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The Impact of the Arts

The quality of civilization can be measured through its music, dance, drama, architecture, visual art, and literature. We must give our children knowledge and understanding of civilization’s most profound works.
—Ernest L. Boyer

Arts Education and Arts Integration

Numerous research studies show that well-designed arts experiences produce positive academic and social effects as well as assist in the development of critical academic skills, basic and advanced literacy, and numeracy. The studies look at both stand-alone arts programs and programs that integrate concepts and skills from the arts into the many areas of study. One intriguing and important revelation of these studies is that the most powerful effects are found in programs that integrate the arts with subjects in the core curriculum.

Researchers speculate that arts integration causes both students and teachers to rethink how they view the arts and generates conditions that educational researchers and cognitive scientists say are ideal for learning. The arts are not just expressive and affective; they are deeply cognitive. They develop essential thinking tools: pattern recognition and development; mental representations of what is observed or imagined; symbolic, allegorical, and metaphorical representations; careful observation of the world; and abstraction from complexity. Studies repeatedly show the following in schools where arts are integrated into the core curriculum (Rabkin & Redmond, 2004):

  • Students have a greater emotional investment in their classes.
  • Students work more diligently and learn from each other.
  • Cooperative learning groups turn classrooms into learning communities.
  • Parents become more involved.
  • Teachers collaborate more.
  • Art and music teachers become the center of multiclass projects.
  • Learning in all subjects becomes attainable through the arts.
  • Curriculum becomes more authentic, hands-on, and project-based.
  • Assessment is more thoughtful and varied.
  • Teachers’ expectations for their students rise.

The following research studies are but a few of the many that have accumulated in recent years about the effects of art instruction on student learning. They include results from both stand-alone and arts integration programs.

Other Areas of Impact

Disaffected Students. “Boring!” is the most common way that many dropouts describe school. The arts reach students who are not otherwise being reached. The arts sometimes provide the only reason that certain students stay in touch with school. Without the arts, these young people would be left with no access to a community of learners. Here are some research findings:

  • A 10-year ongoing study in the Chicago public schools shows test scores of sixth graders in arts-integrated schools rising faster on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills reading section than a matched population (for neighborhood, family income, and academic performance) of sixth graders in the regular schools (Rabkin & Redmond, 2004).
  • A study of the Minneapolis schools showed that arts integration had positive effects on all students, but much more so with disadvantaged students (Rabkin & Redmond, 2004).
  • In Florida, 41 percent of potential dropout students said something about the arts kept them in school. Further, these students were more engaged in their art classes than in academic classes (Barry, Taylor, & Walls, 2002).
  • A study of nearly 70 at-risk middle school students in Florida showed that participating in arts programs assisted them in decreasing delinquency, fostering academic competence, maintaining control, and feeling a closer relationship with their school (Respress & Lutfi, 2006).
  • A program called the YouthARTS Development Project, a partnership involving the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Justice Department, engaged at-risk youth in art programs. After two years, the participants had improved their ability to work on tasks from start to finish, were better able to communicate effectively, had a better attitude toward school, and decreased their frequency of delinquent behavior and court referrals (Clawson & Coolbaugh, 2001).

Different Learning Styles. Ample research evidence indicates that students learn in many different ways. This research also notes that some students can become behavioral problems if conventional classroom practices are not engaging them. Success in the arts is often a bridge to successful learning in other areas, thereby raising a student’s self-concept. The arts may be particularly helpful for students with learning disabilities as one two-year study reported (Mason, Steedly, & Thormann, 2008). This study found that engaging in the arts helped students with learning disabilities do the following:

Find their voice for expressing what they know through art forms. The arts helped the students find appropriate ways to communicate, including expressing fear, frustration, unhappiness, and confusion. This outlet improved the students’ self-esteem and positive attitudes toward school.

  • Increase their choices, especially because so much of what they do is scripted by educational policy. Working in the arts allowed the students to make their own choices about what art form to engage in so they could share their thoughts. They also made choices while working in the art form, such as what format of poem to write, what colors to use when painting on canvas, or what to say onstage in a play.
  • Have access to parts of the school, curriculum, and challenges they might not otherwise have had. They participated in plays, learned to play musical instruments, and sang songs, all of which led to a deep sense of accomplishment.

A Canadian study reported on the progress of students, aged 9 to 15 years, from low-income communities who participated in community-based youth arts programs (Wright et al., 2006). Over a three-year period, students in the program showed significant gains in social and artistic skills and a significant reduction in emotional problems, compared to the control group.

Personal and Interpersonal Connections. The arts connect students to themselves and each other. Creating art is a personal experience, as students draw upon their own resources to produce the result. This is a much deeper involvement than just reading text to get an answer. Studies indicate that the attitudes of young people toward one another improve through their arts learning experiences. For instance, more than 2,400 elementary and middle school students from 18 public schools participated in a study that showed students in arts-rich schools scoring higher in creativity and several measures of academic self-concept than did students in schools without that level of arts instruction (Burton, Horowitz, & Abeles, 2000).

School and Classroom Climate. The arts transform the environment for learning. Schools become places of discovery when the arts are the focus of the learning environment. Arts change the school culture, break down barriers between curriculum areas, and can even improve the school’s physical appearance.

Gifted and Talented Students. The arts provide new challenges for students already considered successful. Students who outgrow their learning environment usually get bored and complacent. The arts offer a chance for unlimited challenge. For instance, older students may teach and mentor younger ones who are learning to play musical instruments, and some advanced students may work with professional artists.

The World of Work. The arts connect learning experiences to the world of everyday work. The adult workplace has changed. The ability to generate ideas, bring ideas to life, and communicate them to others is key to workplace success. Whether in a classroom or in a studio as an artist, the student is learning and practicing future workplace behaviors. Let’s take a look at the three major forms of artistic expression—music, visual arts, and dance and drama—and observe what


Barry, N., Taylor, J., & Walls, K. (2002). The role of the fine and performing arts in high school dropout prevention. In R. J. Deasy (Ed.), Critical links: Learning in the arts and student academic and social development (pp. 74–75). Washington, DC: Arts Education Partnership.

Burton, J. M., Horowitz, R., & Abeles, H. (2000). Learning in and through the arts: The question of transfer. Studies in Art Education, 41, 228–257.

Clawson, H. J., & Coolbaugh, K. (2001, May). The YouthARTS Development Project. Juvenile Justice Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

Mason, C. Y., Steedly, K. M., & Thormann, M. S. (2008). Impact of arts integration on voice, choice, and access. Teacher Education and Special Education, 31, 36–46.

Rabkin, N., & Redmond, R. (2004). Putting the arts in the picture: Reforming education in the 21st century. Chicago: Columbia College.

Respress, T., & Lutfi, G. (2006). Whole brain learning: The fine arts with students at risk. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 15, 24–31.

Wright, R., John, L., Ellenbogen, S., Offord, D. R., Duku, E. K., & Rowe, W. (2006). Effect of a structured arts program on the psychosocial functioning of youth from low-income communities: Findings from a Canadian longitudinal study. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 26, 186–205.

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  1. April 30, 2012 at 12:41 am
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