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The evidence base for arts and culture policy: A brief review of selected recent literature

Key Message

"Studies show that the use of arts can cause positive physiological and psychological changes in clinical outcomes; reduce drug consumption; reduce length of stay in hospital; increase job satisfaction; improve doctor-patient relationships; improve mental healthcare; develop health practitioners empathy across gender and cultural diversity.”

“Evaluations of recent public interventions using the arts in school education have found strong evidence that these produce benefits for pupils in terms of personal development (for example, self esteem, self confidence, social skills, awareness of others), affective outcomes (e.g. enjoyment, pride, sense of achievement) and academic attainment.”


Galloway, S. (2008). The evidence base for arts and culture policy: A brief review of selected recent literature. Edinburgh, Scotland: Scottish Arts Council.


1.01 This brief literature scan, covering the period 2004 2007, reviews some of the key research evidence about the contribution of culture to the Scottish Government’s five strategic objectives: Wealthier and Fairer, Healthier, Safer and Stronger, Smarter and Greener.

1.2 It is not a comprehensive appraisal of the evidence base but presents the findings of selected key literature added to the Scottish Government’s Impact Database since February 2004, when The literature review of the evidence base for culture, the arts and sports policy by Janet Ruiz was published. It concentrates on the areas where Ruiz identified an evidence gap and highlights remaining gaps.

1.3 It adopts the definition used by Ruiz: “Museums, galleries, libraries, theatre, literature, music, dance, festivals, crafts, exhibitions, film/video, art classes (i.e. in schools), design (i.e. in hospitals) and leisure activities (i.e. reading, playing a musical instrument, going to the cinema etc” (Ruiz, 2004:16). It does not cover sport.

1.4 Of necessity the review is highly selective and both this summary and the report should be read with this in mind. The determination of which research subjects fit with the government s strategic objectives has also been fairly strict.


Strategic Objective 1: Wealthier and fairer
Enable businesses and people to increase their wealth and more people to share fairly in that wealth

2.3 The focus of recent public policy, and research, has been on the economic importance and wealth generating potential of the creative sector rather than on how this wealth is shared (the fairer part of the strategic objective). Research Output reflects the prevalence in public policy of creative industries/creative economy thinking and interest in the role of culture in regeneration.

2.4 Recently published work provides a good body of evidence about the employment and economic value of the creative sectors at European and UK level (conceptual and methodological issues not withstanding). The creative industries are estimated to account for 7.3% of the UK economy, comparable in size to the financial services industry, and to employ directly 1 million people (The Work Foundation, 2007).

2.5 There is a growing body of evidence about the effects of culture on environmental, economic and social regeneration, and this goes well beyond mere boosterism (Landry et al, 2004). However there are limitations to this evidence base, key issues being sustainability and the question of cultural impact, and a longer term approach to evaluating cultural and social impacts has been called for. Methods for measuring these are considered underdeveloped and a range of barriers to improving the range and quality of evidence through improved evaluation work has been identified.

2.6 The question of whether the wealth generated by Scotland s creative sector is shared fairly presents a new field of inquiry for cultural research.

In addition, authors identify persistent gaps in relation to:
A comprehensive evaluation model for large scale culture led regeneration, involving for example, major events and flagship cultural venues; the sustainability of impacts; the evaluation of cultural impacts (rarely considered) and how these interact with social and economic impacts; longitudinal comparative research of culture-led regeneration initiatives; the effects of visual arts on individuals, communities, localities.

Strategic Objective 2: Healthier
Help people to sustain and improve their health, especially in disadvantaged communities, ensuring better, local and faster access to health care.

2.7 Arts and health has emerged as a key policy priority over the past few years, reflected in research commissioning. Recent research focuses on the first part of the strategic objective, health improvement.

2.8 There is now a strong body of work on arts and health, mainly in the form of literature and systematic reviews. The main focus of these is on the art in clinical settings and the role of the arts in mental health and community health. They present clear and reliable evidence about a range of positive clinical outcomes
attributable to the arts in healthcare settings. Studies show that the use of arts can cause positive physiological and psychological changes in clinical outcomes; reduce drug consumption; reduce length of stay in hospital; increase job satisfaction; improve doctor-patient relationships; improve mental healthcare; and develop health practitioners empathy across gender and cultural diversity.

2.9 Arising from the UK government s Social Inclusion agenda, progress has been made over the past few years in reviewing and moving forward the evidence base for the arts in the field of mental health. The first large scale evaluation undertaken in the UK using validated psychological measures (Anglia Ruskin/UCLan, 2007) found strong evidence that arts participation contributes to empowerment, mental health and social inclusion and that these gains are greater for individuals with clinically significant mental health issues.

2.10 Research gaps identified by the literature include:
the impact on health in community settings (i.e. non-clinical settings); a longitudinal study with a large sample investigating the impact of the arts on individual mental health and well-being particularly the issue of sustainability; further research on music and musical instruments in relation to the clinical setting; the effect of integrating different artforms into the healthcare culture with respect to social inclusion and cultural diversity; arts and humanities as a contributory factor in recruiting and training staff in the health sector.

Strategic Objective 3: Safer and stronger
Help local communities to flourish, becoming stronger, safer places to live, offering improved opportunities and a better quality of life.

2.11 Much of the recent work linked to this objective has been commissioned by funding departments and agencies seeking evidence of the contribution of thearts and heritage to the government s social policy aims. In particular the contribution of culture to building social capital, and thereby strengthening communities and tackling social exclusion, has become a growing area for cultural research.

2.12 Most authors who have reviewed the evidence conclude that there is currently limited empirical evidence about the impact of arts and cultural activities at community, neighbourhood, or ‘group level’. The difficulties are both conceptual the terms social capital and social inclusion are contested and problematic, and there is often a confusing overlap of closely related concepts and methodological, related to the limitations of social research.

Research or evaluation methods for investigating/appraising the impacts of arts participation on individuals are relatively under-developed. Empirical evidence showing how these individual level effects translate at group or community level appears scarce. In summary more empirical research is needed to test existing theories about cultural and social capital. A comprehensive review of existing research in this area would be instructive.

2.13 Gaps identified in the literature include:
identifying the social impact of culture as a group or neighbourhood, rather than individual level; the role of arts in cultural diversity, community health and community regeneration; Museums, libraries archives:
- A lack of longitudinal, comparative data on social impact
-  A lack of an agreed conceptual model for describing impact
-  A relative lack of research into the social impact of museums, libraries and archives on cultural diversity, health and mental health.

Strategic Objective 4: Smarter
Expand opportunities for Scots to succeed from nurture through to life long learning ensuring higher and more widely shared achievements.

2.14 Evidence of the effects of arts participation on educational attainment and future employability has previously been identified as a key gap (Ruiz, 2004) and as a result this has been a priority area for commissioned research over the past few years. Recent publications have looked at the effectiveness of the Arts-Education Interface Initiative (part of Education Action Zones) and the Creative Partnerships programme in England and the Youth Music Initiative in Scotland.

2.15 Evaluations of recent public interventions using the arts in school education have found strong evidence that these produce benefits for pupils in terms of personal development (for example, self esteem, self confidence, social skills, awareness of others), affective outcomes (e.g. enjoyment, pride, sense of achievement) and academic attainment (where a small but statistically significant gain has been detected). For some, but not all, pupils a significant improvement in key skills including literacy, numeracy and ICT has been attributed to the arts. There is substantial academic research activity in this area and a meta-review of recent studies would be more productive than commissioning new work.

2.16 In a different area of education, within the criminal justice field, evaluation of the arts as a medium for offender rehabilitation has identified similar types of positive effects, which vary for different individuals. These include positive changes in engagement, self-esteem, confidence, self-control and the ability to co-operate. The culture of arts interventions and their physical context were found to be key contributory factors. However longer term research is needed to investigate whether these indicators of change play a role in any significant life changes.

Strategic Objective 5: Greener
Improve Scotland’s natural and built environment and the sustainable use and enjoyment of it.

2.17 In contrast to the contribution of culture to the physical environment, published research on culture and the sustainable use and enjoyment of the natural environment is scarce. The single study reviewed here found the integration of artwork into the natural environment can encourage people to rediscover their local green spaces and heighten their awareness and appreciation of it.

2.18 There is strong evidence of the environmental (physical) impacts associated with culture-led regeneration, both positive and negative. Positive impacts are achieved by cultural initiatives which encourage the re-use of redundant buildings, greater public use of open spaces and the mixed use of urban space.

These types of initiatives have been found to reduce traffic and fear of crime, increase sense of safety and a sense of pride of place. However this is balanced by evidence of the negative impacts of culture-led 24 hour city developments and the area gentrification which often results from regeneration initiatives. Extensive evidence exists for the environmental, social and economic impact both positive and negative - of architecture and design as well as about the design attributes which contribute to these.

2.19 The literature reviewed identifies gaps in evidence relating to: the impact of culture on the natural environment and on environmental sustainability, including public transport; Holistic integrated approaches to evaluating flagship major cultural projects, including cultural buildings/venues, sensitive to the relationships between cultural, economic and social impacts, both positive and negative.

The evaluation of the long-term environmental, social and economic impact of architecture and design. A common evaluation framework for architecture and design initiatives.

3.1 The publications reviewed in this brief and selective literature scan add to what is now a strong body of evidence for the contribution of arts and culture to three of the five strategic objectives of the Scottish Government: 1, Wealthier, 2, Healthier and 4, Smarter.

3.2 The findings of some studies support the contribution of arts and culture to strategic objective 3, Safer and Stronger, but the sample of literature reviewed indicates conflicting evidence about the community-level impact of arts and culture, specifically in relation to social capital and social inclusion.

3.3 In relation to strategic objective 5, Greener, there is strong evidence, both positive and negative, about the impact of culture-led regeneration and of architecture and design on the built environment, but little available research evidence relating to the natural environment.

3.4 Many of the pieces of commissioned work reviewed here, and other work not included, have been about assessing the difficulties in developing evidence of impact and looking at ways to overcome these, including the piloting of methodologies and research approaches (Evans and Shaw, 2004, Oakley,2004,  Anglia Ruskin/UCLAN Research Team, 2005, 2006a, b; Miles and Clarke, 2006). This work has moved things on quite significantly, helping the evidence base to catch up with policy.

3.5 In terms of improving the research evidence for the impact of arts and culture overall a consistent theme in the literature reviewed is the need for a longer term approach to evaluating cultural interventions. Authors writing across a range of contexts urge the need for larger scale, longer term studies in order to investigate long term impact, and the question of sustainability. Thus one of the main conclusions of Ruiz 2004 literature review remains relevant three years on.

Additional Information

| © 2008 Scottish Arts Council * No part of this publication may be reproduced in any format without prior written permission of the Scottish Arts Council.

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