Community arts programs

Community arts programs, also called participatory arts programs, include visual, media, and performing arts activities open to interested community members. Community-based organizations or art centers offer programs for community members to create artwork through collaboration and interactions with others. Programs can focus on building community, increasing awareness of the value of the arts, developing creativity, or addressing common issues within a community.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Improved social networks

  • Increased social capital

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Improved mental health

  • Increased community involvement

  • Increased social cohesion

  • Reduced stigma

  • Increased self-confidence

Evidence of Effectiveness

Community arts programs are a suggested strategy to increase social support and develop social capital throughout communities (NEA-Strategic plan 2014Kelaher 2013*Lewis 2013a, Jones 2010*Stuckey 2010). Available evidence suggests community arts programs and creative activities can improve mental health for participants (Leckey 2011*Kelaher 2013*), including delinquent youth (Rapp-Paglicci 2011*). Such programs may also promote community involvement (Chung 2009). However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Community arts programs may improve health outcomes and increase community connections among older adults (Hallam 2012*, Phinney 2014*). A study of Porch Light, a Philadelphia-based mural art project, suggests that residents are more likely to perceive high levels of neighborhood cohesion and trust, and less likely to stigmatize individuals with mental illness in neighborhoods with participatory art projects (Tebes 2015).

Creative extracurricular activities such as music, dance, drama, and visual arts, frequently part of community arts programs, can improve self-confidence and self-esteem, and increase positive behaviors among participating children and adolescents (Bungay 2013*).

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

Several states have Arts Boards that promote art in the community programs (NASAA). Examples of community art programs include Active Arts at the Music Center in Los Angeles, CA (Active Arts), and Make Music New York (MMNY). 

Implementation Resources

NEA - National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Animating Democracy - Animating Democracy. A program of Americans for the Arts: Fostering civic engagement through arts and culture.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

NEA-Strategic plan 2014 - National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Art works for America: Strategic plan, FY 2014-2018. Washington, DC: National Endowment for the Arts (NEA); 2014.

Kelaher 2013* - Kelaher M, Dunt D, Berman N, Curry S, Joubert L, Johnson V. Evaluating the health impacts of participation in Australian community arts groups. Health Promotion International. 2013: Epub ahead of print.

Lewis 2013a - Lewis F. Participatory art-making and civic engagement. Animating Democracy; 2013. A working guide to the landscape of arts for change.

Jones 2010* - Jones PM. Developing social capital: A role for music education and community music in fostering civic engagement and intercultural understanding. International Journal of Community Music. 2010;3(2):291-302.

Stuckey 2010 - Stuckey HL, Nobel J. The connection between art, healing, and public health: A review of current literature. American Journal of Public Health. 2010;100(2):254-63.

Leckey 2011* - Leckey J. The therapeutic effectiveness of creative activities on mental well-being: A systematic review of the literature. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing. 2011;18(6):501–9.

Rapp-Paglicci 2011* - Rapp-Paglicci L, Stewart C, Rowe W, Miller JM. Addressing the Hispanic delinquency and mental health relationship through cultural arts programming: A research note from the prodigy evaluation. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice. 2011;27(1):110-21.

Chung 2009 - Chung B, Jones L, Jones A, et al. Using community arts events to enhance collective efficacy and community engagement to address depression in an African American community. American Journal of Public Health. 2009;99(2):237-44.

Hallam 2012* - Hallam S, Creech A, Varvarigou M, McQueen H. Perceived benefits of active engagement with making music in community settings. International Journal of Community Music. 2012;5(2):115-174.

Phinney 2014* - Phinney A, Moody EM, Small JA. The effect of a community-engaged arts program on older adults' well-being. Canadian Journal on Aging. 2014;33(3):336-345.

Tebes 2015 - Tebes JK, Matlin SL, Hunter B, et al. Porch Light Program: Final evaluation report. The Consultation Center at Yale. Yale School of Medicine; 2015.

Bungay 2013* - Bungay H, Vella-Burrows T. The effects of participating in creative activities on the health and well-being of children and young people: A rapid review of the literature. Perspectives in Public Health. 2013;133(1):44–52.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

NASAA - National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA). NASAA member directory.

Active Arts - Active Arts at the Art Center.

MMNY - Make Music New York (MMNY). A live, free musical celebration.

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