This widely heralded RAND Corporation study seeks to offer a new framework for understanding the value of the arts. In recent years, political pressures have led advocates to promote the public value of the arts—or their “instrumental” benefits—contending they contribute to broad, measurable social and economic goals. But more qualitative “intrinsic” benefits, such as aesthetic pleasure, are as important, argue the authors. For one thing, they are the starting point for benefits on a whole, because individuals participate in the arts for the intrinsic benefits of the experience. What’s more, intrinsic benefits also contribute to the public welfare. Specifically, the report says, there are three types of intrinsic benefits:

  1. Immediate benefits to the individual, such as captivation, motivating people to seek out more of these similar experiences;
  2. The growth in such capacities as empathy that can result; and
  3. Benefits extending to the public—for example, the expression of common values or forging of social bonds.

The report also concludes that the most lasting benefits of any stripe come about through a person’s long-term involvement with the arts (usually spurred by the person’s exposure to the arts at an early age) and the quality of the arts experience.

The key to spreading arts’ benefits, then, is to engage more people, and the report offers recommendations for accomplishing this, including:

  • Developing compelling language for discussing the intrinsic benefits of the arts;
  • Promoting early exposure to the arts through school and community programs; and
  • Encouraging research into the intrinsic benefits of the arts.

The report concludes with the suggestion that the goal of public policy should be to bring as many people as possible into engagement with culture through meaningful experiences of the arts.

Points of Interest

  • The value of the arts lies not just in things that lend themselves to quantitative measurement, such as art’s effect on academic skills or economic development, but in hard-to-measure benefits, such as its ability to help forge social bonds or give a voice to communities the mainstream culture has traditionally ignored.
    The value of #arts lies not just in easily measured benefits but also in things such as its forging of #social bonds.
  • The key to developing life-long involvement in the arts is early exposure. That typically happens through arts education, community-based arts programs or commercial entertainment, such as movies.
    The key to life-long love of #arts? Start young. Expose #children to the arts in #schools and community programs.
  • The broader social benefits of the arts stem from rewarding individual encounters with art. Arts organizations, therefore, need to find ways to introduce more people to those experiences.
    The social benefits of the #arts stem from rewarding individual encounters w/ art—so aim to intro more people to them.