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Valuing the Arts research report (Dec 2022)

This joint research project examines the arts’ contribution to social inclusion and wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia.

Download icon Valuing the Arts Report (PDF 1.2 MB)

In 2020, Manatū Taonga jointly with the Australia Council for the Arts commissioned a trans-Tasman research team from Queensland University of Technology and the University of Auckland to conduct research on the value of the arts for social inclusion and wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia.

The research aimed to create knowledge and evidence to inform strategic decisions and enhance discussions about the value of the arts. 

Read the press release for the release of the report.

Research highlights 

The research highlights five key findings relating to the value of the arts for social inclusion and wellbeing

Finding 1: Assessing the value of the arts requires a holistic view that considers both economic and social outcomes 

According to the researchers, the value of the arts is often measured through an economic lens, such as Return on Investment (ROI). However, there are many types of value the arts bring, and an economic lens alone is not enough to show value particularly when considering social outcomes.

Another major frame of measurement relates to a reliance on audience attendance figures. Favouring audience metrics often means informal, community-based or collaborative activities cannot be accurately measured and are less able to show their value. 

A holistic view is required to fully understand the diverse impacts of the arts and new approaches for revitalising arts, culture and creativity. This includes considering how arts and cultural activities provide value in relation to identity and representation, belonging and social inclusion, and wellbeing.

Finding 2: The arts are an important vehicle for achieving and expressing social wellbeing

The arts positively contribute to wellbeing for individuals and communities. Key features that support this contribution include:

  • coordinated and meaningful collaboration between organisations and agencies;
  • authentic engagement with communities;
  • arts-led approaches to fostering enduring social change.

There is a need to consider conceptions of wellbeing outside of a Western individualised approach. This includes better understanding value and wellbeing from Māori, First Nations, and Pacific peoples’ worldviews. 

Co-ordinated multidisciplinary and cross-sector collaboration between public health, education, human services and arts organisations is needed to understand and progress the link between arts, culture, creativity and wellbeing. 

Finding 3: There is a strong connection between wellbeing and social inclusion created through arts engagement 

Arts and cultural engagement foster social bonding and bridging that increases connectedness, sense of belonging, self-understanding and sense of identity for individuals and communities. 

This connectedness and belonging occurs not only in terms of a shared identity among people, but also in relation to place and time (past and future). 

Benefits relating to social inclusion include enhanced social support and improved social behaviours for individuals and communities. 

To optimise these benefits, the researchers recommend:

  • increasing sustainable funding for arts and culture projects in under-represented communities; 
  • building in holistic impact assessments into grant applications and reporting; 
  • demonstrating support for community generated responses to the value of the arts and culture in their communities. 

Finding 4: Expanding the term ‘arts and culture’ to include ‘creativity’ provides more inclusive, accessible language that better encompasses community and place-based practices

The terms ‘arts’ and ‘culture’ are intrinsically linked and should be presented together as ‘arts and culture’. Especially for Indigenous peoples, the arts are embedded in specific cultural contexts and communities. 

The term ‘the arts’ holds connotations that may limit people’s willingness to engage due to perceived barriers of elitism. There is a need to make the arts more inclusive of peoples and practices.

Expanding ‘arts and culture’ to add the notion of ‘creativity’ (‘arts, culture, creativity’) allows for the inclusion of cultural practices that have typically fallen outside of traditional definitions, such as ritual and storytelling. Because ‘creativity’ is thought of as belonging to everybody, it may help to make the arts seem more accessible.   

Finding 5: More people-centred data and evidence are needed to fully understand the impacts of the arts 

There is a need to develop impact assessment models and approaches that are people- centred and fit for purpose; place high value on participant experiences; and are understood by participants. 

These models should consider data and outcomes beyond audience and economic modelling to build a comprehensive picture of the arts’ transformative impacts for individuals and communities. 

Opportunities from the research

Three opportunities have been highlighted to maximise the benefits of arts and cultural participation and increase understanding of impact.

Opportunity 1: Stretch the definition of ‘value’ to include ‘impact’ 

Expanding how we approach ‘value’ by considering ‘impacts’ and utilising ‘impact assessment’ will enable greater understanding of social outcomes.    

Impact models are needed that keep people’s experiences as a central focus, are responsive to diverse communities and consider Indigenous worldviews. These models may prioritise relationship building, participation and capacity building. 

Opportunity 2: Build sector capacity to understand impact   

There is a need for sector-wide capability building on how to track and record impact. This includes training on practical implementation frameworks and how to engage with impact assessment on an ongoing basis.

Such training would help organisations and individuals engage in continuous learning and improvement, while supporting professional development. This would also lead to more detailed and innovative analysis and increased evidence about the impacts of the arts. 

Opportunity 3: Incorporate a ‘creative placemaking’ approach 

‘Creative placemaking’ is a place-based approach to fostering enduring social change by investing in arts and cultural activities in communities that promote wellbeing.  

Adopting a community-based approach may increase public understanding of the value of the arts, local engagement and ownership of projects, social connection within and across communities, and the sustainability of the arts and cultural sectors.


The researchers conducted a literature review and interviews with arts organisations to build a set of narratives around the value of the arts. 

Between May and December 2020, the researchers carried out the research in three phases:

  • Phase 1: A literature review on the cultural and public value of the arts, the attribution of wellbeing resulting from arts engagement for individuals and communities, and how the arts can foster social inclusion within and across communities. 
  • Phase 2: 14 online interviews with representatives from arts organisations in Australia (4), New Zealand (6) and international organisations (4) to investigate how public value, wellbeing, social inclusion and creative placemaking is understood.
  • Phase 3: Thematic analysis across the data to identify narratives arising from the concepts discussed in the literature review and interviews. 

The findings contribute to the growing evidence base on the value of the arts for New Zealanders.

We will use the findings from this research to strengthen the national evidence base on the contribution of the arts to social inclusion and wellbeing.

The findings will also be used to inform our future research and evaluation programme, including how we measure the impacts of future government investment.  

The prioritisation of a creative placemaking approach in this research, which focuses on the contribution of place-based arts and cultural activities, is a useful additional lens to explore the value of the arts for community wellbeing.  

Updated on 19th December 2022