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Dec 8, 2022 | by Margherita Musella

Evaluating what works for place-based arts and culture

Evidence reviews can generate insights on what works, for whom, how and at what cost. This evidence can then be mobilised by policy actors and used to inform spending decisions

We worked with the Institute for Cultural Capital to conduct a rapid review of the wellbeing evidence from place-based arts and culture interventions. It was funded by Spirit of 2012 and University of Warwick/Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Here, Head of Reviews and Evaluation Margherita Musella, introduces the findings and project outputs.

Arts, culture and heritage contribute to our national wellbeing and its drivers, and are recognised as one of four key policy areas for wellbeing

But how do we know what works? By looking at engagement in arts and culture within communities, we can capture insight into the ways in which policy impacts can differ between geographical places and populations.

What we did

The rapid review searched for evidence of wellbeing effects of place-based arts and culture interventions at the individual, community and national level, in the UK and across Europe. 

It incorporated a broader set of study designs and wellbeing outcomes to build on our previous reviews on visual arts, music, heritage and community engagement in arts and culture

From 937 initial results, we included 14 studies in our final set. These were delivered largely in the UK (10 studies of 14) between 2013 and 2022. 

The review looked at:

  • the wellbeing impacts of place-based arts and culture interventions with place-based and participatory components on healthy populations; 
  • the drivers of these impacts and mechanisms of success, including in areas and populations with historically low levels of engagement in arts and culture;
  • the value of using place-based heritage assets to improve individual and community wellbeing; 
  • the role of inequalities in shaping cultural access and participation.

Cultural mega-events are an example of city-wide interventions that have the potential to generate social value in a place.

As Coventry City of Culture (CoC) 2021 drew to a close, we wanted to connect interesting research findings with priorities of policy-making that can be used by other places in their plans, delivery and legacy. 

For a full description of methodology, see the full report.

Key findings

The included studies fall under three key themes: Museum, Community and Cultural event.

We found high-quality evidence on the positive effects of targeted museum-based interventions. Specifically, interventions with a volunteering or social prescribing component. These lead to improvements in subjective and mental wellbeing for people with low wellbeing, particularly when they:

  • are routed in local heritage and/or culture;
  • involve forging connections with others.

We found that increased cultural participation through mega-events leads to:

For a more detailed selection of relevant findings that have the potential to move the evidence base forward, see our briefing.

For an exhaustive discussion of findings, read the full report

Explore our supplementary report, created for University of Warwick’s Cities of Culture: Future Trends Series which draws out key insights and implications for Coventry and beyond.

What this means in practice

Those planning and funding arts and cultural events can use this evidence to:

  • inform future policy and investment decisions;
  • Inform future design and delivery;
  • shape evaluation plans to ensure a focus on relevant, consistent outcomes and to capture legacy learning.

Place-based cultural events have intrinsic value to people’s health and enrichment. 

By generating richer evaluation insights, we can continue to grow our understanding of how place-based arts and culture affect our quality of life at both the individual and community level.

See our briefing for specific recommendations for researchers, evaluators, funders and decision-makers.

If you’re interested in using these findings to assess the wellbeing impacts of culture-led change, Bradford City of Culture 2025 is looking for a Head of Evaluation. Find out more and apply by 5 January 2023.


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