(March 2, 2021) The negative impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on participation in the arts cannot be overstated. Individual artists, theatre companies, music venues, training sessions have watched entire income streams dry up overnight, and the service industry, often a backup source of income for artists, has also contracted, painfully.
As part of their Statistical Insights on the Arts series, Hill Strategies released Canadians’ Arts Participation, Health, and Well-Being on February 17. Though their raw data dates from well before the pandemic, Hill Strategies hopes that their analysis will help shape policy and funding decisions as Canada plans its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated hardships.
The research demonstrates the strong positive that participation in the arts appears to have on the health of Canadians. Using the four factors of physical health, mental health, community belonging, and general life satisfaction Hill Strategies reports all four factors correlated positively with participation in arts activities. But the strongest associations were with physical and mental health.
Active arts participation, public art gallery attendance, live music attendance, live theatre or comedy attendance, and attendance at an arts or cultural festival were all associated with better physical and mental health, as well as better satisfaction with life in general.
Almost between 54-57% of respondents who said that they participate in such cultural activities also reported being in ‘good or excellent’ health, which is a stronger correlation than it sounds. There was also a similar association with cultural participation and general life satisfaction, and a positive (though less strong) connection with a sense of belonging within a community. The lack of opportunities for cultural participation may not be the direct cause of the current low ebb of Canada’s physical, mental, and community health. But it sheds light on a possible cure.
Many people subconsciously see art, even art that engages with difficult or traumatic subjects, as an entertaining ‘treat’, the cherry on top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. But at a time when Canadians’ mental and physical health is suffering all across the country, measures taken to support the arts may well be a shortcut to a healthier Canadian population, as well as a renewed and refreshed economy. Pointing out that the pandemic has highlighted the negative impact of socio-economic factors (income, age, Indigenous or racialized status) on health outcomes, the Hill Strategies report states that “If cultural activities are related to health and well-being, then equitable access to culture can be related to equitable health outcomes.”
Extensive funding for the arts could well end up being one of the best, most comprehensive tools we have to alleviate the physical, mental, and economic suffering of so many people in Canada. With many restrictions still in place, an uphill road to vaccination and much work still to do in Canada’s pandemic recovery process, it would be encouraging to find that one of the solutions is right under our noses.
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