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Use or Ornament? The Social Impact of Participation in the Arts

Key Message

Participation in the arts has social benefits including personal growth, community development, and social cohesion.


Matarasso, Francois. (2003). Use or Ornament? The Social Impact of Participation in the Arts. Gloucester, United Kingdom: Comedia.


This research was designed to add a dimension to existing economic and aesthetic ra- tionales for the arts by looking at their role in social development and cohesion. Given the complexity involved, the study was undertaken as a first step into this area, with two aims:
• To identify evidence of the social impact of participation in the arts at amateur or community level;
• To identify ways of assessing social impact which are helpful and workable for pol- icy-makers and those working in the arts or social fields.

To this end, case study research was undertaken in Batley, Bolton, Hounslow, London, Nottingham, Sandwell, Portsmouth, Northern Scotland, Derry, Helsinki and New York. Additional research included the use of a questionnaire for participants (from which figures in this paper are drawn). A series of working papers on various aspects of social impact of the arts, including research in Australia and the USA, was published. The methodology included questionnaires, interviews, formal and informal discussion groups, participant observation, agreed indicators, observer groups and other survey techniques, as well as desk research. None was satisfactory in itself, but each contrib- uted to a multi-dimensional understanding of project outcomes.


The report found that:

  • Participation in the arts is an effective route for personal growth, leading to enhanced confidence, skill-building and educational developments which can improve people’s social contacts and employability.
  • It can contribute to social cohesion by developing networks and understanding, and building local capacity for organisation and self-determination.
  • It brings benefits in other areas such as environmental renewal and health promotion, and injects an element of creativity into organisational planning.
  • It produces social change which can be seen, evaluated and broadly planned.
  • It represents a flexible, responsive and cost-effective element of a community development strategy.
  • It strengthens rather than dilutes Britain’s cultural life, and forms a vital factor of success rather than a soft option in social policy.

The study concluded that while participation in arts activities brings social benefits, those benefits are integral to the act of participation. It also argued that, though the social impacts are complex they are understandable and can be worked towards.

Benefit Statements / Outcomes

Leadership Provided By:

  • Leisure Information Network (LIN)
  • Alberta Recreation and Parks Association

On Behalf Of:

  • Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRAA)

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