Cover: Gifts of the Muse

Gifts of the Muse

Reframing the Debate About the Benefits of the Arts

Published 2004

by Kevin F. McCarthy, Elizabeth Heneghan Ondaatje, Laura Zakaras, Arthur Brooks


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Faced with intense competition for audiences and financial support, as well as adverse political fallout from the “culture wars” of the early 1990s, arts advocates have increasingly sought to make a case for the arts in terms of their instrumental benefits to individuals and communities. In this report documenting the most comprehensive study of its kind, the authors evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of these instrumental arguments and make the case that a new approach to understanding the benefits of the arts is needed. Critical of what they view as an overemphasis on instrumental benefits, the authors call for a greater recognition of the intrinsic benefits of the arts experience, provide a more comprehensive framework for assessing the private and public value of both intrinsic and instrumental benefits, and link the realization of those benefits to the nature of arts involvement. In particular, they underscore the importance of sustained involvement in the arts to the achievement of both instrumental and intrinsic benefits. This study has important policy implications for access to the arts, childhood exposure to the arts, arts advocacy, and future research on the arts.

"I strongly support the central message of 'Gifts of the Muse.' Although the arts bestow important secondary benefits—economic, educational, social, and therapeutic—it is their intrinsic value that makes them essential and irreplaceable. The arts enhance, enlarge, and awaken our humanity in ways no other activities can equal. That is why the arts exist, and why we must support them. "

- Dana Gioia, Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts

The research in this report was commissioned by The Wallace Foundation and was conducted within RAND Enterprise Analysis.

This report is part of the RAND monograph series. RAND monographs present major research findings that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND monographs undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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