Assessing the Economic Impact of the Arts, 18.4.15

In September 2014, I presented a paper at the 5th International Conference of Community Psychology in Fortaleza that looked at how we could begin to evaluate the impact of the Arts in more concrete economical terms. The specific focus of my jointly authored paper with Professor Carolyn Kagan looked at how the Community Arts could be used to bring people together in a structured (using the principles and theory of Liberation Psychology) and measurable way to build ‘communities of practice’ that could lay the foundations for effective ‘collaborative governance’ with local agencies and authorities. Our paper, called Participation in Community Arts: Lessons from the Inner-City will be published in a special edition of  the International Journal of Inclusive Education shortly, I’ll let you know when it’s out.

In our discussion session following our presentations, I was able to build on my thoughts around the potential economic benefits of ‘communities of practice’:

Community Arts as Gateways to Economic Outputs

The Community Arts are an intangible network of relationship building processes that often have no real direct (hard outcomes) outputs outside of their site/community specific programmes. However, we need to look at how we can extract the relationship building process or social capital building (soft outcomes) so that we can apply this process to the concept of ‘catalytic impact’. This means looking at the exact mechanisms of how Community Arts enable communities to access other more tangible services (hard outcomes), such as Education, Health, Employment etc. that have more causal economic impacts.

Research Questions

– How effective are Community Arts in getting people to engage with health and well-being (this is a paper), education and other performance indicators?

We can use quasi experimental research designs that measure effect sizes to begin to answer this question. My research into music interventions in the youth justice sector and my All Change for Crewe Education research paper about the likelihood to pursue Higher Education are both the beginnings of addressing this.

However, the following Department for Culture Media & Sport-commissioned report, Further analysis to value the health and educational benefits of sport and culture gives actual upper-bound estimate economic benefits of participating in the arts and sports. The report looks at savings made from reduced visits to GP surgeries and the reduced need of access to mental health services as well as the likelihood to pursue Higher Education. The report also usefully breaks down the type of participation (audience, museum, library, individual sport, team sport etc) and gives estimate economic benefits for each.

Community Arts as tools of engagement

So, as the report above demonstrates, since there are established upper-bound estimates of economic value of performance indicators such as Education or Health, the economic value of Community Arts becomes directly related to how well they can engage in the up-take of these performance indicators which can then be mapped to direct economic outputs (savings).

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