The platitudes are on the lips of every arts supporter, ready to be recalled at the first sign of a public hearing or potential funding cut. 'The arts are essential ' a necessity, not a luxury.' 'The arts help kids learn.' 'The arts are the foundation of the knowledge economy.' It feels good to say those things, especially if you're someone who has spent a life in the arts. But are they actually true? Are we pulling a fast one on ourselves and our audience by saying them? Or are we doing a service to the world by spreading the good news?
Over the past half century, hundreds of researchers have spent thousands of hours and millions of dollars grappling with these questions. And while the literature still has a ways to go before we can consider the answers definitive, it is becoming clear in at least several arenas that it's not just our imagination: arts participation really does improve lives.