When you visit a museum or an exhibition, have you ever thought about the impact that the arts can have on a city? The butterfly effect that is created each time someone experiences a bit of culture? There are, in fact, myriad ways in which arts and culture influence the growth and continued progression of a city and I think they can be segregated into three main areas.
The first of these is, of course, the economy. The arts bring prosperity to a city, not only via the customers themselves, who might spend money in the cafes and gift shops, and in the surrounding areas of the city, but also through the jobs created as a result of people visiting these establishments. Arts and culture bring in £10.6 billion to the UK each year and are responsible for around 400,000 jobs! This represents a huge contribution to the economy, rather than just an ‘added extra’.
Arts and culture can also play a massive role in reviving a town or city, for example, run down seaside towns. Think about how a town such as Blackpool has been revived through not only the museums and theatres that adorn the seafront, but also the buildings, sculptures and public art that have brought the town back to life. The idea of the cultural regeneration model began in the 1980s when new economic and social policies were needed to change the thinking behind what a city really needed to survive. It certainly had an impact in the regeneration of Glasgow, which became European Capital of Culture in 1990, and the ideas adopted began to be rolled out across the country.
Another area of impact is through the environmental messages that arts and culture can convey. They can help people to understand the issues that are plaguing our planet through art, plays/theatre and music, and inspire them to do their bit, no matter how small, every little helps (to coin a phrase!). They can, in other words, help society to face up to the challenge currently facing all of us and show people, through art, the consequences of doing nothing. I think actually seeing, right in front of you, the horrors of what is unfolding and the potential ramifications is far more powerful than simply being lectured about it. Engaging with people will hopefully spur them into action, rather than potentially causing them to switch off and therefore fail to grasp the gravity of the message.
The third area in which arts and culture can impact a town or city is that of community. This is by no means the least important; in fact, I think the arts play just as important a role in this area as in those already discussed. Many of the museums, galleries and libraries around the country are, of course, free to enter and this therefore helps to tackle the very real issue of social inequality. If everyone has access to the same exhibitions and events, then everyone is equal in terms of their enjoyment of the arts. Poorer sections of society are not excluded because they can’t afford the admission fees, bringing everyone in the community together in a mutually beneficial way.
This doesn’t only apply to members of society based on their wealth, or lack thereof. The arts can also bring people together no matter their age. The health and wellbeing of the older generation can be improved through theatre, music, dance and art, for example, while young people will benefit as the arts support their education and bring to life ideas that they may have learned about in school or college.
The arts can also play a critical part in rebuilding a community following disaster, a perfect example being the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon. For the one year anniversary of the atrocity, Rainey Tisdale created the ‘Dear Boston’ exhibit at Boston Public Library, the centrepiece of which was made up of 134 pairs of running shoes that had been left at the makeshift memorial site of the bombing. There was absolutely no explanation needed, everyone just ‘got it’, an example of the powerful effect of seeing something in front of you having a much greater impact than simply being told about it. It brought people together, all members of society, whether they had been affected by the catastrophe or not, and gave them a place of sanctuary and reflection.
Arts and culture really are a lynchpin of society, the beating ‘heart’ of the city, far more than people probably realise, for all the reasons outlined above and probably many, many more.
Children and families
Arts and culture can also have significant social benefits for families and children. They have a positive relationship to social-emotional development and help to shape the way in which children see the world. They can help them to understand and to shape their identity. Experiencing arts and culture as a family, the shared experience, can help to strengthen the bonds between them, tightening the connection that was already present.
Parents can become engaged in their children’s learning and help them, through the arts, to enhance and support what they have learned in school. All children learn in different ways and seeing shows and exhibitions can play a huge part in helping to deepen their understanding. As we all know, children’s brains are like sponges when they are young, they soak up lots of the information that is presented to them, so just imagine how much they can pick up from a museum exhibition, for example, that they wouldn’t necessarily have covered in great depth at school!
The arts can also have a positive impact on confidence, and personal and social development. They can break down barriers such as language, prejudice and differences as a lot of the cultural experiences available to children are available to all. It gives them the opportunity to come together with others who they might not otherwise meet, eradicating the inequality that can sometimes carry through into adulthood. This enhances the quality of life and, in turn, the health and wellbeing of adults as well as children. Children’s curiosity about the world, those ‘sponges’, can only be a good thing for future generations, so please fill your precious family time with as much culture as you can soak up!