Social connection via the arts

A new report by independent think tank, A New Approach has found that arts and culture have positive impacts on aging, health, learning, jobs and loneliness. Drawing on the evidence, the same could be said for Inspiring Australia’s programs that engage communities with science.

Evidence shows that when people engage in cultural or creative activities, they generally have better educational outcomes, are less lonely, are healthier both physically and mentally and enjoy a happier and healthier life in old age.

The report, Transformative: Impacts of Culture and Creativity, documents substantive international evidence showing that many significant national issues are improved through greater cultural and creative engagement.

It also highlights a range of challenges that research shows many people in Australia find confronting. These include qualitative findings that nearly 50% of people feel society is broken and 36% feel like a stranger in their own communities.

Against this backdrop, Kate Fielding from A New Approach said this provides strong evidence that arts and culture can be truly transformative.

‘This report provides an abundance of evidence that culture and creativity inspire and enable meaningful change across some of our biggest public policy challenges, both for individuals and communities,’ Ms Fielding said.

The report explores how investing in culture affects seven broad aspects of Australians’ lives: society and place; the economy; innovation; health and wellbeing; education and learning; international engagement and how engaging with creativity builds a strong cultural life across the nation.

‘Engaging with arts and culture has successfully influenced and transformed all seven areas: by building stronger, more cohesive communities, growing our GDP and driving innovation, improving physical, mental and emotional health outcomes, lifting educational standards, and enhancing trade and diplomatic relations,’ said Ms Fielding. ‘It’s also an area of higher-than-average job growth.’

Ms Fielding said that despite the evidence, and the fact many people are engaged in cultural activities, Australia is yet to fully galvanise culture’s power for good.

‘While the report shines a light on some of Australia’s biggest present-day challenges and the evidential benefits derived from a ‘cultural fix’, there is currently no clear mapping of the benefits of arts and culture across policy portfolios, and no mechanism through which to encourage strategic investment to advance the positive impacts,’ she said.

‘If Australians are to enjoy the benefits of enhanced creative and cultural activity, it will require commitment, courage and collaboration from all stakeholders, including philanthropists, businesses, non-government organisations, creators and consumers, as well as all levels of government.’

The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that almost every Australian engages in some way, and the vast majority (82.4%) attend cultural events and venues. This demand is a significant economic driver in Australia, with households spending more than $25 billion each year on cultural goods and services, while 600,000 people work in Australia’s creative and cultural economy.

In line with this call to action, the report puts forward seven ‘options for consideration,’ outlining opportunities for stakeholders to engage with the seven challenges identified in Transformative: Impacts of Culture and Creativity

These include:

  • A broad multi-government inquiry to map current impact and investment in culture, and identify areas where we could invest more effectively;
  • Identifying Australia’s areas of comparative advantage, where new investment in the creative, cultural and digital sectors will help diversify our economic base and address our substantial trade deficit in creative goods and services;
  • Prioritising research and investment in Australia-specific trials, recognising the positive impacts of arts and culture interventions in treating loneliness and dementia;
  • Identifying new areas for investment in arts and culture activities that encourage greater social inclusion and cohesion;
  • Supporting research that explores the impact of arts and culture on students’ academic performance;
  • Ensuring arts and culture are central pillars for Australia’s soft power diplomatic activities; and
  • Prioritising initiatives that will boost arts and culture activity in regional and remote Australia, enhancing economic diversification, community wellbeing and population attraction and retention in these areas.

The report can be downloaded from the Australian Academies of the Humaities’ website. A New Approach was established in 2018 to champion effective investment and return in Australian arts and culture. It was created through a $1.65 million commitment by The Myer Foundation, the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation and the Keir Foundation, with lead delivery partner, the Australian Academy of the Humanities. Feature image by Andy Zakelis shows a performance of The Medieval Bundanon.