California Arts Council

State of California

How arts investment can improve engagement for disadvantaged neighborhoods and immigrant communities

Published: 06-19-2013

Cities make significant efforts to encourage people to participate in the community around them, which improve neighborhoods and the community at large. The arts can be a strong impetus to civic engagement.

"Residents who participate in the arts and culture also tend to engage in other types of community activities," notes Mark J. Stern and Susan C. Seifert in the article "From Creative Economy to Creative Society" in Grantmakers in the Arts Reader in 2008. The authors were citing research from the Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) at the University of Pennsylvania.

Engagement in the community is important for immigrant populations that can become isolated, and the arts may be one of the best ways to bridge cultural divisions. "The informal arts sector, in particular - characterized by participatory, hands-on cultural and creative activities in non-chartered groups and informal settings - is associated with people of color, immigrants, and other out-of-the-mainstream communities," note Stern and Seifert.

The study also discusses how the arts can improve the quality of life in ways other than economic output. "[SIAP] has documented a connection between community culture and child welfare: low-income neighborhoods with high cultural participation rates were more than twice as likely as those comparable low-participation neighborhoods to have very low truancy and delinquency."

Further evidence of the link between community health and support for traditional art forms can be found in a new report Weaving Traditional Arts into the Fabric of Community Health commissioned by the Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA), a California nonprofit with headquarters in the Central Valley, and investigated by researchers at the University of California-Davis.

Participants in ACTA programs not only showed improved well-being on an individual and family level, but arts participation increased community awareness, enhanced community resources, strengthened community relations and involvement, and promoted community belonging and collaboration.

So while immediate job creation in a highly-skilled and technology-based workforce for the "creative economy" may not be easily attainable for all communities, the arts can be employed to improve education efforts, heighten civic engagement, and reduce dropout rates. These are factors that can not only bring down costs at City Hall, but improve lives and local neighborhoods.

This article was written by Arts Council staff in February 2013

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