The Long-Term Community Benefits of Exposing Children to the Arts

In the current strained economic climate, organizations in both the public and private sectors are tasked with accounting for every penny and avoiding unnecessary expenses wherever possible. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this tendency toward austerity has had a devastating effect on arts education. When schools and other youth-based institutions are forced to tighten their belts, arts programs are typically among the first to be eliminated. After all, what good is painting, music, dancing, and other forms of artistic expression in the grand scheme of things? The arts simply aren’t essential, and they certainly aren’t practical…are they?

At the Thomas Foundation, we have seen firsthand the incredible power of arts education to transform the lives of young people and the communities in which they live. With the help of dedicated private donors like you, we support a number of arts and education initiatives such as the Sondeluz Dance School.

Located in Cali, Colombia, the Sondeluz Dance School does far more than teach salsa dancing. It uses this dance as a positive outlet within an extremely vulnerable population, offering disadvantaged young people an alternative to a life in the streets and building a stronger community that is based on opportunities and growth rather than violence and despair.

And the Sondeluz Dance School is far from an isolated example. Despite the popular view that arts education is inherently expendable, the community-building benefits of exposing children to the arts is extremely well documented.

Art Works, a nation-wide study funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, recently used federal statistics to compare American adolescents who have received arts education with their peers who have not. Their findings left no doubt about the incredible power of art to transform the lives of young people. Here are just a few facts that Art Works discovered:

  • Adolescent students of the arts are significantly more optimistic about their chances to attend college than non-arts students.
  • Adolescent students of the arts scored significantly higher on standardized vocabulary tests.
  • Adolescents enrolled in music are 26% less likely to consume alcohol and 24% less likely to use marijuana than non-music students.
  • Adolescent students of music and dance are significantly less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors.

And the positive benefits of youth arts education continue through adulthood. Art Works found that:

  • Former arts students are 55.38% more likely to have completed postsecondary coursework by adulthood and 29% more likely to earn a four-year college degree by age 32.
  • Former arts students are 26% less likely to have criminal records as adults.
  • Adults who had studied music in high school were 20.25% less likely to have tried marijuana, 26.55% less likely to have tried cocaine, 41.18% less likely to have tried crystal meth, and 25.12% less likely to have tried other illegal drugs.

Overall, the direct connection between youth arts education and a better society for all cannot be clearer. With your help, the Thomas Foundation can continue to support the Sondeluz Dance School and other arts education programs that build stable, productive communities and foster a brighter tomorrow for the world as a whole.