performing impact

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what the research says about community arts and its impact

There is widespread agreement among researchers that community arts have a range of benefits (1-3). In this post we look at what the research says, and what some people now think is wrong about this research.

The research FOR community arts impact

Engagement in community arts activities is said to contribute to personal and social development, help people to feel better and healthier and build new skills and knowledges (4).
• Personal benefits include improved communication, planning and organizing skills, increased capacities to collect, organize and analyse information and increased problem solving: all these produce an enhanced sense of personal efficacy and agency (5, 6).
• Social benefits include enhanced connections and networks, improved local image, stronger sense of place, identity and heritage (7-9).

These result from community arts practices which are said to: bring people together, some of whom are not engaged in constructive social activities; foster trust between participants and thereby increasing their generalized trust of others; providing an avenue for collective efficacy and civic engagement; produce a source of pride for residents (participants and non participants alike) in their community, increasing their sense of connection to that community; and expand the scope of individuals’ social networks (10, p 9).

Community performances and events ar said to inform, inspire, mobilize and heal groups of people, initially defined by their social and material place, through the production of common shared stories and representations (11). As Rappaport (12, p. 6) puts it, ‘A community cannot be a community without a shared narrative’.

Community arts are also argued to counter the negative effects of deindustrialisation and globalisation (13), produce community change through fostering personal and collective expression (14). However, solidarities and consolidating shared norms and values can produce positive or counterproductive resistance to change (15). But there is an important difference between a focus on fostering trust and creating bonds (a social capital approach) and facilitating critical questions (critical engagement) (16).

The contribution of cultural approaches to the social aspects of local regeneration are argued to include: changes in perceptions of place, increased confidence and aspirations, volunteering; social capital; and stronger relationships between community and government (1, 17).

Community arts are increasingly seen as a means of tackling difficult policy issues such as social exclusion (18-22). Place-based arts-based interventions range from increasing civic participation (23) and the promotion/celebration of local history, heritage and cultures (24, 25) to specific projects which tackle crime prevention (26), low levels of education and training (27), crime and violence (28), and poor health behaviours (29-33). These approaches are also critiqued for being to market driven (34) and too tied to particular party policy agendas (35) and too forgetful of arts as a public good (36).

Does this body of research have shortcomings?

The considerable body of work which investigates these kinds of community arts projects largely consists of single project evaluations with a variety of definitions and analytic frameworks.
Literature reviews of the impact of community arts continue not only to argue for more robust forms of evaluation of impacts, but also for more sustained research which connects processes and outcomes and generates more sophisticated understandings (e.g. 37-41).

Jermyn (18) notes lack of clarity of outcomes; conceptual confusion; confusion of measurable outputs with more diffuse outcomes; lack of established methodologies; difficulties in measuring progress causes and effects and benefits; omission of longer term outcomes; measuring multiple interventions and ethical conflicts.

Brice Heath (42) suggests that most community arts evaluations are ‘proof by random quotation’ and argues that research is needed which focuses on ‘the sustained practice, high risk engagement, and mix of verbal and visual interactions… which detail how people who participate learn, what they acquire by way of skills and knowledge’ (p15-16).

Landry et al (43) note that any longer term tracking of community arts engagement is almost non existent, with Fiske’s (44) decade long study of youth involvement in the arts being a notable exception.

This latter body of work has led to a quest for better forms of evaluating impact.

What do you think about the argument that the research that is done is largely inadequate?

References cited
1. Dierdre Williams, The Social Impact of Arts Programs: How the Arts Measure Up: Australian Research into Social Impact Working Paper 8,
Editor (Stroud: Comedia, 1996).
2. Francois Matarasso, ‘Common Ground: Cultural Action as a Route to Community Development’, Community Development Journal 42, no. 4 (2007): 449-58.
3. Francois Matarasso, Use or Ornament? The Social Impact of Participation in the Arts, Editor (Stroud: Comedia, 1997).
4. Neena Chappell et al., ‘Multilevel Community Health Promotion: How Can We Make It Work?’, Community Development Journal 41, no. 3 (2005): 352-66.
5. Mike White, Mental Health and the Arts: A Discussion Paper,
Editor (London: IPPR, 2003).
6. Learning Teaching Scotland, Creativity Counts. A Report of Findings from Schools, ed.^eds. Editor (Dundee: Learning Teaching Scotland, 2004).
7. K Ferris and D Adair, Social Capital, Communities and Recent Rationales for the Performing Arts, Editor (Brisbane: Griffith University, undated).
8. Siobhan Daly, Social Capital and the Cultural Sector,
Editor (London: Centre for Civil Society, London School of Economics, 2005).
9. Sharon Rodning Bash, Thriving Arts, Thriving Small Communities, ed.^eds. Editor (Minnesota: Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, 2006).
10. Joshua Guetzkow, ‘How the Arts Impact Communities. An Introduction to the Literature on Arts Impact Studies’, Artwork Magazine 59, no. September (2004): 7-10.
11. William Cleveland, Mapping the Field: Arts-Based Community Development, ed.^eds. Editor ( Accessed July12, 2008, 2002).
12. Julian Rappaport, ‘Community Narratives: Tales of Terror and Joy’, American Journal of Community Psychology 28, no. 1 (2000): 1-24.
13. Alan Kay, ‘The Arts and Community Development’, Community Development Journal 35, no. 4 (2000): 414-24.
14. Darlene Clover, ‘Feminist Aesthetic Practice of Community Development: The Case of Myths and Mirrors Community Arts’, Community Development Journal 42, no. 4 (2007): 512-22.
15. Stephen Dunscombe, ‘(from) Cultural Resistance to Community Development’, Community Development Journal 42, no. 4 (2007): 490-500.
16. Rick Flowers, ‘Evaluation Perspectives and Practices in Community Cultural Development’, Artwork Magazine 53, no. August (2002): 3-5.
17. G Evans and Phillida Shaw, The Contribution of Culture to Regeneration in the Uk: A Review of Evidence, Editor (London: London Metropolitan University, 2004).
18. Helen Jermyn, The Arts and Social Exclusion, ed.^eds. Editor (London: Arts Council England, 2001).
19. Helen Jermyn, The Art of Social Inclusion, ed.^eds. Editor (London: Arts Council England, 2004).
20. Kay Kinder and John Harland, ‘The Arts and Social Inclusion: What’s the Evidence?’, Support for learning 19, no. 2 (2004): 52-6.
21. Mark J Stern, Culture and the Changing Urban Landscape: Philadelphia 1997-2002, ed.^eds. Editor (Pittsburgh: Social Impact of the Arts Project, University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work, 2003).
22. Tim Dwelly, Creative Regeneration: Lessons from Ten Community Arts Projects, ed.^eds. Editor (York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2001).
23. Max Stephenson, ‘Developing Community Leadership through the Arts in Southside Virginia: Social Networks, Civic Identity and Civic Change’, Community Development Journal 42, no. 1 (2005): 79-96.
24. Phil Carey and Sue Sutton, ‘Community Development through Participatory Arts: Lessons Learned from a Community Arts and Regeneration Project in South Liverpool’, Community Development Journal 39, no. 2 (2004): 123-34.
25. Robert Hewison and John Holden, The Right to Art: Making Aspirations Reality, ed.^eds. Editor (London: Demos, 2004).
26. Debra Salmon et al., ‘Implementing the Rock Challenge: Young People’s Perspectives on a Drug-Prevention and Performing-Arts Programme’, Journal of Research in Nursing 10, no. 3 (2005): 339-53.
27. Nalita James, ‘‘Actup!’ Theatre as Education and Its Impact on Young People’s Learning’, in Book ‘Actup!’ Theatre as Education and Its Impact on Young People’s Learning, ed.^eds. Editor (City: Centre for Labour Market Studies, University of Leicester, 2005).
28. Mary Lane and Kaylene Henry, ‘Community Development, Crime and Violence: A Case Study’, Community Development Journal 36, no. 3 (2001): 212-22.
29. Mike White, ‘Establishing Common Ground in Community-Based Arts in Health’, Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health 26, no. 3 (2006): 128-33.
30. Sue Hacking, Jenny Secker, and Lyn Kent, ‘Mental Health and Arts Participation: The State of the Art in England’, Journal for the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health 126, no. 3 (2006): 121-7.
31. Vic Health, Creative Connections. Promoting Mental Health and Wellbeing through Community Arts Participation, Editor (Melbourne: VicHealth, 2003).
32. Elaine Argyle and Gillie Bolton, ‘Art in the Community for Potentially Vulnerable Mental Health Groups’, Health Education 105, no. 5 (2005): 340-54.
33. Tom Smith, An Evaluation of Sorts: Learning from Common Knowledge, ed.^eds. Editor (Durham: CAHHM, University of Durham, 2003).
34. Jo Caust, ‘”Putting the ‘Art’ Back into Arts Policy Making: How Arts Policy Has Been ‘Captured’ by the Economists and the Marketers’, International Journal of Cultural Policy 9(2003): 5-63.
35. Sara Selwood, ‘Measuring Culture’, Spiked online Accessed August 13, 2008(2002).
36. Munira Mirza, ed., Culture Vultures. Is Uk Arts Policy Damaging the Arts? (London: Policy Exchange, 2006).
37. Nancy Cooley, Arts and Culture in Medicine and Health: A Survey Research Paper. A Work in Progress, Editor (Vancouver, BC: Cooley and Associates, 2003).
38. Janet Ruiz, A Literature Review of the Evidence Base for Culture, the Arts and Sport Policy, Editor (Edinburgh: Information, Analysis & Communication Division, Scottish Executive, 2004).
39. Tony Newman, Katherine Curtis, and Jo Stephens, ‘Do Community-Based Arts Projects Result in Social Gains? A Review of the Literature’, Community Development Journal 38, no. 4 (2003): 310-22.
40. Norma Daykin et al., ‘The Impact of Participation in Performing Arts on Adolescent Health and Behaviour: A Systematic Review of the Literature’, Journal of Health Psychology 13, no. 2 (2008): 251-64.
41. Norma Daykin et al., ‘Review: The Impact of Art, Design and Environment in Mental Healthcare: A Systematic Review of the Literature’, The Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health 128, no. 85 (2008): 85-94.
42. Shirley Brice Heath, ‘Three’s Not a Crowd: Plans, Roles, and Focus in the Arts’, Educational Researcher 30, no. 7 (2001): 10-7.
43. Charles Landry et al., Culture and Regeneration: An Evaluation of the Evidence. A Study for Culture East Midlands, Editor (Stroud: Comedia, 2004).
44. E Fiske, ed., Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning (Washington: The Arts Education Partnership, 1999).


One comment on “what the research says about community arts and its impact

  1. Pingback: The Performing Impact Project « quiteirregular

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This entry was posted on August 9, 2012 by in identity and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

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