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Access to arts and culture may improve outcomes in low-income communities

Apr 7, 2017

Exposure to the arts improves a child's lifelong outcomes. Arts education increases the likelihood of graduating from high school; attending and finishing college; and makes students more likely to register to vote.

And having access to art and cultural resources may also improve key aspects of social well-being in disadvantaged neighborhoods, according to a recent study.

The two-year study by researchers from the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania found that low-income New York City residents with more access to cultural resources experience better education, security and health outcomes.

That includes a 14% decrease in cases of child abuse and neglect, an 18% decrease in the serious crime rate and a 18% increase in the number of students scoring at the highest level on standardized math and English tests compared to low-income communities with fewer cultural resources. Study authors wrote:

We might expect culture to exhibit the strongest relationship with social wellbeing in neighborhoods with the largest number of cultural assets, but this is not the case. We’ve found the most consistent relationships between culture and dimensions of social wellbeing in lower-income neighborhoods that, on average, have fewer cultural resources.

The report comes at a time that the National Endowment for the Arts faces possible elimination. The NEA is among the independent agencies earmarked for zero funding in the 2018 budget proposal recently released by the Trump administration. The endowment was created in 1965, and this is the first time a president has called for its elimination, according to The New York Times.

NEA Chair Jane Chu told The Los Angeles Times:

The President’s FY 2018 budget blueprint proposes the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. We are disappointed because we see our funding actively making a difference with individuals of all ages in thousands of communities, large, small, urban and rural, and in every Congressional District in the nation.

Although cultural resources can be beneficial, an opportunity gap leaves low-income individuals less likely to have access to them than their wealthier peers. University of Pennsylvania researchers found resources are not equally distributed across New York City and tend to be clustered in wealthier neighborhoods, following patterns of "social class, racial and ethnic inequality."

Authors note that while findings of the study don't necessarily mean the cultural resources are causing the improved outcomes, they are nonetheless significant. Michele K. Baer, a program associate at the New York Community Trust, told Artsy Magazine:

The report suggests that investments in cultural communities in lower-income neighborhoods would be potentially more advantageous to wellbeing of New York City communities than investments in higher-income neighborhoods.

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