Out-of-School Research Overview


The research studies in this section of ArtsEdSearch examine the outcomes of arts education that takes place outside of the regular school day whether in the school building or in community-based organizations. Like the research on outcomes of school day arts education, these studies examine how art learning affects participants’ academic, cognitive, personal, social, and civic development. The vast majority of the studies on out-of-school arts education focus on community-based arts programs for middle- and high-school-aged students and investigate personal, social, and civic outcomes that are dimensions of positive youth development and cognitive and social skills relevant to college and career success. Some studies also examine the relationship between participation in out-of-school arts programs and academic achievement, particularly at the high school level. Most out-of-school arts studies focus on outcomes for participating youth though some also examine outcomes for the communities within which the programs take place.


Academic Outcomes

ArtsEdSearch defines academic outcomes as the broad dimensions of success in school: achievement in core subjects, including the arts, as measured on standardized tests as well as authentic assessments; achievement on gateway exams such as the SAT; graduation; and college attendance.

  • Overall Academic Achievement. Students of all ages who participate in out-of-school arts education exhibit higher academic achievement as measured by grades, IQ, standardized test scores, and high graduation rates. Studies show adults continue to reap academic benefits of childhood arts education in later stages of life. Research also shows out-of-school arts education, particularly drama, relates to school readiness for early childhood students in the form of pre-reading and pre-mathematics skills. In the middle and high school grades, media arts, spoken word, music, and drama relate to improved spelling, reading proficiency, vocabulary, verbal memory, and complex language skills. Out-of-school music education for elementary through high school students is related to increased proficiency in English literacy, mathematics achievement, learning a second language, and increased in intelligence as measured by IQ tests.

Cognitive Outcomes

Cognitive outcomes encompass the development of important thinking skills and capacities that are not only intrinsically important, but are also crucial to academic and professional success.

  • Creative Thinking. A significant body of research points to the relationship between arts learning and creativity across all ages. Creativity and innovation are identified as keys for success in school and work in the 21st Century. Research shows that high school students in out-of-school arts programs are provided with many opportunities to practice using their imagination in a realistic context working within time and resource limitations, and to learn from failure as well as success. In addition, out-of-school arts education fosters students’ abilities to be adaptive, flexible, original, and abstract in their thinking, aspects of meta-cognition and creativity.
  • Problem Solving and Reasoning. Research shows that students who participate in out-of-school arts programming demonstrate more sophisticated use of language indicating complex thinking processes including syntactic complexity, hypothetical reasoning, and questioning approaches. Research on out-of-school arts programs, particularly dance and music programs for high-school aged students, finds participants develop non-verbal reasoning skills—with dance contributing to spatial and motion processing, working memory, and attention span, and music contributing to increased fine motor skills and auditory-visual discrimination, and aural recognition.

Personal Outcomes

Personal outcomes, while often marginalized in education policy, are critical to student success. ArtsEdSearch defines personal outcomes as capacities that are critical to the development of a strong sense of identity, positive self-concept, emotional wellbeing, motivation to succeed, and engagement and persistence in learning, life, and work.

  • Emotional Development. Studies find that out-of-school arts programs, particularly those in the performing arts, help students express themselves more effectively and cultivate empathy for others. In one study, for example, out-of-school drama programming aided sexual minority young adults in communicating emotion regarding their self-identification (Grace & Wells, 2007). In other studies, dance and music helped youth to process and express their emotions non-verbally and increased their capacity to self-regulate their behavior.
  • Engagement and Persistence. A growing body of research finds that participating in the arts has a strong relationship to deep engagement in learning. The arts create an environment in which students connect learning to their personal and cultural life. Studies find that experiences in both the visual and performing arts help students develop concentration, focus, commitment to follow through with tasks, and interest in their own learning. Students feel engaged when they are empowered as positive agents of change in their local community and their voices are heard.
  • Leadership. Research finds that the arts provide high school students with opportunities to develop leadership skills. Students who participate in out-of-school arts programs demonstrate responsibility in regard to their commitment, leadership, and initiative as part of an arts community. Other research suggests arts-based executive leadership training helps adults develop leadership skills including challenging their own perceptions, navigating and managing problems, and developing interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies (Katz-Buinincontro, 2005).
  • Self-Awareness, Self-Concept, and Self-Expression. Research primarily at the middle and high school level (with some evidence attributed to post-secondary community-based art instructors and young adults) has illuminated outcomes of out-of-school arts learning relating to self-awareness, identity, and self-concept. The arts, with particular emphasis in the research on dance and drama, help students develop positive identities, understand their own culture and have a greater understanding for those different from themselves.
  • Self-Efficacy and Self-Confidence. Research finds a strong relationship between young people’s participation in community-arts programs and their development of a sense of self-efficacy and self-confidence. Studies show, students who participate in out-of-school music and dance programs develop a belief in their own abilities to accomplish goals. The association appears to be particularly robust for youth in performing and group-oriented community arts programs.

Social and Civic Outcomes

ArtsEdSearch broadly defines social and civic outcomes as skills, capacities, and dispositions related to the cultivation of positive social relationships and to effective and active engagement in the civic and cultural life of communities.

  • Community Building. Many of the skills attributed to arts learning out of school have to do with cultivating a sense of community and inclusivity within groups, organizations, or neighborhoods. Most of the research in this area focuses on data from high school out-of-school arts programs. Several studies find that, at the core of arts-based communities is an intentional practice of developing a safe space or working environment that supports arts learning and provides the conditions for group connection to develop. Cultivating a safe space studies finds, supports students to take risks, explore ideas, make mistakes, express individuality, and support others in a positive way. Research on programs with high-school-aged participants finds that the sense of community built among participants, not only supports their individual artistic, cognitive, and social development, but also provides them a means through which to positively engage with and impact their surrounding communities (Heath & Roach, 1999; Stevenson, 2011).
  • Community and Civic Engagement. Arts participation in out-of-school settings develops in older students a sense of personal responsibility towards their communities, known as civic engagement. Beginning in middle school and continuing through adult learning, research shows a positive relationship between arts study and civic engagement expressed through a greater understanding of local and global issues, growth in ability to generate creative solutions to social problems, political participation, increased participation in community service, and ability to affect the community social life through artwork. Longitudinal research demonstrates connections between arts learning and subsequent community involvement and volunteerism in adult life including lifelong participation in the arts as artists and patrons.
  • Cross-Cultural Understanding. Engagement in the performing arts is associated with increased social tolerance. Collaborative arts education experiences, both performing and visual, create an environment in which diverse perspectives can be visible and valued, and facilitate cross-cultural dialogue and learning when participants in the arts program are from diverse backgrounds.
  • Mentorship. Research highlights positive benefits of the mentoring that is often a dimension of out-of-school arts learning programs. Mentoring of young artists by older artists provides a means through which art skills, traditions, disciplines, and history are passed down from generation to generation. Studies find that mentoring relationships that provide students opportunities to work alongside professional artists help students develop decision-making and strategic thinking skills. Students also develop a group awareness of how their collective abilities and talents can add to the larger community.