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A New Approach releases Transformative:

Transformative: Impacts of Culture and Creativity, Australian Academy of the Humanities, December 2020

The evidence is clear: when people have opportunities to engage in some form of cultural or creative activity, they generally have better educational outcomes, are less lonely, are healthier both physically and mentally, and enjoy a happier and healthier life in old age.

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Executive summary

Full report

Factsheets for this report:
1. Society and place
2. Economy and employment
3. Innovation
4. Health and wellbeing
5. Education and learning
6. International relations
7. A rich cultural life

Also see the media release and media coverage.


Individuals, communities, businesses, philanthropists and governments invest in and engage with arts and culture. Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that almost all of us (82.4%) are attending cultural venues and events, and households are spending more than $25 billion a year on cultural goods and services. What are the impacts of this participation and investment? What benefits do they generate? What do we need to do to ensure these investments of time and money are sustained, relevant and effective into the future?

This is our second report, Transformative: Impacts of Culture and Creativity. It recognises some of the challenges Australia faces as a nation and asks, ‘what if creative and cultural activity could make a transformative contribution towards solving them?’

The report provides a snapshot of current research and findings about the positive impacts of artistic, creative and cultural activity on seven different parts of our lives and asks:

  • What are impacts of cultural and creative activity and participation?
  • What are some examples of impacts from around the world?
  • What is Australia already doing and what could we do better?

Proven impacts of cultural and creative activities

Society and place: A range of studies have found that deliberately focusing cultural and creative activities on social cohesion impacts helps to build community, belonging, and trust; enhances empathy and inclusion; helps combat the growing issues of loneliness and isolation; assists individuals and communities to recover from disasters and trauma; and makes cities, suburbs and regions more liveable. OECD research has shown that a more cohesive society often also has a stronger and faster-growing GDP. (see the Factsheet)

Economy:  Cultural and creative activities already make a significant contribution to Australia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (6.4%) and Gross Value Added (5.6%), as well as employing 5.5% of the total workforce. Given that creative services such as design and game development are in hot demand globally—and these are areas in which Australia excels—there are significant opportunities for growth. (see the Factsheet)

Innovation: Creative capability is demonstrably the driving force behind innovation-driven, economically-diversified economies. Preparing Australia for the future of work in the Fourth Industrial Revolution requires workers to develop skills in creativity. Engaging in creative and cultural activities has been found in global studies to help build the skills needed for these rapid changes. (see the Factsheet)

Health and wellbeing: There is substantial evidence that, when art and culture are used in clinical settings, they consistently deliver improved physical, mental and emotional health outcomes. Engaging with arts and cultural activities impacts the social determinants of health and has been found to mitigate the risks of dementia. In 2016, Australian researchers produced the first dose-response style study of arts and mental health, showing that 2-hour “doses” of creative activities per week could enhance mental wellbeing in a general population. (see the Factsheet)

Education and learning: Arts and culture-based education has been found to be beneficial in developing intellectual skills and enhancing educational impacts. Not only does it help future-proof Australia’s workforce, it also helps mitigate disadvantage, particularly with students who are “at-risk”: who are socio-economically disadvantaged, at risk of prematurely disengaging from schooling, and/or expressing anti-social or non-coping behaviours. (see the Factsheet)

International engagement: Arts and culture have successfully been used by other countries to achieve diplomatic soft power objectives, improving relations—and trust—between countries. This has been shown to generate increased levels of trade, investment, security and exchanges of talent. Australia is active in this area, but there is a need to strengthen our efforts, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. (see the Factsheet)

Culture: Despite these factors, Australians demonstrate through their actions that they see culture and creativity as a relevant and valued part of life. 82.4% of us attended cultural venues in 2017-18 and household expenditure reached AUD$25.5 billion in 2015-16. An increasing number of us—31.4% in 2017-18—are active in our own personal creative pursuits. Involvement with arts and culture, from active production through to passive consumption, has been found to increase feelings of wellbeing, belonging and happiness; help individuals process trauma and overcome conflicts with others; and help develop intellectual and social skills, as well as building social and cultural capital in urban, regional and remote areas. (see the Factsheet)

For consideration

Federal, state, territory and local governments, with a cross-department approach at each level; Cultural sector including cultural institutions: Establish a cross-portfolio policy inquiry, modelled on the APS200 projects, to map current investment in and impacts of cultural and creative spend and identify the policy areas that would most benefit from strategic investment. This should include a strategy and mechanism for better coordination between the three levels of government. At a federal level, grow the impact of—and effective collaboration between—the Commonwealth National Cultural Institutions, by establishing a clear and cooperative framework within which government expectations can be communicated, enabling collaborations to be incentivised and reported upon.

Department of Industry, Innovation and Science; Australian Research Council; Universities; Chambers of Commerce; Industry leaders: Identify areas of potential comparative advantage and incorporate the creative, cultural and digital sectors in industry development programs such as the Industry Growth Centres, Industrial Transformation Scheme and Cooperative Research Program. This will assist in diversifying Australia’s economic base and addressing our trade deficit in creative goods and services.

Department of Health; Universities, health care providers; Australian Research Council; health insurers: Recognise the positive impacts of arts and cultural interventions in treating loneliness and mitigating the risk of dementia, and prioritise research and investment in randomised-controlled trials for Australia-specific interventions.

Philanthropists and other private supporters; Government agencies; Local, state and territory governments; Religious Institutions; Not-for-profits: Prioritise new investment in cultural participation programs and arts-based initiatives that bring together communities and give individuals both skills and a greater sense of agency to encourage greater social inclusion and cohesion.

Government agencies; Departments of Education; Australian Research Council; Unions; Parent groups: Support research that explores the specific, causal effects of arts and culture on students’ academic performance and long-term outcomes, to assist in identifying cost-effective strategies.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; AusTrade; Australian businesses with international ties; Chambers of Commerce; Industry bodies; Diaspora communities: Ensure arts and culture are a central pillar of Australia’s soft power diplomatic activity. Include opportunities for collaboration and exchange in research and practice between Australia and our regional neighbours.

Federal, state, territory and local governments; Businesses based in or focused on regional Australia (including through corporate social responsibility activities): Prioritise initiatives for regional and remote Australia to benefit from the particular impacts and value of cultural infrastructure (both built and human) for economic diversification, community wellbeing and population attraction and retention.


This report has been prepared by A New Approach (ANA). The data collation and preliminary analysis underpinning the report was provided by Tracker Development. Additional research was completed by Kate Fielding, Dr Iva Glisic and Dr Jodie-Lee Trembath.

Expert analysis and input was provided by ANA’s Research Working Group, chaired by Professor Malcolm Gillies AM FAHA, with Distinguished Professor Ien Ang FAHA, Professor Tony Bennett AcSS FAHA, Distinguished Professor Stuart Cunningham AM FAcSS FAHA and Professor Jennifer Milam FAHA, and from ANA Reference Group members led by Chair Rupert Myer AO.

The opinions in this report do not necessarily represent the views of ANA’s funding partners, or the individual members involved in the governance or advisory committees.

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ANA can be contacted directly via NewApproach@humanities.org.au

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