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Community arts programs

Health Factors: Family & Social Support
Decision Makers: Community Development Professionals Community Members Local Government State Government Nonprofit Leaders
Evidence Rating: Expert Opinion
Population Reach: 10-19% of WI's population
Impact on Disparities: No impact on disparities likely

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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

Improved social networks
Increased social capital
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 2013Lewis 2013a, Jones 2010Stuckey 2010). Available evidence suggests community arts programs and creative activities can improve mental health for participants (Leckey 2011Kelaher 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).


United States

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). 


Wisconsin Arts Board offers a number of grant programs including Creative Community grants and Woodland Indian Arts Initiative for Native American communities (WAB).

Implementation Resources

Animating Democracy - Animating Democracy. A program of Americans for the Arts: Fostering civic engagement through arts and culture. Accessed on February 4, 2016
NEA - National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Accessed on March 14, 2016

Citations - Evidence

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. Accessed on November 30, 2015
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. Accessed on December 14, 2015
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. Accessed on February 4, 2016
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. Accessed on March 1, 2016
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. Accessed on November 9, 2015
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. Accessed on May 24, 2016
Lewis 2013a - Lewis F. Participatory art-making and civic engagement. Animating Democracy; 2013. A working guide to the landscape of arts for change. Accessed on February 4, 2016
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. Accessed on January 25, 2016
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. Accessed on February 4, 2016
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. Accessed on May 24, 2016
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. Accessed on May 24, 2016
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. Accessed on February 4, 2016

Citations - Implementation

Active Arts - Active Arts at the Art Center. Accessed on February 4, 2016
MMNY - Make Music New York (MMNY). A live, free musical celebration. Accessed on February 4, 2016
NASAA - National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA). NASAA member directory. Accessed on May 20, 2016
WAB - Wisconsin Arts Board (WAB). Creativity, culture, community, commerce. Accessed on November 18, 2015

Page Last Updated

February 4, 2016

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