PARTICIPATION OF UNIVERSITY STUDENTS IN
THE ARTS: A CANADIAN CASE
Don Dawson, Ph.D.
François Gravelle, Ph.D.
George Karlis, Ph.D.
School of Human Kinetics
University of Ottawa
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6N5
(613) 562-5800 ext. 2452
How interested are young
people, especially university students, in the arts? To what extent do
participate in such activities? To address these questions a group of
students at the
Arts activities are important to human growth and development (Pitman, 1998). For children and youth, involvement and interest in the arts can be seen to elevate students’ motivation to learn (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997) and increase academic achievement (Catterall, 1998). Research by Upitis, Smithrim, Patteson and Meban (2001) demonstrates that students who took music lessons outside of school score significantly higher on language and mathematics measures than their peers. Further studies examining the participation and interest in arts activities of identified population segments, such as university students, are seen to be needed in order to inform both educational and promotional efforts (Dieser, 1997). Tirone (2000) argues that more needs to be known empirically about young adults’ preferences for and engagement in the arts. Thus, the addition of university students as a specific, empirical case will make a significant contribution to this area of inquiry, and be of use in educational policy development (see Elster, 2001).
The present study
will attempt to address the need to expand research into the arts
young adults, particularly with respect to university students. To do this, a survey of the interest and
participation in arts and cultural activities was undertaken using as
undergraduate students at the
Arts Activities and University Students
Horna (1996) posits
that college and university students tend to enjoy largely social
Moreover, research by Bibby and Posterski (1992) and Friesen (1990)
activities oriented to initiating and sustaining friendships make up
primary form of leisure activity for young adults. Social activities,
argued, are highly valued by young adults as they feel a strong need to
to a group or to be with others. However, many student activities can
reflect the cultural milieu of the university or college and its
musical concerts, photography, and drawing are activities that
to attract more female participants
A number of incentive programs are in place to attract students to various arts programs and events. For example, in addition to student price reductions to special events and reduced student subscription rates, the National Arts Centre “Student Rush Seat” program offers those with a valid university I.D. card the opportunity to purchase “last minute” tickets during the day of an event at savings of up to a half the already discounted student prices. This program applies to National Art Centre subscription performances including concerts by the NAC Symphony Orchestra, plays of the NAC Theatre, and the NAC Dance series.
The availability and
opportunity for the enjoyment of arts and cultural activities in the
Based on information
collected from the
Often the campus plays
host to prestigious classical concerts involving artists of
renown. For example, based on the
Canada’s Capital Region Info-Guide lists many folk, jazz, blues, and classical music festivals in the region, including the Ottawa Folk Festival, the Ottawa International Jazz festival, the Urban Music Festival, the Ottawa Bluesfest and the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival to name only a few.
Arts, Dance and Theatre
Arts, dance and theatre
brochures, such as those from the Great Canadian Theatre Company, the
Ballet of Canada, the National Gallery of Canada, lead to the
the region enjoys plentiful opportunities in these activities. A number
exhibitions are held on campus featuring artists from the University
community. The viewing and purchase of a
wide variety of art is possible at any of the over 50 art stores and
listed in the
Myriad dance and
theatre opportunities are available at reduced fares to
The region has a rich
theatre tradition whether it is amateur or professional. Students have
opportunity to attend theatrical presentations on campus courtesy of
Department of Theatre. As well, according to the
Other Arts and Cultural Opportunities
Over and above the
opportunities described above, during the academic year University of
students have the choice of over two dozen different cultural festivals
Ottawa region (e.g., Winterlude, Odawa Pow Wow, the Canada Dance
Festival Franco-Ontarien, the Hot Air Balloon Festival, etc.), and many
(e.g., the Canadian War Museum, the Canadian Museum of Civilization,
historical sites (e.g., the Rideau Canal, the National Archives, the
Canadian Mint, etc.). All of which are
It would appear that
students at the
The methodology used to
collect the data for this study involved the distribution of a
a convenience sample of undergraduate students enrolled in the Faculty
Social Sciences at the
A sample of 343
undergraduate students completed questionnaires for this study. All
were registered in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the
Females made up 61.5% (n=211) of the sample and the remaining 38.5% (n=132) were male. The average age of the respondents was 21.4 years with a standard deviation of 1.9 years (minimum=18 years & maximum=29 years).
A questionnaire was developed based on the survey instrument used by the Québec government in an authoritative province-wide study of arts and culture activities (Government of Québec, 1980). Sections dealing with reading, music, arts and crafts, theatre and dance were adapted to be applied to undergraduate student respondents. The Québec report provided full copies of the original instrument. The adapted questionnaire was pilot tested on one third year class. Minor modifications were made to the wording of some questions.
were asked to simply name their favourite leisure activities. For
regarding frequency of participation in specific activities, subjects
asked to estimate if they had done some thing “never,”
“once,” “2 or 3
or “more than 3 times” over the last 12 months. A series of
asked under the headings of “
Questionnaires were distributed in two courses at each of the 1000 level (first year), 2000 level (second year), 3000 level (third year) and 4000 level (fourth year), for a total of eight classes. Professors were contacted in person and arrangements were made to have them hand out and collect completed questionnaires in their courses. Courses were selected to give relatively equal numbers of students in all years a chance to participate in the study if they chose. While third and fourth year students could be enrolled in first or second year courses, the converse was rare.
In some classes fewer students chose to participate because, according to the professors in those classes, they were rushed at the end of a busy class. In others, students had already completed the questionnaire in an earlier class, so they did not fill out another. Once the questionnaires were completed, the professors returned them to the researchers’ mailboxes where they were gathered together for analysis. Results were analysed using simple cross-tabulations and student’s t-tests along with chi-square tests of significance to determine the differences in arts interest and participation between males and females, and according to age and year of study.
Despite the opportunities for students to engage in a variety of arts activities, many did not. Although there were variations by gender in the interest and participation of respondents, many of these were not significant. As well, there were no statistically significant differences in responses based on the participants’ age or year of study. However, several recurring themes, including family background, relating to the interest and participation in the arts did emerge in the extensive comments provided by respondents
Figure 1 above depicts the frequency of students’ non-school related visits to a library or bookstore in the last 12 months. Almost half of the students surveyed had visited the library and bookstore more than three times. Of note, 21.6% of the students never went to the library, and 14.9% did not go to a bookstore over the last year.
Material Never Rarely Quite Often Very Often
Newspapers 2.0% 35.3% 40.5% 22.2%
Magazines 0.0% 25.7% 44.3% 30.0%
Books 9.3% 40.2% 32.9% 17.8%
As seen in Table 1 above, 62.7% of respondents read the newspaper “quite often” or “very often” in the past 12 months. As well, fully 74.3% read magazines “quite often” or “very often” while just 50.4% read books for pleasure “quite often” or “very often.” Interestingly, 9.3% of respondents did not read a single book for pleasure over the last 12 months. Also with respect to reading for pleasure, some students claim to have read more than 100 books over the past year. The mean number of books read, however, is 7.1 with a standard deviation of 12.4 books.
In terms of reading activities, 71.7% of students surveyed reported to have read novels for pleasure, 44.9% biographies, 43.7% specialized works (crafts, cooking, etc.) and 35.9% self-improvement works in the last 12 months. Students read primarily for enjoyment (80.8%), to pass the time (75.8%) and for self-improvement (64.4%). Many participants indicated that they did not read more because they had no time (74.3%). Some do not read more because they are not interested (36.4%) or feel that it is too expensive (20.1%). One student said, “My reading for pleasure will increase in the future because I hope to replace mandatory university readings with leisurely reading of my choice.” Another student commented “reading is too passive for me.”
According to the respondents, 75.5% went to a music store more than three times in the last year and 95.9% of participants listen to music “quite often” or “very often.” Pop music was chosen as the favorite kind of music by 75.2% of respondents. All other types of music constituted less than 5.0% each. Of note, 90.1% of the students surveyed had purchased recorded music in the last year and bought an average of one recording per month.
As shown in Figure 2 above, 62.4% of respondents did not attend any classical music concerts or recitals in the last 12 months, whereas 70.8% attended at least one pop music concert over the same period. A participant indicated that, “I would like to attend more classical music concerts but the cheap tickets sell out too quickly and all other seats are too expensive.”
Theatre and Dance
Figure 3 above shows the frequency of tickets purchased for theatre and dance performances in the past 12 months. Only 11.1% of respondents had bought tickets for at least one classical dance performances over the past year. Of students surveyed, 17.2% bought tickets for one or more jazz dance performances and only 7.8% of respondents had bought tickets for one or more folk dance performances over the past 12 months. On the other hand, 64.4% of respondents bought tickets for one or more theatre performances within the same time period.
When asked why they did not buy tickets for theatre or dance events, respondents indicated that the tickets were too expensive (67.3%), they were not interested in attending (43.7%), they didn’t know enough about theatre or dance to feel like going (29.7%), they felt these performances were boring (24.2%), or were disappointed in previous performances so didn’t want to go again (12.0%). One respondent stated that, “I’m indifferent. I don’t like dance.” Results indicated that 30.9% of respondents prefer to watch television than go to the theatre and 51.6% prefer to go to the movies. A participant provided the following rationale; “I watch a lot of TV even though it’s not my favorite activity. It’s more accessible than going out to the theatre or a concert.”
Figure 4 below illustrates the respondents’ frequency of visits to crafts boutiques, antique shops, arts and crafts fairs and art galleries in the last 12 months. Many students did not participate in these activities. Of the students surveyed, 36.2% indicated that they bought works of art or crafts in the last12 months and had purchased an average of approximately two of these items in this time frame. A student indicated that, “art prices are way too high for me.”
Museums and Historical Sites
Figure 5 below represents the frequency of student visits to museums and historical sites as leisure activities in the past year. It should be noted that 37.9% of respondents had not visited a museum in the past year and 37.0% had not visited a historical site.
Family background has an impact on the arts participation of these students. In this regard, some of the most frequent and typical comments included the following; “I think I go to the theatre more often than my classmates because I have a family tradition of doing so.” Another student commented that, “I go to the theatre often because my parents take me.” Still another student said, “I go to classical music concerts because it’s part of my family background.” To explain why they attend dance performances, a student indicated that, “I have a sister who is into jazz dance, so I’ve developed a taste for it.” Although social class was not a measured variable, university students are likely to be from a higher socio-economic background than the general population.
Several recurring themes were found in the comments provided by the participants (see Table 2 below). Statements about lack of interest, time, money, accessibility, and the preference for physical activity emerged frequently as common issues in the questionnaires. These can be classified as “constraints” to participation in arts activities and are similar to those found by Fennell (1996) in his study of youth participation. In general, many students indicated that they don’t have enough time or money for the arts activities available to them and prefer physical activity. Participants’ comments that attest to these themes are given in Table 2.
Recurring Themes in Respondents’ Comments
(N = 343)
Time “I have deadlines that take up a lot of my leisure time.”
“My participation will increase after graduation when I will have
“There’s not time left after school and my job.”
Accessibility “I watch a lot of TV even though it’s not my favorite activity
It’s more accessible than going out to the theatre or a concert.”
“I listen to music regularly when I’m in my room, or
commuting. It’s accessible.”
“Transportation is an issue, I don’t have access to a car.”
Money “In the future I can see myself going more often to classical music concerts because I will have more money to attend.”
“I’ll buy more arts and crafts in the future when I have a steady income.”
“I rarely buy tickets for arts events because they are expensive.”
Lack of Interest “I’m simply not interested in attending a classical music concert.”
“I don’t go to the theatre because my boyfriend and I are not
“I don’t buy art because I don’t have an appreciation for it.”
Physical Activity “I prefer to participate in physical activity more than the arts.”
“I tend to get involved in outdoor activities more often.”
“I do a lot of sports because my friends and I are into it.”
The results of this study show that there are some differences in both interest and participation in arts activities between males (n=132) and females (n=211). However, there were no significant differences expressed between male and female students with regard to attendance at classical music, dance or theatrical performances.
Nevertheless, there are statistically significant differences between males and females in their reasons for not going to the theatre. As shown in Table 3, the number one reason (68.4%) males did not attend theatre performance was that they prefer to go to the cinema. On the other hand, only 40.76% of females preferred going to the cinema over attending the theatre. Additionally, males were more likely to say that there were not enough plays that interest them (57.58%) than females (35.07%). Results also indicated that males preferred television as a reason for not going to the theatre more than females did. The number one reason females gave for not going to the theatre was that it was too expensive (74.41%), whereas only 56.06% of males felt this was a reason for not going to the theatre. As shown in Table 3, males are more likely to say they don’t go because they just don’t like the theatre.
Similar numbers of males and females go to libraries and bookstores. As well, neither male nor female respondents reported going to museums, art galleries or historical sites more than the other. However, 70.14% of females have gone to an arts and crafts boutique over the last year while only 45.45% of males reported doing the same (c2 = 38.768, p<0.001). Among females, 46.45% actually bought arts and crafts during the last 12 months, with only 19.70% of males having done so (c2=25.170, p<0.001). Females also purchased more arts and crafts over the same period, an average of 2.5 pieces compared to 1.0 for the males (t = 3.0393, p<0.01).
Reason Males Females χ2
(n = 132) (n = 211) Probability
Prefer cinema 68.94% 40.76% p<0.001
Plays not of interest 57.58% 35.07% p<0.001
Too expensive 56.06% 74.41% p<0.001
Prefer T.V. 43.18% 23.22% p<0.001
Don’t know much 37.12% 25.12% p<0.05
Don’t like theatre 36.36% 16.59% p<0.001
Past disappointment 16.67% 9.00% p<0.05
Don’t go out 8.33% 1.90% p<0.01
With regard to reading, 35.55% of females read magazines “very often” compared to just 21.21% of males (c2=8.203, p<0.05). In addition, while 42.18% of female students reported reading books “never or rarely” other than for school, 61.36% of males “never or rarely” read books other than for purposes of studying (c2=15.710, p<0.001). Fully 86.26% of females said that they read “for enjoyment” and 83.89% read “to pass the time” compared to 62.88% (c2=10.665, p<0.001) and 71.95% (c2=4.272, p<0.05) respectively for males.
For 78.20% of female students, the main reason for not reading more for pleasure was the lack of time. Only 26.54% gave “lack of interest” as the main reason for not reading more. Comparatively, 68.18% of the male students (c2=4.272, p<0.05) indicated that a lack of time was the main reason for not reading, and that a lack of interest (52.27%) was the main reason (c2=23.214, p<0.001). As for type of books read, 81.99% of females and 55.30% of males (c2=28.514, p<0.001) read novels while males read scientific works (26.52%) more than females (14.22%, c2=7.995, p<0.01). A further explanation for the lack of reading in males was that they preferred more active pursuits. For example, female students reported going to sporting events over the last 12 months significantly less than males: 58.77% versus 77.48% (c2=8.761, p<0.05).
There are no statistically significant differences in interest or participation in the arts between first, second, third or fourth year students, or according to student’s age. Nevertheless, responses indicate that the older and upper year students tend to engage in virtually all arts and culture activities more than those younger students in lower years. One might suspect that upper year students would be more aware of the opportunities available to them, and, perhaps, that their experience at the university might somehow “cultivate” an interest in the arts. Further research will need to be carried out to confirm this tendency.
In explaining their non-participation in a variety of arts activities, respondents cited a lack of time and money. As well, a lack of interest, coupled with easier access to television, movies and recorded popular music, along with an expressed preference for more physical activity, all contributed to students not participating in, or limiting their participation in the arts. Those who did participate in the arts most often cited their family background as the reason for their interest. For example, students who had family members active in the arts or whose family regularly attended arts and cultural events and performances, were more likely themselves, as students at the university, to participate in the arts. This finding supports McCaughey’s (1993) view that young people’s involvement is greatest if an interest in the arts is established early in life. Indeed, in their study of elementary school students Upitis et. al. (2001) found that even the youngest children were more likely to participate in arts activities when their parents valued and participated in the arts and culture. Thus schools can be seen to have the potential to support or reinforce family-based interest in the arts.
Female students surveyed were less likely to express a lack of interest in the theatre, arts and crafts, or reading for pleasure. Males were more likely to explicitly state that they preferred sports and physical recreation to the arts. As well, male students more often watched television, videos or movies because of their accessibility rather than going to arts or cultural performances. Such gender differences are apparent in students as early as Grade 1 (Upitis et. al., 2001) where boys are less interested in arts and culture activities and more likely to participate in sports, watch television or play video games. Grade 1 girls, on the other hand, enjoyed and took part in dance, drama, art, and music more than the boys.
Other than those presented above, there were no further differences between the university subjects with respect to gender, age or year of study.
Kuper (1999) suggests that the arts contribute to one’s personal
identity, most students in the present study did not indicate this
when asked why they participated in such activities. Nevertheless,
families were active in the arts did continue their interest and
while being students at university, thus manifesting and reinforcing
familial “identity” in this regard. As well, arts and
often not seen as an important element of youthful student sub-cultures
(Siegenthaler and Gonzalez, 1997). Indeed, as
In general, it can be concluded that interest for and participation in arts activities for the surveyed students were rather moderate. Many students, despite the abundance of myriad opportunities close to campus, did not engage, or engaged minimally, in the arts. Those who did avail themselves of the opportunities were more likely to have a family background of arts involvement. Young women were somewhat more inclined than their male counterparts to be interested in arts activities, but no differences were apparent between first, second, third, or fourth year students. One might have expected that the longer the students were in attendance at university, the more they would become aware of the arts opportunities available to them, and subsequently they would participate more. Such was not the case. However, a larger sample from each year of study is recommended before more definitive conclusions can be drawn. The greatest explanatory factor in assessing the students’ interest and participation in the arts remains family background. Students whose families are active in the arts tend to remain active themselves while at university.
What are the implications of this study for the future interest and participation of young people in the arts? Cromie and Handelman (1999), relying on official Government of Canada figures, postulate that growth in the arts should continue as the population ages, but question whether future generations will continue to share the baby boomer’s interest in the arts. They ask, will “young people with higher incomes and education … be interested in attending classical music, opera, ballet and musical and dramatic theatre in the same proportion as their parents” (Cromie and Handelman, 1999, p. 3)? It is crucial, then, that the arts appeal to younger people. It is suggested that arts and culture curricular initiatives can be effective strategies for attracting youth, particularly young males, to the arts. Nevertheless, as an American National Endowment for the Arts report suggests, “The future of the arts depends critically upon their ability to compete for attention with a popular culture that is powerfully propagated by the mass media of radio, television, the movies, and the culture of advertising and promotion in which they are enmeshed” (Peterson, Sherkat, Huggins-Balfe, and Meyersohn, 1996, p. 117).
Indeed, popular culture can be viewed as “resistant” to the “high culture” of the arts as represented in museums, galleries, and theatres (Storey, 1998, p. 206). Young people, as consumers of the arts, can accept or reject the intended meanings and categorizations of these arts and cultural “products.” The reluctance of some youth to be “incorporated” into the dominant arts and culture scene is evidenced in their involvement in, for example, “alternative” music. Youth culture is often seen, in this sense, as countercultural and presents an obstacle that the arts need to surmount in order to engage youth. Again, while schools can help to initiate and promote the arts in the classroom setting and through appropriate field trips, they cannot, of themselves, offset the forces of popular youth culture. Nevertheless, the arts can expand learning opportunities for young people in schools and there is a rising voice of support for arts curricula (Elster, 2001).
Another topic to consider relates to the impact of technology, the Internet, and other emerging media. The arts can be delivered through these hi-tech means or such media can be used as entertainment instead of the traditional arts (Cromie and Handelman, 1999). Schools can make use of technology to bring the arts to students, particularly males who are highly engaged in these media. Clearly, a variety of initiatives are needed to investigate these impacts on the involvement of young people, both males and females, in the arts. Nevertheless, the present research does provide an interesting glimpse into the interest and participation in the arts of a group of university students.
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