Art Makes New Yorkers Happy – A New Study Proves It
Culture is more than entertainment. For New Yorkers it’s pivotal to good health too. Now the City is taking note.
“Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge
I’m trying not to lose my head
It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under” – Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, 1982
You can bet when rapper Melle Mel was writing the lyrics to the “The Message” thirty-five years ago, he wasn’t standing outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Guggenheim. As if you needed convincing, a new study published by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice gives plenty of ammunition to the argument that that New York’s cultural centers — whether museums, theaters, bookstores or other creative spaces are good for the health of the people who live there, Crain’s reports.
The fact that most cultural institutions happen to be located in some of the most exclusive parts of town, where residents may never have known what it’s like to have ridden on the subway, let alone skipped a meal, fosters a chicken and egg argument to the study. If they have the money to live near a museum, chances are they were in pretty good healthy before they moved there. The authors are well aware of this:
“The neighborhoods with the highest cultural concentrations have per capita income nearly twice the citywide average, much lower poverty rates, and higher numbers of college graduates and non-family households,” they note.
Gentrification has been doing multiple sweeps throughout sections of New York for decades and some neighborhoods that are now affluent, such as the area around The Lincoln Center which was considered “the worst slum section in the City of New York” by NYCHA, writes 6sqft.
Now the same is happening in other parts of the city, there have been grounds to put the study to the test. In Corona, Queens, the study notes that residents have benefited from programming at the recently renovated Queens Museum. Museum staff work with local groups on projects that integrate artistic expression and social justice, such as Mujeres, a dance group that also engages in activism around immigration rights. “With Queens Museum,” the study authors write, “voice is expressed as cultural value, and engaging community means creating a cultural environment that leads to change.”
The University of Pennsylvania report states:
“Cultural assets are part of a neighborhood ecology that promotes wellbeing. At its base, our hypothesis is that social connection is the key to the improvements in social wellbeing that we’ve documented. A neighborhood’s cultural ecology is one means through which social connection is fostered, and our findings are the results of culture’s contribution to social connection.”
The city’s Department of Cultural Affairs is taking the report to heart and will use the study to help develop its first ever cultural plan for NYC. According to a press release, this plan, to be presented to the City Council in July, will focus on “expanding access to cultural opportunities for all New Yorkers,” — which is great for culture and even better for New Yorkers.