Earlier this year Secretary of Education Arne Duncan voiced his support for dance, music, theater, and visual arts programs, calling them "essential to preparing our nation's young people for a global economy fueled by innovation and creativity." A new study from the University of Illinois at Chicago points to an equally important reason we need to make sure every school has a robust arts program: People who engage in the arts or watch others do so are more likely to be civically engaged, socially tolerant, and altruistic.
Kelly LeRoux, an assistant professor of public administration at UIC who is the principal investigator on the study, says their data analysis found a high correlation between the arts and altruistic actions—like donating blood, donating money, giving directions, or doing favors for a neighbor—that place the interests of others over the interests of self, and civic activities like volunteering and being involved in organizations and politics. The respondents with greater arts exposure and participation were also more welcoming to people from different racial backgrounds and were willing to having someone gay "speak in their community or teach in public schools."
At a time when arts budgets are being decimated, it's concerning that we're depriving students of such critical benefits. Indeed, "If policymakers are concerned about a decline in community life," says LeRoux, "the arts shouldn't be disregarded as a means to promote an active citizenry."