To improve the perceived public value of the arts, we must connect into the places where people find value. To get members of our community to stand up and say, “We want more,” we have to tell them why “more” matters. The closer to the main hopes, dreams, and concerns of a community we can thread the benefits of arts and culture, the more likely members of that community are to stand up when arts and culture is threatened.

If we’re trying to create advocates for arts and culture among the members of communities, we need to increase the occasions where thinking about the arts makes sense. Because the truth is, the arts make more things possible, from better education to greater health outcomes to a more civically-engaged citizenry—it’s just that people don’t always see the connection to the arts when change happens.

Knowing people prioritize core issue areas like education, job security, housing, public safety, and health and wellness, how do we show the important ways the arts intersect with their day-to-day lives? At Americans for the Arts, our answer is the Arts + Social Impact Explorer.

This online tool draws together over 1,000 data points on how the arts integrate into—and impact—community life: top-line research, example projects, core research papers, and service and partner organizations from 26 different sectors, ranging from tourism to health and wellness, immigration to innovation, faith to environment.

The Explorer is designed as an entry point to the large and growing body of research, projects, and support organizations that exist at the intersection of the Arts and various parts of our community. It creates an experience that can scale from casual surfing to deep exploration of a topic—you can glean a starting set of information in five minutes, or can follow the embedded hyperlinks (up to 20 per subject area) to visit the websites of all the example projects, access the research referenced, and engage directly with the other partners doing this work around the country.

Let’s say you want to find ways to engage veterans in your community. Visit the Arts + Social Impact Explorer and click to spin the wheel to Military. First, you’ll get a micro-summary on the intersection of arts and the military, to set out terminology and a bit of context. Click Learn More to expand the discussion of the intersection and download a 4-page, printable PDF Fact Sheet on arts and the military to share with a decisionmaker near you.

Back in the center of the circle, you can click to navigate left or right and explore more resources, including Impact Points: five crucial, data-backed ways the arts impact each intersection with sources and links for back-up. In the Military Impact Points section, you’ll see that 2 out of 3 soldiers say art therapy improved their depression, patients with Traumatic Brain Injury saw an 83% decline in stress levels, art therapy saves billions of dollars in treatment costs, and veterans themselves rank it in the top five treatments most helpful to their recovery.

But that’s not all! You’ll also find up to five Examples of Practice from across the country and the world, complete with an image, description, website, and e-mail address to learn more about each project. There is also a Reading List of up to five core reports and a list of Core Organizations supporting the work at each intersection.

The goal? To make it easier to see the ways that the arts can—and do—permeate community life, and to provide advocates and leaders with the information and research they need to make that impact visible and encourage deeper investment in the arts through pro-arts policy and pro-arts funding.

Over the next few months, we’ll be drawing on the Arts + Social Impact Explorer to share some of the great stories, data points, and connections that are inside it. We want you to use it—often, and well, and in ways that surprise and excite those who make up your community.

The social impact body of work is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Kresge Foundation, and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. We thank them for making it possible. The Explorer contains over 1,000 independent data points, examples, and links, and images all of which were compiled and transformed into this interactive tool by a core team including authors Rebecca Novick, Mark Valdez, Devra Thomas, and Jason Tseng, editors Anne Canzonetti and Elizabeth Sweeney, Americans for the Arts staff members Graham Dunstan, Kim Hedges, and Mara Walker, and the teams at the design firm Machinery and development firm New Target. On behalf of all of them, I hope this tool is as valuable as we have hoped, and that it powers great new dialogues in your communities going forward.


Thanks so much to the staff at Americans for the Arts and all of the financial underwriters who made this instrument possible. I have already shared it with our local arts commission, cultural directors in our community, and other civic leaders who were quite impressed with what this has to offer. Bravo!

Clay, you state “Knowing people prioritize core issue areas like education, job security, housing, public safety, and health and wellness, how do we show the important ways the arts intersect with their day-to-day lives?” and I wonder whether you feel that the arts are a “core issue”. It seems every effort you describe is an attempt to hitch the value of the arts to some other motivating force. Are you reluctant to credit the arts with value in themselves? As if the only reason people should care about the arts is that they serve some other need? Is that what you think about the arts?
My question is, if our “core values” don’t need to be bolstered by additional support but apparently can stand on their own, that they themselves don’t need to be justified, why is it we have ceded this ground for the arts themselves? Why are we concentrating on the merely subsidiary values the arts have? Value only in relation to other things in our lives for which we do NOT need similar justification? Because, while every data point you are articulating is true in some sense, these are never the reasons for art itself to exist.
No child ever picked up a paintbrush in the name of cognitive development. No patron of theater ever attended a show merely because the economy would benefit. The things you are describing are not specifically REASONS for art to even exist. The fact that art already has a place in people’s lives allows it to function in these various instrumental ways. We did not invent the arts to solve these other issues. Why, I wonder, do you think the arts are a part of human lives in the first place? Why does the world contain art rather than no art at all? As a means of benefiting the economy? What came first, the unquestioned value of art in human lives, or the value of the arts for some other purpose? When did we start needing to justify the arts? When did we begin questioning their value? In what sense are we right in doing so? In what sense does doing so miss the point?
Do you actually seek to justify the art in your own daily life? No one else I know does. I am a Beatles fan, a lover of Impressionist painting, a working ceramics artist, etc., etc., and it is never a question of being justified or not. In other words, why do you think the arts need to be justified, but benefiting the economy does not? Don’t you believe in the arts as a core value? Because others clearly do.
If there is art in your life, ask yourself why it is there. Is it only serving an outside purpose? Is that why you have art in your life? Or do we orient our lives in a way that positions art as something core to our sense of self, to who we think we are? Is our view on art any less inextricable from who we are than whether we are religious or not, politically conservative or liberal? Do we seek to prove the value of those things? The fact that there are opposing points of view does not seem to require that we ourselves need to hold such positions only because we are in some sense justified. The position itself justifies how we look out at the world. There are things we measure, and there are the measures themselves.
The gap seems to be between the people who think of the arts as a core value and those who do not, between something that measures the world and something that needs to be measured. Why do I get the sense that most of the arts field ‘leadership’ want to stand on the other side? Isn’t there something horrific in that? ‘Americans for the Arts‘ is an inspiring title for an organization. It gives me hope. Shouldn’t we be FULLY behind the arts rather than staking even some (much less all) of our chips on an anemic substitute that fits peoples lives merely in consequence of fulfilling other ends?
If we think that the arts only “intersect” with people’s day to day lives we have missed the point that the arts ARE how many people navigate the world. The arts guide usbecause they reflect who we are. Some of us, at least….. The arts don’t simply “intersect” with our lives because we would not be who we are without them. The arts are a form of bedrock that other things in our lives take their meaning from. The arts give our lives meaning and value. Where the arts are concerned meaning and value do not need to be imported from elsewhere….
It seems that most people for whom the arts matter prioritize the arts in roughly the same way that education, job security, public housing, etc., are prioritized. When we give examples only for why the arts matter some other way, for some extraneous benefit or impact they have, we are merely hitching our wagon to someone else’s. We hide the core value the arts have in a confusion of incidental relationships. The people who doubt the arts’ value will never be shown why the arts matter as they do to us. They will never learn to value the arts as a core value because we have already sold the arts as merely contingent on their own values. At most we may win isolated funding and policy battles but end up losing the real war to change the public’s hearts and minds.
When we give all our efforts into proving why the arts matter as something dependent on other priorities we undermine the idea that the arts themselves are a source of value, a measure for meaning in the world. Isn’t that a dangerous thing to do? Even suggesting it undercuts why art matters for some of us. How can we be Americans for the Arts and be for that?

This is unbelievable! I haven't spent much time with it yet, but I am certainly going to. Thank you for making it and for continuing to help those of us "in the field" have the kind of resources we need to make our cases for support.