Though the arts receive relatively little attention from policymakers and school leaders, exposing young people to art and culture can have a big impact on their development. The problem is that almost no one is bothering to study and document the extent to which the arts and culture can affect students. Instead, policymakers, researchers, and schools are typically focused on what is regularly and easily measured: math and reading achievement. This leads defenders of the arts to attempt to connect the arts to improved math and reading scores—a claim for which there is almost no rigorous evidence. Other arts advocates believe that the benefits cannot and need not be measured.
But the important effects of art and cultural experiences on students can be rigorously measured. In fact, we recently conducted two studies that used random-assignment research designs to identify causal effects of exposure to the arts through museum and theater attendance. In the museum study, we held a lottery with nearly 11,000 students from 123 Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma schools, roughly half of whom were assigned to visit Crystal Bridges of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., while the other half served as the control group. In the live-theater study, we conducted a lottery to offer free tickets to roughly half of the 700 Arkansas students applying to see “Hamlet” or “A Christmas Carol” at a professional theater in Fayetteville.
Read more on the Education Week website