People across the United Kingdom are deeply connected to the arts, as evidenced by the findings of a 2023 survey conducted by DCMS. An impressive 91 percent of UK adults engaged with the arts at least once in the previous year, with 74 percent attending events such as exhibitions or theatre performances, highlighting the intrinsic value of artistic expression.
The ability of the arts to entertain, stimulate the senses, and evoke a range of emotional responses, from joy to fear, forms the bedrock of their appeal. This fundamental premise underscores the primary benefit of artistic engagement. A recent London School of Economics (LSE) survey further supports this notion, ranking activities by perceived value and equating this value with happiness. Arts-related activities, such as attending the theatre or visiting museums, ranked among the most positively valued, surpassed only by sports and intimacy.
Beyond the personal joy derived from the arts, their impact reverberates through the UK in three key dimensions: economic contribution, individual enrichment, and community development. The arts sector, encompassing creators, distributors, promoters, educators, and suppliers, significantly contributes to the UK economy, generating £140 billion in total revenues in 2022.
Despite many arts organisations being not-for-profits, the economic impact is substantial, with a total gross value added (GVA) of £49 billion, equivalent to 2.2 percent of the national GVA. Notably, the arts sector employs over 620,000 people, with diverse enterprises, from small entities to significant institutions like the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
Individuals benefit from engaging with the arts, both in terms of skill development and improved well-being. Studies demonstrate that participation in arts activities fosters skills such as memory, problem-solving, and executive function, contributing to improved educational outcomes. Moreover, the impact extends to well-being, with arts engagement correlating with greater happiness and positive mood, as evidenced by UCL’s Arts, Culture & the Brain report.
The arts also play a crucial role in health, with cultural activities contributing to a 32 percent lower risk of depression in individuals over the age of 50. The National Health Service (NHS) has recognised this connection and integrated art activities into a social-prescribing program, aiming to reach over 900,000 people by 2023–24.
Communities thrive when connected to the arts, as the sector encourages sociable behaviour, enhances the attractiveness of local areas, and stimulates discourse. Initiatives such as ArtsEkta’s multicultural engagement workshops showcase the power of the arts to foster tolerance and appreciation of diverse cultures.
Place-making, creating vibrant and attractive communities, is another dimension of the arts’ impact. A flourishing arts sector contributes to social connections, local pride, and economic prosperity. For instance, the Hepworth Wakefield Art Museum has played a vital role in transforming its town, attracting visitors and catalysing the development of creative hubs.
Lastly, the arts are a powerful tool for raising awareness of sociopolitical issues. From films addressing mental health to art installations highlighting climate change, the arts create a space for reflection and dialogue on society’s critical issues.
As we explore the interconnected web of the UK arts sector’s impact, it becomes clear that its influence extends far beyond the canvas and the stage, touching the lives of individuals and communities in profound ways.