Expert Opinion

More than just a feel good factor? The relationships between sport and the arts

The final seminar in a series of three that brought together academics, professionals and practitioners from across the country to examine the potential economic, social and cultural benefits of integrating sport and the arts, recently took place in Leeds at the Carnegie Pavilion in Headingley. In this post, Professor Jonathan Long, co-leader of the national research network behind the seminars, reports on the insights gathered so far.

Professor Jonathan Long

We didn’t notice the drizzle falling on the Headingley pitch as we discussed wellbeing, social capital and cultural citizenship in the context of our developing programme on the interrelationships between sport and the arts, which goes under the Fields of Vision banner.  This followed earlier deliberations on ‘participation and audiences’ and ‘aesthetics and representation’ among our AHRC-funded research network.

There probably haven’t been too many events at which Arnold Schwarzenegger has been quoted: ‘The aggregate impact of these health and social benefits makes parks and recreation one of the most cost-effective public services available to decision-makers’.  Peter Taylor was considering the evidence that social benefits accrue from sport and the arts by drawing on the analysis the Sport Industry Research Centre (SIRC) did for the CASE (Culture and Sport Evidence) programme that DCMS and its partner agencies commissioned.  He suggested that the two worlds talked a similar game, but that the evidence for the contribution of sport is now more robust than it is for the arts.  He argued that the intensity and frequency of sport projects make them more likely to deliver health and social benefits, but the systematic review had revealed the positive contribution of the arts to the criminal justice system and to building social capital.  The shortage of evidence regarding the arts left SIRC unable to assess the Social Return on Investment, but when this was done for sport, for every £1 spent £1.91 was produced in benefits.

Kitrina Douglas and David Carless presented material from research they have been doing with service personnel who have experienced physical and/or psychological trauma.  For a number of years the Leeds Beckett team have been evaluating the British Legion’s Battle Back programme at Lilleshall, which gives personnel a 5-day engagement with inclusive sport and adventure activities.  This offers something new within a familiar (though more comfortable) context.  The combination of bringing participants back to themselves and offering new areas to explore was especially rewarding, especially if it managed to create a feeling of being valued.  The research then extended to Bravo 22, a performance project that toured the country.  Kitrina and David used narratives in a powerful storytelling approach to convey the significance that these sport and arts initiatives had for those involved, both in terms of the original trauma experienced and the benefits felt.

Jonathan Long and Franco Bianchini considered the most recent strategies for sport and the arts emanating from the national strategies for sport and the arts that government and the respective agencies in England have published.  From the point of view of this project it is worrying how few mentions sport gets in the arts strategies and vice versa; in policy terms there are two quite separate worlds.  Much as members of the network might consider sport to be an integral component of culture this absence applied to the Culture White Paper too.  It is therefore not surprising that integration of sport and the arts just does not get on the agenda.  It seems that other agencies like those responsible for youth work, health or social work may be more likely to combine sport and the arts.  Where there is evidence of the benefits of such integration it occurs at the local level, so the dismantling of the majority of local authority unified leisure services departments is cause for concern.

Once again the general discussion addressed the type of research that would offer the best insights and best measurements, amid a concern that those experiences hardest to research and measure run the risk of dropping off the policy agenda.  The language used in different fields is also a barrier to arts/sport being taken seriously across different fields of professional practice, hence the significance of members in the network communicating such messages.  We were also reminded that the ways in which sport and the arts are currently constructed result from the exercise of power and in turn contribute to the exercising of social control.

Doug Sandle, the instigator of the Fields of Vision initiative, rounded off the day by leading a consideration of our next challenge, producing a manifesto to advance the interests of the network.  This will be launched at a Carnegie Conversation on April 25th.