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King County study shows art boosts health, graduation, volunteerism

In this country, we have a funny relationship with the arts. We all love music and theater, visual arts and dance, but when schools need to cut something, the art programs are the first to go. A lot of people think having an art scene in a city is cool, but not necessarily important.

But a brand new study from Seattle non-profit ArtsFund shows that art is important. The study looked at the social impacts of art in King County and results show that the arts have huge benefits to our community, our children and our health and wellness. It’s one of the few studies of its kind in the country and the first in the Pacific Northwest.

Sarah Sidman, ArtsFund’s VP of strategic initiatives and communication, says statistically speaking, kids benefit from being surrounded by art.

“Seventy-one percent of at-risk students with high arts involvement attend college, whereas only 48% of at-risk students with lower arts involvement do that same. There are statistics of increased graduation rates from high school for kids involved in arts programs. Higher SAT scores than those who take no arts education. We even see that at-risk students in art integrated preschools are better able to regulate their emotions than those who don’t have arts in their learning.”

How does art do all of these magical things?

“Arts empower people to find their own individual voice. It gives them confidence and fosters trust with adults. Art accesses different parts of the brain and somebody’s ability to communicate, that they otherwise may not be tapping into.”

Art can also have a big impact on our health.

“We talked with folks in the Swedish Cancer Institute and cancer patients report art therapy is effective. It helps them reduce their pain, their distress and their anxiety. Nationwide research shows, across any number of different medical conditions, how arts and arts experiences can help lower anxiety, can help reduce dependence on medication and in many cases can reduce hospital stays, therefore also reducing the cost of health care.”

The last sector the study looked at is our neighborhoods.

“Access to arts and culture in a neighborhood leads to a number of positive benefits. One key thing we see has to do with social cohesion because arts can bring people together and connect them. In fact, it’s proven that arts increases volunteerism.”

When Sidman says “art,” it can mean making art or consuming it.

“That could mean going to see a show at a theater. That could mean taking a class in art, making a sculpture. Theater, dance, music, visual arts, media arts, literary arts.”

When King County residents were asked “How do the arts impact your life?” for this study, the majority of people said it benefits them personally and brings them joy. But far, far fewer people acknowledged that it can affect social change, children and the community. Sidman says this is a problem.

“So often arts are perceived as inessential. As nice to have, but among the first on the chopping block when something has to go. The study we did of the King County population shows that that tends to be how people perceive the arts: they’re nice for themselves but not necessarily for the community as a whole. If people continue to view the arts as inessential, we all stand to lose. They can be and, in many cases, already are part of the solution.”

ArtsFund encourages people to support the arts, through attendance, participation or donations and to think outside the box and partner up with art organizations when looking for solutions to community problems.

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