Value of the arts demonstrated in new Australian study

Young people’s anxiety levels decrease and their resilience increases when they engage with theatre, new research shows.

Publicity image for ATYP’s August 2017 production, Dignity of Risk. Image via

A new study commissioned by Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) has documented the significant benefits young people experience when they actively engage with the theatre.

The study, conducted by research company Patternmakers and based on responses from 1,200 current and past ATYP participants, demonstrates ‘extraordinary’ results, the company’s Artistic Director Fraser Corfield told the Australian Theatre Forum (ATF) on Tuesday.

From the sample group of 1,200 people who have actively chosen to participate in ATYP programs, the study found that:

  • 89% of the people who were surveyed suggested that an involvement in theatre and performance developed their sense of teamwork and their ability to work as a team.
  • 89% said it enhanced their self-confidence.
  • 83% said it was a source of inspiration and motivation in their lives.
  • 84% said it enhanced their interpersonal skills.
  • 76% said it gave them the confidence to tell their own story.
  • 74 said it helped them in resilience and coping with challenges in life.
  • 59% said it assisted in decreasing their anxiety levels.

Corfield initially expressed some disappointment with this final, comparatively low statistic regarding reduced anxiety levels until a psychologist present at a recent ATYP planning day compared the figure to other programs specifically designed to address anxiety in young people.

‘When Patternmakers were reading this research out to our board and staff, he said he’d just recently participated in an industry seminar where there’d been a number of studies looking at moving anxiety. And within the studies that were presented at this seminar … their highest success rate was 54%,’ Corfield said.

‘So our 59% [was higher]. And I think what’s really interesting about our statistics is these are not programs that have been built and designed to address young people’s mental health; this is just drama activities. It’s just getting young people in a room and talking about whatever they want to talk about and building a show, and as a side effect it’s having these kinds of impacts.’

Given recent funding cuts to the Australian youth theatre sector at both state and federal levels, the report’s findings are of national significance.

Read: Australia Council withdraws support for youth theatre

‘Of all the changes that have been implemented over the last five years, I think we can say one of the greatest impacts has been on the youth arts sector – companies that bring professional artists and young people together to make work,’ said Corfield.

‘Ten years ago, in 2007, there were 21 federally funded youth theatre companies in Australia. By 2015 there were 14, of which 12 were funded through the Youth Program fund, two of them through Key Organisations … This year there are five – three of them are in NSW, in Sydney, and then Corrugated Iron [in the NT] and St Martins [VIC].’

The results of the study will benefit ATYP and other youth arts organisations when seeking to diversify future funding sources, Corfield continued.

‘We’ve only had this research for a short period of time but we’ve been able to start having conversations with people and say “By the way, here’s the sorts of benefits we can deliver when we work with you.” I’m sure we’re all aware that arts funding is tough. Organisations themselves are not advocating well within government for more funding; if we’re going to grow and expand we need to find funding in other areas,’ he said.

Mental health and wellbeing is a key government priority at the present time, and an area where the report will assist ATYP – and other organisations – secure new funding sources, Corfield concluded.

The findings of ATYP/Patternmakers’ study is still in draft form; a final report will be released shortly.

This story is based on a presentation given at the Australian Theatre Forum 2017, held in Adelaide from 3-5 October. Visit for details.

Richard Watts OAM is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, a Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend, and was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize in 2020. In 2021 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Green Room Awards Association. Most recently, Richard received a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in June 2024. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts