Transformative: Impacts of Culture and Creativity 

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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 the 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?
We have a powerful tool for enhancing social harmony, engagement and community connectivity but it is currently underutilised in Australia. — Transformative

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 Gross Domestic Product (GDP).


Cultural and creative activities already make a significant contribution to Australia’s GDP (6.4%) and Gross Value Added (5.6%), as well as employing at least 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.


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.

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.

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.

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.


Deliberately working to strengthen a nation’s cultural life has significant benefits for citizens and residents. Australians demonstrate through their actions that they want a rich cultural life, and see culture and creativity as a relevant and valued part of lived experience. 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. Yet despite the demand for creative and cultural activity, there are many barriers to participation still to be overcome.

Opportunities for Consideration 

Opportunity 1

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.

Who: Federal, state, territory and local governments, with a cross department approach at each level; Cultural sector including cultural institutions

Opportunity 2

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.

Who: Department of Industry, Innovation and Science; Australian Research Council; Universities; Chambers of Commerce; Industry leaders

Opportunity 3

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.

Who: Department of Health; Universities; Health care providers; Australian Research Council; Health insurers

Opportunity 4

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.

Who: Philanthropists and other private supporters; Government agencies; Local, state and territory governments; Religious institutions; Not-for-profits

Opportunity 5

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.

Who: Government agencies; Departments of Education; Australian Research Council; Unions; Parent groups

Opportunity 6

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.

Who: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; AusTrade; Australian businesses with international ties; Chambers of Commerce; Industry bodies; Diaspora communities

Opportunity 7

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.

Who: Federal, state, territory and local governments; Businesses based in or focused on regional Australia (including through corporate social responsibility activities)

Suggested Citation

Fielding, Kate, Iva Glisic and Jodie-Lee Trembath. November 2019. Transformative: Impacts of Culture and Creativity. Produced by A New Approach (ANA) think tank with lead delivery partner the Australian Academy of the Humanities. Canberra.

Report Design

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A New Approach (ANA) was established in 2018 with a $1.65 million commitment by The Myer Foundation, the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation and the Keir Foundation. The Australian Academy of the Humanities was the lead delivery partner for the initiative for the period 2018-2020, and this publication was produced during that period. It is reproduced here with the permission of the Academy.

This report has been prepared by 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.

© Australian Academy of the Humanities
This work is copyright. All material published or otherwise created by A New Approach (ANA) think tank is licenced under a Creative Commons—Attribution—Non-Commercial 4.0 International Licence.

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