Over the past two decades evidence about the role of the arts in promoting health and wellbeing has grown substantially, including studies reporting the impacts of arts engagement for older adults. However, much evidence is based on secondary sources and is focused on particular art forms. This large survey of 5,300 adults in the UK during 2018-2019 examined the connections between art engagement and social wellbeing using the HEartS Survey, a tool that aims for inclusivity while being shorter than many existing arts engagement measures.
It is distinctive in several ways. It focuses specifically on mental and social wellbeing; it explores trends in participatory arts and receptive arts vis a vis a wide array of arts, from performing arts to crafts; it groups respondents into three clusters: “low engagers,” “receptive consumers,” and “omnivores;” and it investigated the extent to which engagement with different art forms and activities occurs mainly alone or with others. In addition, the study contextualized the findings with other research through in-depth analysis of both content and methods.
With respect to older adults the authors discuss the many studies on older adult loneliness and lack of social connections and the beneficial effects of art consumption and art making. They also point out recent epidemiological studies that document the role of participatory arts in strengthening and building relationships and promoting “reciprocal relationships among older adults and the wider community.” This national survey, with its detailed discussion of methodology and findings, offers an instructive model for other research on arts engagement trends in different adult populations.