Let’s start with the arts

To kick things off, let’s look at one of the areas where we’re seeing some increase in engagement: participation in the arts. Among both first year and senior year students, more are reporting some engagement with the arts community. The jump is most dramatic among first years: in 2008, over 22% of first year students reported that they either “often” or “very often” attended an art exhibit, gallery, play, dance or theatre performance. That’s up from about 14% in 2006.

During the current school year, about how often have you attended an art exhibit, gallery, play, dance, or other theater performance?

During the current school year, about how often have you attended an art exhibit, gallery, play, dance, or other theater performance?

So what are we doing right, if anything?

First hypothesis: it’s a St. George campus only phenomenon.

Some truth to that. If we weed out the music students (who, for obvious reasons, report high levels of engagement), we still see higher levels of engagement in the arts at St. George, particularly among students in the Faculty of Arts and Science.

Second hypothesis: Is it mostly residence students doing the artsy stuff?

Living in residence is not as much of a factor as you might expect. Here’s the same chart with the residence students removed.

Participation in the arts - Non-residence students only

Participation in the arts - Non-residence students only

Some possible explanations for the increase in arts appreciation – particularly among first year students:

Communications? The Arts & Culture web page (now the ArtsZone) brought both prominence and coherence to the U of T arts scene.

Nuit Blanche? The second annual contemporary arts extravaganza took place only about 6 months before the NSSE survey and brought almost a million people into the streets and on campus.

Royal Ontario Museum (photo by chicgeek)

Royal Ontario Museum (photo by chicgeek)

Toronto’s cultural Renaissance in general? Although the AGO was still closed for renovations, our neighbour, the Royal Ontario Museum, had reopened to great fanfare.

One limitation of this NSSE item I should note is that the question does not actually specify that the arts-related activity needed to be on campus. We need to consider the possibility that many of the galleries, exhibits, plays, etc. that U of T students attend are quite possibly not associated with the University.

My own view is that that’s perfectly fine. In fact, some higher education researchers recommend that universities be more intentional about using their location as an advantage in student engagement and success. Partnering with the surrounding arts community is one way we can do that.

I’d like to hear your thoughts. If you have an hypothesis you’d like me to test by cross-tabulating with another variable, I’ll give it a try. Other data or evidence, or just a query or a suggestion, please comment.

Note that I’m holding comments for review – not to avoid criticism, but to control spam, commercial interlopers and irrelevant stuff.

— D.F.

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