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Valuing the Arts in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand

Dec 14, 2022


In 2019, the Australia Council partnered with Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage to jointly commission research on the contribution of the arts to wellbeing, public value and social inclusion in Australia and New Zealand.

The result of this partnership was Valuing the Arts in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, a report written by Sandra Gattenhof, Donna Hancox (QUT, Creative Industries, Education and Social Justice Faculty) and Te Oti Rakena (The University of Auckland | Waipapa Taumata Rau, Creative Arts and Industries).

This research provides knowledge and evidence which can be used by arts organisations and arts and cultural researchers in both countries to inform strategic decisions and enhance discussions about the value of the arts.

Based on a literature review, targeted interviews and a thematic analysis, it identifies narratives around how the value and impacts of cultural and creativity can be captured and measured, including the importance of incorporating First Nations and Indigenous conceptions of arts and culture.

The full report can be downloaded here.

See below for an accessible summary of the research.


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 internationally (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 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 that can be attributed to the arts, and an economic lens is not sufficient alone to articulate value particularly when considering social outcomes.
  • Another dominant frame of measurement relates to a reliance on audience attendance figures. Privileging audience metrics often means activities that are more informal, community based or collaborative cannot be accurately measured and thus are less able to articulate 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 First Nations, Māori, 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 identity construction 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 assessment 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, that place high value on participant experiences, and that 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.


Three opportunities are further 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’

  • Enhancing the notion of ‘value’ by including ‘impact’ and ‘impact assessment’ will create the opportunity to better articulate social outcomes.
  • People-centred impact models are needed that are responsive for 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 on the impacts of the arts.

Opportunity 3: Incorporate a ‘creative placemaking’ approach

  • ‘Creative placemaking’ is an approach to fostering enduring social change in places via arts and culture through investment in community-based activities that promote wellbeing.
  • Adopting this approach may support increased visibility of the value of arts and culture, community ownership of projects, social connection, and sustainability of the arts in communities.