A new study by Alex Michalos challenges assumptions we have about arts and culture and their impact on the quality of life. The article, found here, says the following:
The arts not just for urbanites, study finds
Happiness Research; Where you live has modest effect on role of culture
Misty Harris, Canwest News ServicePublished: Tuesday, January 06, 2009
The commonly held belief that the arts are the exclusive purview of an urban elite is being challenged by a Canadian academic who specializes in happiness research.
Alex Michalos at the University of Northern British Columbia measured the impact of 66 artistic and cultural activities on the perceived quality of life of city-dwelling Canadians and those in smaller communities, and found that where we live has only a modest effect.
In fact, the cultural endeavours enjoyed by both groups and how frequently they enjoyed them was almost identical.
Whether looking at people's favourite cultural pursuits or the influence they have on people's happiness, residents of big cities and smaller towns were more alike than they were different -- an interesting finding to researchers after last year's remarks by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who called the arts a "niche issue" outside the scope of "ordinary working people."
"There just wasn't the huge difference we thought there would be," says Prof. Michalos, a social scientist. His study, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, compared data from 1,027 adults in five small B. C. communities with that of 708 adults in a provincially representative sample consisting largely of urbanites.
The top five activities engaged in by respondents in both surveys were going to the movies, attending concerts, attending community festivals, visiting historic sites and visiting museums. City dwellers tended to get the most satisfaction from attending the theatre, while those in smaller communities most enjoyed museums devoted to history, technology and science.
Looking at arts-related pastimes measured in hours per week, the top five also matched up: listening to music, reading for oneself, watching movies on DVD, singing alone and reading to others.
Both samples considered music to be the art most important to them.
Also among the 62 % of similarities were: the level of satisfaction with arts support by governing bodies (mixed to negative), level of overall life satisfaction (positive), and ease of access to their most important arts activity (positive).
Prof. Michalos could not name a single striking difference in cultural consumption between the two samples.
A spokesman for the National Gallery of Canada says people often need a little push to get past their misconceptions about culture.
"Sometimes people have been dragged here by a relative or are part of a school group -- little captive audiences," says Gary Goodacre.
"But once they're inside, it doesn't take much to dig down and stir up that curiosity and enthusiasm."