Art: A Recreation Thing

By Riley, Kevin W. | Parks & Recreation, July 2002 | Go to article overview

Art: A Recreation Thing


Riley, Kevin W., Parks & Recreation


Research Update

Public art programs have distinct benefits for artists, those who enjoy art and the communities in which they live.

Researchers (Carpenter, 1999; and McCarthy, Ondaatje, & Zakaras, 2001) agree that art participation is an important leisure pursuit among adults. Art participation can be active, where people create or perform the art, or it can be passive, as is the case when an audience views a performance or when a person visits a gallery. Regardless of the mode of engagement, there are benefits not only to the individual, but also to that person's community.

Benefits of Art Programs

Spector (2000) suggests that active art experiences benefit all age groups by providing individuals with the means to freely and creatively express themselves. Self-expression, in turn, promotes individuality, bolsters selfconfidence and improves motivation and attitudes towards academic performance. Both active and passive art experiences can provide the benefits of discovery, stimulation and relaxation (Oliphant, 2000). Furthermore, people's participation in art enhances development and expands their thoughts about culture. In short, art can make individuals more socially conscious.

Communities that are committed to providing opportunities for experiencing art are considered more livable because they are attractive to businesses and industry and they offer a higher quality of life for residents (Riley, 2002). Tourism is strongly linked to art-art activities are believed to stimulate tourism in a community, and vice versa. Art-related tourism generates extra visitors and revenue, attracts high-income consumers, extends the tourist season and is a "green" form of the industry (Hughes, 2000). In this way, art-related tourism is believed to contribute to the regeneration of cities. Revitalization efforts have increased in many cities, including Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia, because of the strong presence of art opportunities in relation to other factors such as ethnic diversity. Higher levels of art participation change the social environment of a neighborhood fostering a sense of collective efficacy (Social Impact of the Arts Project, 2001).

In particular situations, art programs can be highly effective in reducing community problems related to delinquent behavior and truancy in youth (Spector, 2000). The Philadelphia Department of Recreation, Mural Arts Program (MAP) is one such program. It began in the early 1980s when the city undertook an effort to remove graffiti in the city while creating a positive, productive and creative outlet for adjudicated graffiti artists. The program gave artists the opportunity to use their talents to beautify public spaces through the creation of murals. By 1997, MAP had developed a year-round curriculum incorporating art workshops, skills training and insight into different art careers. The program instills pride, excellence, diligence and civic responsibility in the participants. As a tribute to its success, in 2001 MAP received a Coming Up Taller Award, which recognizes national outstanding community art programs geared at serving children and youth.

In recognition of these and other benefits, many communities are finding creative ways to ensure that the public is provided with adequate opportunities to experience art. Public art programs are one way. These programs are typically administered by government, which commissions or mandates works of art for display in public spaces. Public art works can include street furniture, decorations, paving and landmarks, and may take on many forms, including sculpture, decorative ironwork, mosaic flooring and murals. The primary purpose of public art is to bring art into everyday life, to energize public spaces and to arouse society's thinking and imagination.

Strategies to Increase Participation in Art Programs

Despite the significant benefits that art participation can offer to individuals and communities, only 35 percent of the American adult population visit museums or galleries at least once during the year, and only about 25 percent attend a live performance (Bradshaw, 1998). …

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