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Executive Summary

In 2001, the National Endowment for the Arts developed a cooperative agreement with The George Washington University to conduct a multisite national study with the aim of measuring the impact of professionally conducted community based cultural programs on the general health, mental health, and social activities of older persons, age 65 and older. Referred to as the Creativity and Aging Study, the project’s formal title is “The Impact of Professionally Conducted Cultural Programs on Older Adults”. No previous study of this nature using an experimental design and a control group had been carried out. The study takes place in three different sites across the country—the metro Washington, DC area; Brooklyn; and San Francisco. Each site involves two groups—(1) the Intervention Group, comprised of older individuals involved in a weekly participatory art program, and (2) those involved in a Control Group, comprised of individuals involved in their ongoing activities as usual. Each site recruited at least 100 older persons—50 participants in the Intervention Group and Control Group alike. The overall study has had 300 participants—150 in the Intervention Groups, 150 in the Control Groups. The average age in all three sites, Intervention and Control Groups alike, was approximately 80 years of age, The age range has been 65-103 years. Approximately 30 percent of the participants reflect racial and ethnic minorities. The groups were very well matched in level of functioning at the start of study, with very similar physical health, mental health, and level of activity profiles. They were all interviewed three times by research assistants—(1) at the start of the study to establish a baseline; (2) a year later; and finally (3) two years after the baseline assessment. Results reveal strikingly positive differences in the intervention group (those involved in intensive participatory art programs) as compared to a control group not involved in intensive cultural programs. Compared to the Control Group, those involved in the weekly participatory art programs, at the one and two year follow-up assessments, reported: (A) better health, fewer doctor visits, and less medication usage; (B) more positive responses on the mental health measures; (C) more involvement in overall activities. Since the study has collected so much rich data, analyses—especially secondary data analyses—are expected to go on throughout 2007. There is considerable interest on the parts of graduate students to assist in the analyses of the secondary data. In conclusion, these results point to powerful positive intervention effects of these community-based art programs run by professional artists. They point to true health promotion and disease prevention effects. In that they also show stabilization and actual increase in community-based activities in general among those in the cultural programs, they reveal a positive impact on maintaining independence and on reducing dependency. This latter point demonstrates that these community-based cultural programs for older adults appear to be reducing risk factors that drive the need for long-term care.


The study is administered through a cooperative agreement of the National Endowment for the Arts with GW. The original study can be found on the NEA website.


• National Endowment For The Arts (NEA)—(Lead Sponsor)

• Center for Mental Health Services, SAMHSA, DHHS

• National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), NIH

• AARP/National Retired Teachers Association

• Stella and Charles Guttman Foundation, NYC

• International Foundation for Music Research

The National Endowment for the Arts does not retain copyright on any Endowment-created material within the Web site, such as guidelines and grant listings. All such material may be used for educational and nonprofit purposes with proper attribution.

Open Access