Satisfaction Survey Suggests Arts Critical to Quality of Life

Newswise — A research team led by Research Director Dr. Will Garrett-Petts of Thompson Rivers University is now ready to share preliminary descriptive results from a five-community Arts and Quality of Life Survey.

The largest ever undertaken anywhere on the impact of arts-related activities on quality of life, the survey, conducted by TRU honorary doctor and UNBC professor emeritus Dr. Alex Michalos, is part of a set of projects funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council through its Community-University Research grants program aimed at creating an index to measure quality of life in small cities.

"Over the next two years, we will have about 20 projects going," explained Garrett-Petts, who oversees the research program, providing intellectual direction for all the research projects and bringing them together into a coherent whole.

Together with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Creative City Network, the Canadian Council on Social Development, and over 20 other community partners, Thompson Rivers University's researchers are in the process of establishing new instruments for measuring the cultural, social, economic, and environmental health of small cities.

"The range of projects could be described as sinking different shafts into the same mine," said Garrett-Petts, who explained that researchers will be using various disciplinary methods to better understand culture of small cities and how social, cultural, environmental development can best be measured.

Michalos' mine-shaft involved a survey last fall of 2000 randomly selected households in five BC communities. Householders in Comox Valley, Prince George, Nanaimo, Kamloops and Port Moody, were sent surveys specific to each community, of which 1027 responded. Breakdowns for each community will be available around mid-April, when the group will also undertake a province-wide survey.

"In the survey, we refer to arts in a very broad sense to include such things as music, dance, theatre, painting, sculpture, pottery, literature, including novels, short stories, and poetry, photography, quilting, gardening, flower arranging, textile and fabric art," said Michalos.

Survey respondents, of whom two-thirds were women of about 53 years of age, a third of whom had a university degree, "are not likely to be representative of each community," he explained, adding, "It is fair to say that those who responded to the survey had some interest in the arts."

Sixty-seven arts related activities were identified in the survey and respondents were asked to indicate average numbers of hours or times per year that they participated in each, and then rate their average levels of satisfaction with each activity on a seven-point scale running from very dissatisfied to very satisfied.

The weekly activity with the greatest number of participants (917=90%) was listening to music, followed by reading novels (705=69%) and watching movies on video/dvd (422=41%). On average, respondents listened to music about 13 hours per week, and had an average level of satisfaction of 5.9 out of 7.0. Reading novels averaged 8.5 hours per week with a 6.2 average level of satisfaction.

Among activities engaged in a relatively few times per year, the greatest number of participants (657=64%) listed going to movies, followed by going to concerts (612=60%) and attending community festivals (557=54%). Average times per year engaged in movie-going was 5.9, with an average satisfaction level of 5.4. Average times per year going to concerts was 4, with an average satisfaction level of 6.1.

Interestingly, 917 music listeners scored the second highest average number of hours per week (13), likely because people often listen to music while participating in other activities or performing other tasks.

When asked where people first learned about their most important arts-related activity, 51% said in school and 30% said listening to a parent. Apparently one way to kill arts-related activities would be to drop them from our school curricula. On average, people were about 13 years old when they first learned about their most important arts-related activity.

There were 45 statements about beliefs and feelings about art, and these will be used to construct indexes as our analyses proceed, e.g., Index of Arts as Health Enhancers, as Community Builders and so on. However, here are some examples of specific items.

Ninety percent of respondents agreed that "my artistic activities have a positive effect upon my life," eighty-nine percent agreed that "my artistic activities contribute to my emotional wellbeing," ninety percent agreed that "attractive buildings/architecture are important for a community," and eighty percent agreed (55.7%) or strongly agreed (24.1%) that "artistic activity strengthens a community."

As usual for practically any surveyed population in the world, highest average levels of satisfaction were reported for one's living partner, 6.2 out of 7.0, and average scores for satisfaction with life as a whole were 5.7, for happiness 5.9 and for satisfaction with the overall quality of life, 5.8.

Lowest average levels of satisfaction were reported for government officials; 3.4 for provincial officials, 3.5 for federal and 3.8 for local officials.

"Governments at all levels tend to be public punching bags in satisfaction surveys," said Michalos.

The Mapping Quality of Life and the Culture of Small Cities CURA is a five-year research initiative funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Thompson Rivers University was awarded $1,000,000 in May last year.

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