that the arts play an essential role in social cohesion since they incite tourists to take the time to visit, create a feeling of belonging and contribute to preserving the collective memory. The Network identifies the three following impacts concerning local identity:

  • Arts and culture can be used to brand a community and set it apart from others.
  • The arts can help foster a sense of ownership, belonging and pride within a community.
  • The arts help to preserve a collective memory and foster a continuing dialogue about the past.

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D) Youth and education

The relationship between the arts and academic success has been the focus of several studies. Numerous works, in the United States primarily, show that the arts play a unique role in schools and more generally, they influence the development of youth. Here are some highlights from these studies:

British researcher François Matarasso showed in Use or Ornament? The Social Impact of Participation in the Arts that participating in arts projects can have a significant influence on citizens' feeling of belonging. He identifies eight potential spinoffs of participation in the arts : 

Major Findings

In a document published in 2009, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, based in Washington, presented three points explaining the great advantages of the arts in the school system:

  • Educational research shows that children who study the arts demonstrate stron­ger overall academic performance. With education a top public policy priority, the role of the arts in learning is of increasing interest to parents, educators, leg­islators, civic leaders and business owners.
  • Arts programs improve students’ self-confidence, build communication and prob­lem-solving skills in children and teens, and prepare young people to be the resourceful and creative problem solvers that employers seek for today’s work force.
  • The arts develop the kinds of innovative minds and creative skills drawn upon by the entertainment, advertising, design, technical, scientific and other industries that enable businesses to compete successfully in the 21st century workplace.

The arts and academic success

Challenged to demonstrate the positive effects of the arts on school results, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies published Critical Evidence (2006). Here are some of the research results it contains:

  • In a well-documented national study using a federal database of over 25,000 middle and high school students, researchers found students with high arts involvement performed better on standardized achievement tests than students with low arts involvement. Moreover, the high arts-involved students also watched fewer hours of TV, participated in more community service and reported less boredom in school.
  • A study found that the development of literacy skills among pre-kindergarteners was fostered when the children were allowed to act out their favourite stories. Dramatic play also helped motivate them to learn.
  • Students consistently involved in orchestra or band during their middle and high school years performed better in math at Grade 12. The results were even more pronounced when comparing students from low-income families. Those who were involved in orchestra or band were more than twice as likely to perform at the highest levels in math as their peers who were not involved in music.
  • Students at risk of not successfully completing their high school educations cite their participation in the arts as reasons for staying in school. Factors related to the arts that positively affected the motivation of these students included a supportive environment that promotes constructive acceptance of criticism and one where it is safe to take risks.

Other studies

The Arts Research Monitor summarizes a number of studies in this area within the last few years that reinforce the statements above.

There are also several studies on the connections between the arts and education. Arts Integration Frameworks, Research & Practice: A Literature Reviewby Gail Burnaford (Arts Education Partnerships, 2007) gives access to summaries of these studies. Appendices A and B allow us to find studies according to the benefit sought (motivation, reading ability, etc.) or according to arts discipline.

Arts and open-mindedness

During a conference on the arts and education held in Los Angeles in 2000, Professor Elliot Eisner from Stanford University captured attention by presenting the 10 lessons the arts teach children:

  1. How to make good judgments about qualitative relationships. In most subjects, correct answers and rules prevail. The arts teach judgement judgment.
  2. Problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer.
  3. There are many ways to see and interpret the world, and that we should celebrate multiple perspectives.
  4. In complex forms of problem solving, purposes are seldom fixed, but change with circumstance and opportunity. To learn in the arts, students need to be able and willing to surrender to the unanticipated possibilities of the work as it unfolds.
  5. Words do not, in their literal form or number, exhaust what we can know. The limits of our language do not define the limits of our cognition.
  6.  Small differences can have large effects. The arts traffic in subtleties.
  7. How to think through and within a material. All art forms use some way to make images become real.
  8. How to say what cannot be said. When children are asked what a work of art helps them feel, they must reach into their poetic capacities to find the words that will do the job.
  9. The arts enable us to have experience we can have from no other source and through such experience to discover the range and variety of what we are capable of feeling.
  10. The arts' position in the school curriculum symbolizes to the young what adults believe is important.

Youth in the city

Beyond the education system, the arts also play a role in the inclusion of youth in society. The Creative City Network of Canada on its site Making the Case for Culture identifies six benefits of the arts for promoting the inclusion of youth :

  1. The arts are an effective outreach tool to engage youth.
  2. Learning in and through the arts enhances learning in other domains and general scholastic achievement.
  3. The arts build resilience and self-esteem in young people.
  4. The arts contribute to creating healthy and supportive communities for youth.
  5. The arts help in the successful transition to adulthood and the development of in-demand job skills.
  6. The arts offer opportunities for youth leadership development and for youth to affect positive change in their communities.

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E) Civic support for public spending on the arts

Canadians throughout the country continue to place a high importance on arts.

An Ipsos Reid survey conducted in 2005 showed that 94% of Albertans believe that a wide availability and variety of cultural activities make their province a better place to live.

A survey conducted as part of the New Brunswick pilot project Building public engagement in the arts [PDF, 1.7 MB] (on which the Council is a partner) showed the importance of the arts for the public.

  • 80% of New Brunswickers said that the arts were somewhat or very important for their quality of life (compared to 20% who said they were not very or not at all important);
  • 89% said the arts were somewhat or very important for their community;
  • 85% said that government funding of the arts in their community was somewhat or very important.

For the question on the quality of personal and family life, the most positive responses were from households earning less than $25,000 per year and those earning more than $75,000 per year (35% said ‘very important’ in both cases), which illustrates the range of support for culture in the country.

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F) Arts Participation

Les arts et la ville website, sums up the benefits of amateur art practice:

  • By allowing individuals to familiarize themselves with the codes of artistic disciplines, amateur art practices can make art more accessible. The practice of recreational art activities can influence the frequency and diversity of artistic and cultural consumption. Even more, it has been demonstrated that amateur art activities promote the development of sociability, creativity, judgment, self-esteem and communications skills.

The Compendium paints the following portrait of amateur art practice in Canada:

  • According to a public opinion survey, approximately 78% of the population aged 15 and up participated in at least one of nine artistic or cultural activities in 2000. Figures range from 40% (using a computer to design or draw) to 11% for volunteering or becoming a member in an arts organisation.
  • Approximately 68% aged 15 and up participated in at least one of four heritage-related activities in the last year, ranging from 55% for reading historical material to 6% for belonging to a heritage or historical society.
  • Those with children in the home and those with higher levels of education are more likely to participate in artistic / creative activities than those who are without.
  • Younger people between the ages of 15 and 24 are more likely to report participation in most activities.
  • 95 % of Canadians feel that to relax and enjoy oneself is a very (65%) or somewhat (30%) important reason for participating in artistic or cultural activities. Other reasons are: to learn new things or to improve skills (87%), to work or share something with others (83%) and to express oneself (75%). Artistic activities are also considered to be a way of connecting with one's cultural or ethnic background (53%) (Environics 2000).

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G) Health

Along with education, health is area with the greatest number of studies that make positive connections with the arts. Here is a review of the major benefits.

Youth in the city

  • The Society for the Arts in Healthcare in the US published State of the Field Report: Arts in Healthcare / 2009. This very comprehensive report presents the results of research on the impact of art in the hospitals. Here are some examples of the benefits by artistic discipline:


  • Decreased use of sedatives during procedures.
  • Decreased anxiety, depression and mood disturbances in patients undergoing stem cell transplant.
  • Decreased stress behaviours in infants and toddlers who were hospitalized.

Visual arts

  • The visual arts offers a means of non-verbal communication, often bringing order and clarity to mixed-up, poorly understood feelings.
  • First year medical students who participated in art appreciation classes, which involved describing photographs of dermatological lesions, significantly improved their observational skills.


  • Hospital gardens provide restorative and calming nature views as well as reduce stress. A survey found out that 95% of patients who used a garden at a San Francisco hospital reported a change in mood.


  • Improved lung function in high school-aged students, college students, and adults with asthma after written emotional expression.
  • Decreased visits to physicians and reduced symptom complaints.
  • Reduced levels of depression in individuals who were guided to read selected fiction, poetry or literature (compared to individuals in a control group who did not participate in the guided reading).

Indirect benefits

In a major analysis of the effects of civic participation in arts events (Use or Ornament? The Social Impact of Participation in the Arts (1997), British researcher François Matarasso wanted to avoid projects linked to the health field because of the abundant documentation already available on the subject. Despite this, the projects analysed revealed that participation in arts activities can:

  • Have a positive impact on how people feel
  • Be an effective means of health education
  • Contribute to a more relaxed atmosphere in health centres
  • Help improve the quality of life of people with poor health
  • Provide a unique and deep source of enjoyment


A study produced by the Arts Council England in 2006 on the benefits of dance, Dance in Health: The Benefits for People of All Ages, shows the preventive possibilities offered by the discipline. The study shows that dance is especially beneficial for certain groups that have problems in practicing more common sports, including young women, the elderly and cultural communities. Some advantages are obvious (muscular strength, cardiovascular health, better flexibility, better balance, etc.), while other findings were more surprising, such as the fact that dance can play a role in changing attitudes toward issues like teenage pregnancy and drug abuse.

Senior health

In a conference on seniors and creativity held in 2005, the National Endowment for the Arts indicated the contribution of the arts to health care for the elderly:

“The arts help to humanize healthcare environments, and serve older Americans and caregivers as powerful aids in times of emotional vulnerability by bringing beauty into the stress-filled healthcare world. The arts provide older adults with a new appreciation of their innate ability to express themselves and a safe outlet for their emotions. The arts touch spirits that seek solace and encouragement. The arts help to celebrate and build community. Shared arts experiences strengthen communication and relationships between generations -- older adults, their families and caregivers. Creating and experiencing art produces a rejuvenating affect on everyone involved thereby celebrating and nurturing the entire community.”

The arts and the disabled

In a report commissioned by the Government of Scotland, Janet Ruiz summarized three ways that the arts benefit disabled persons:

  • participation can reduce isolation
  • increase social networks and
  • enhance quality of life

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H) Economic development

“The quality of a community’s cultural infrastructure also has a direct impact on quality of life and therefore on the competitiveness of communities in attracting people and investment.” (From Bronze to Gold, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, February 2006).

As the quote illustrates, the business community recognizes, more and more, the role of the arts sector in Canada’s economic development.  Here are some studies that look at the economic benefits of the arts:

Major findings

In a document published in 2009, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, based in Washington, presented the economic potential of the arts in four points:

  • Cultural development plays a central role in urban revitalization and community renewal strategies.
  • The arts attract businesses, visitors and new residents, contributing to increased tax revenues.
  • Cultural offerings enhance the market appeal of an area. In the new economy, business success depends on an ability to recruit skilled knowledge workers. The arts and cultural offerings of a region are often considered by companies and workers when deciding where to relocate.
  • The arts attract tourism dollars. Public support of cultural tourism plays a critical role in community revitalization as well as the expansion of tourism – one of the fastest-growing economic markets in the country today.

Artists and innovation

In 2008 the British organization NESTA published the study Fine arts graduates and innovation policy briefing. The study surveyed more than 500 fine-arts graduates from the 1950s on and showed how they have contributed to innovation in businesses:

  • They characterise themselves as brokers across disciplines, taking insights and techniques from one field and translating them creatively into another. These interpretive skills are central to the creation of new, usable knowledge.
  • The ability to take tacit or implicit knowledge or experiences, for example, and creatively transform them into usable products and services is at the heart of successful innovative firms.

Economic recovery

In an opinion letter published in 2009, (Investing in arts and culture: A rapid, effective and far-sighted response to recession) Simon Brault, Chair of Culture Montréal, discussed how spending in the arts can help recovery from the financial and economic crisis of autumn 2008.

  • “Let us be clear: it would be a mistake to try and take advantage of the cultural sector’s potential in speeding economic recovery while merely maintaining current levels of funding. The potential is far greater. Cultural activities are uniquely positioned to reduce the period between funding and expenditure, thereby making an immediate contribution to stimulating the economy: they are highly labour-intensive, rely only minimally on imported goods and services, and take place throughout the country. It is, therefore, important to not only increase funding for cultural and heritage infrastructure, but for cultural activities themselves – in other words, in training, creation, production, conservation, distribution and export.”
  • Compared to other sectors, arts and culture have the capacity to rapidly respond to these imperatives. Increased public expenditures in the sector – which employed nearly half a million workers in 2006 – represent an effective and rapid means to support employment and create new jobs across the country. Like many other knowledge industries, the cultural sector is a dynamic one that depends above all on a creative and productive workforce, rather than on specialized equipment. Expenditures in this sector constitute a very valuable investment, as they contribute to the development of lasting expertise that is both highly sought-after and exportable.
  • Further, investment in the arts and culture results in maximum impact on the Canadian economy because the sector consumes primarily domestic goods and services. The expertise and equipment directly and indirectly required for artistic creation, production, and distribution in all areas of culture are available within Canada. All across the country – from Montreal to Vancouver, in Stratford, Moncton, Saskatoon and Kamloops – well-structured and efficiently organized artistic and cultural organizations, supported federally by proven funding programs, stand ready to immediately launch projects that they have been unable to proceed with because of a lack of funds. It is clear that massive investments in this sector will accelerate the flow of money – which is essential during a recession – and increase its share of GDP, which stood at 7.4% in 2007.”

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I) Personal skills and knowledge

Because of the confidence or self-awareness it can provide, artistic participation has a deep and lastingeffect on personal development.

In a major analysis of the effects of civic participation in arts activities published in 1997 (Use or Ornament? The Social Impact of Participation in the Arts, British researcher François Matarasso showed the effects of participation on personal development:

  • Increase self-confidence and sense of self-worth
  • Extend involvement in social activity
  • Give people influence over how they are seen by others
  • Stimulate interest and confidence in the arts
  • Provide a forum to explore personal rights and responsibilities
  • Contribute to children’s educational development
  • Encourage adults to take advantage of education and training opportunities
  • Help build new skills and work experience
  • Contribute to people’s employability
  • Help people begin or develop their careers in the arts

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J) Municipal planning

While it seems obvious that artists have a lot to contribute to public areas like urban planning, we do not automatically think of their contribution to the planning of social programs. Will they help us to “dream better,” to use the expression of singer Daniel Bélanger?

In his study (Use or Ornament? The Social Impact of Participation in the Arts , British researcher François Matarasso showed that the effects of participation in artistic projects can lead to a series of useful consequences for public planning:

  • Help people develop their creativity
  • Allow people to explore their values, meanings and dreams
  • Enrich the practice of professionals in the public and voluntary sectors
  • Transform the responsiveness of public service organizations
  • Encourage people to accept risk positively
  • Help community groups extend their vision beyond the immediate
  • Challenge conventional service delivery
  • Raise expectations about what is possible and desirable

Matarasso concludes that “participatory arts projects are essential components of successful social policy, helping to turn houses into homes. They can open critical dialogue between service users and providers, and avert costly mistakes. They involve people missed by other initiatives and introduce creativity, meaning and communication into the equation. They offer flexible, responsive and cost-effective solutions: a creative, not a soft option. Social policy would benefit from a marginal repositioning of priorities to make use of them.”

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