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New Report Finds Link Between Arts Engagement and Positive Community Outcomes

Press Release

Arts offer potential option for easing hardships due to COVID-19 pandemic.

Chicago, IL, June 24, 2021 — How much research into the outcomes of arts engagement among people and communities has been conducted in the last 20 years? A lot, it turns out. In a report commissioned by the William Penn Foundation to support a process for refining its grantmaking, researchers at NORC at the University of Chicago identified and assessed an abundance of studies suggesting that the arts may result in a variety of immediate and longer-term outcomes for individuals, social groups, and communities.

“We were surprised at the maturity of some of the bodies of research on the outcomes of arts engagement,” says Gwendolyn Rugg, a research scientist at NORC and the lead author of the report, along with Jennifer Novak-Leonard of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “The documented benefits suggest that arts engagement can play a role in shaping and reinforcing people’s cultural identity, promoting civic behaviors such as voting and volunteering, enhancing communities’ livability and economic vitality, and bridging relationships across races, generations, and political divides.”

Researchers defined “arts engagement” as creating or consuming performing arts, visual arts, crafts, creative writing, and film/television/media in traditional arts venues, as well as public spaces and community spaces, homes, and online.

Participating in the arts may also offer a way to begin healing from the effects of the pandemic and recent political and social unrest. “These findings may point to benefits that arts engagement can have for individuals and communities as we emerge from the collective isolation and trauma of the last year,” Rugg said.

Other key takeaways include:

  • Involvement with the arts may increase long-term life expectancy and overall happiness.
  • Arts engagement may provide a way to either engender or reaffirm a sense of inclusion or belonging within groups.
  • Arts engagement may be an effective means of treating mental and physical health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and neurological and physiological disorders; and of advancing community-wide public health goals.

To learn more about the report, click here or visit

“We were surprised at the maturity of some of the bodies of research on the outcomes of arts engagement.”

Gwendolyn Rugg

Research Scientist

“We were surprised at the maturity of some of the bodies of research on the outcomes of arts engagement.”

About This Study
The William Penn Foundation (WPF) commissioned NORC at the University of Chicago to conduct a review and assessment of existing research on the outcomes of arts engagement for individuals and communities. At the onset of the project, the NORC team worked with WPF staff to determine the key outcome areas to be explored, a set of guiding questions for each of these outcome areas to be informed through our review of pertinent research, and the parameters around the search for pertinent research. For each outcome area, our overarching goals were to describe what is known about the outcome and describe the overall maturity of the body of literature that speaks to the outcome.

The NORC team used the following parameters around the scope of the research reviewed:

  • Published in English since 2000
  • Addresses arts engagement for adults age 18–111
  • Addresses issues of equity, especially with regard to who experiences benefits or bears costs of arts engagement, and whether outcomes are equitable across all who engage
  • Encompasses a broad range of artistic and cultural engagement

About NORC at the University of Chicago

NORC at the University of Chicago conducts research and analysis that decision-makers trust. As a nonpartisan research organization and a pioneer in measuring and understanding the world, we have studied almost every aspect of the human experience and every major news event for more than eight decades. Today, we partner with government, corporate, and nonprofit clients around the world to provide the objectivity and expertise necessary to inform the critical decisions facing society.

Contact: For more information, please contact Eric Young at NORC at or (703) 217-6814 (cell).

About William Penn Foundation
The William Penn Foundation, founded in 1945 by Otto and Phoebe Haas, is dedicated to improving the quality of life in the Greater Philadelphia region through efforts that increase educational opportunities for children from low-income families, ensure a sustainable environment, foster creativity that enhances civic life, and advance philanthropy in the Philadelphia region. In 2021, the Foundation will grant more than $117 million to support vital efforts in the region. Visit to learn more.