28 Aug, 2020

The arts crucial for kids - Australian Arts Council Report

Social cohesion, happiness: parents see value in introducing young kids to the arts

Linda Morris – The Age Online

Children’s theatre maker Sarah Austin believes it is never too soon to introduce a child to the sensory pleasures of theatre and so, it seems, do an increasing number of Australian parents.

New research from the Australia Council for the Arts shows a growing number of Australians value the arts for its role in building social cohesion, personal happiness, overcoming stress and anxiety and driving economic growth.

Creating Our Future is the fourth report in a landmark study that examines the cultural attitudes, habits and tastes of Australians, and follows on from surveys conducted in 2016, 2013 and 2009.

Sixty-three per cent of parents believe the arts is crucial to childhood development and education (up 13 per cent from the last survey in 2016) and 74 per cent of all respondents – 9000 were surveyed – wanted arts learning to be a spending priority.

Dr Austin, a lecturer at the Victorian College of the Arts who has been creating theatre for young people for 15 years, is unsurprised by the findings.

‘‘Neuroscience tells us that the first three years of life are crucial for a baby’s development,’’ Dr Austin said. ‘‘This is when neural pathways are wired, and when we have an opportunity to foster curiosity, connection, risk, and beauty in our children’s understanding of the world.’’

Generation Z, defined in the report as those aged between 15 and 24, are some of the sector’s hungriest consumers and its strongest supporter by age group, with 83 per cent attending live events including live music (66 per cent) and festivals (61 per cent).

Australians’ increased regard for the arts marked a shift away from a growing ambivalence to arts and culture detected in 2016.

‘‘The idea that we are soaking in [arts] is becoming more apparent to people – that we are not talking about a pastime but something intrinsic to the lives of all Australians,’’ said Dr Wendy Were, the council’s executive director of advocacy and development.

The survey was conducted in late 2019 before Australia’s summer of bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic forced theatres, museums and galleries online.

Creating Our Future: Results of the National Arts Participation Survey