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Touching Hearts and Minds — and Strengthening Communities

Josephine Ramirez

Josephine Ramirez, Former Portfolio Director

Does participation in the arts influence civic engagement?

This is an important question for all leaders, artists, and nonprofits who believe that arts experiences strengthen community — fostering deeper understanding and empathy among diverse populations, helping individuals gain the ability to adapt to change, and inspiring all to act in the interest of others. Knowing how the arts truly help us live better together becomes especially important as we navigate ideological, cultural, and political rifts in our country.

The answer to this question is vital to the growing number of arts nonprofits experimenting with or fully embracing engagement as a pathway to sustained relevance — including our grantee-partners in the New California Arts Fund.

We asked Nick Rabkin, a leading thinker and researcher in the sector, to take a close look at links between arts and civic engagement. Hearts and Minds: The Arts and Civic Engagement presents his findings and analysis. You can download the full report and a sharable summary on our website.

As Nick reports, there is ample evidence of compelling connections. The headline is that people who participate in arts, especially those who go beyond traditional arts audience experiences, are more likely to be active in their communities and to be making a difference in the lives of others. His analysis yields essential knowledge regarding the personal and societal values rooted in experiences of arts and culture.

Nick’s distillation of research points to the positive effect of arts involvement on civic participation. All arts nonprofits have natural advantages in helping people achieve new levels of understanding, empathy, and adaptation — critical capacities for acceptance and connection across class, race, heritage, or immigration status. Nick’s study shows that for many, arts experiences fuel civic engagement, enabling people to apply these levers for greater good.

We hope that arts nonprofits and others absorb and embrace the implications of these findings, exploring ways to more effectively provide arts experiences that enrich our shared social and civic life.

I invite you to join the conversation here, offering your own ideas and insights on what art — and arts nonprofits — can do to strengthen and enrich our lives together.