Monday, June 21, 2010

Left-Field Links: How Declining Arts Access is Hurting Canadians' Health and Wellbeing

Last week, there was a lot of to-do about a new study revealing how an increasing time crunch is hurting Canadians' wellbeing.

This being a study on leisure time and its health and wellbeing impacts, the report looked a lot at the fact that Canadians are increasingly working non-standard hours and precarious jobs, with women in particular crunched for time because they are caring for seniors as well as kids. All of these are definitely cause for concern.

One of the unexpected points in the study, though, has to do with issues of arts access—an issue close to my heart, as recent posts on museum admission fees and access measures show.

Could access to arts and culture institutions actually be vital to our wellbeing as Canadians? Yes, says the study:

Participating in leisure and culture pursuits, either individually or overall, contributes to individual, community, and societal wellbeing. Some relationships are stronger than others. Taking part in physical activity and exercise, for example, is more strongly related to physical wellbeing and the prevention of disease, engaging in social activities is more strongly linked to social wellbeing, and participating in the arts can help to enhance both social and psychological wellbeing.

Could declining arts access, then, actually be hurting Canadians' wellbeing? Also yes:

Worrying is that over the past several years, public agencies and non-profit, voluntary organizations responsible for the provision of leisure and culture programs, services, facilities, and other opportunities have seen an ongoing shift away from core funding. Indeed, since 1990, community per capita expenditures on recreation and culture have not kept pace with inflation or population increases. This decline in basic operational support represents a serious threat to the ongoing missions of these agencies and organizations, which are mainly responsible for the infrastructure supporting leisure and culture in Canadian communities. It represents a loss of potential to improve the wellbeing of Canadians.

The upshot? We need to "be especially mindful of ensuring equity and inclusion" in culture and leisure and "now, more than ever, we need governments and public policies that support our culture and leisure infrastructure."

Specifically we need to "encourage barrier-free arts and culture activities" and promote "inclusive environments for physical, leisure and social activities by ensuring everyone has the opportunity to participate." This includes "initiatives such as discounted or free programming available for those with limited incomes, as well as tax credits to allow all families to better afford these programs."

Though I've based my most recent arguments on arts access on the fact that many museums are mandated to provide public access, it's also great to get support for the cause from a health perspective. I do hope that museums, public galleries and cultural policymakers across the country take note.

Image from SUNY Oswego


Earl Miller said...

An interesting study. It makes me think of a recent American study showing that statistically right-wingers were more likely to experience depression than their left-wing counterparts. Social awareness and cultural interest is healthy. Perhaps some on the Right are jealous and want to drag us down to their greedy, individualistic misery by cutting funding and what not.

Bridget M. said...

A great post. Thanks so much for this Leah.

Leah Sandals said...

Hi guys,

Thanks for your comments.

Earl, I'm not totally in agreement on the left-wing/right-wing thing, just because I think people from a lot of political backgrounds can enjoy arts and cultural activities.

I do think, though, that a lot of politicians (at all levels of government) in Canada aren't very aware of the consequences of reducing access to the arts, or of allowing cultural institutions under their purview to do same. It doesn't become a "pressing issue" until somebody presses it. So it's great to see it highlighted by this study.

Anonymous said...

I see what you mean, Leah. To qualify though, I was suggesting that those elected officials on the Right who are jealous of the fun and joy those who appreciate the arts experience may take out that jealousy on arts programs. There is a tone of anger in Harper's comments towards those in the arts, and that kind of tone furthers the Left/Right divide, which you rightly suggest could get in the way of people of all backgrounds appreciating the arts.