Positive effects: Arts education and the emotional intelligence (EQ) of children

by Jennifer Hubbartt
On Tuesday, May 15, First Stage’s Rob Goodman joined a panel of a few of his fellow arts leaders to speak at the American Marketing Association’s May luncheon, to discuss “Arts Education and the Emotional Intelligence of Children: The Positive Effects of the Arts on Our Community’s Children.”  Other speakers sharing the podium were Deanna Tillisch, President and CEO of the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF); Fran Richman, Executive Director of the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra (MYSO), and Deborah Farris, Executive Director of Danceworks.  Each of these groups was among seven arts groups that participated in a 2010 study by Reinders Research, in partnership with the Northwestern Mutual Foundation, which examined the impact of arts education on emotional intelligence (EQ), particularly among underserved students.
EQ – described by research firm Six Seconds as “being smart with feelings so you can develop optimal relationships with yourself and others.”  Tillisch explained further by saying “one who possesses positive EQ skills is a healthy, mature individual who recognizes the complexity of life, knows who s/he is, has defined a path to follow, and retains a zest for life.” 

The 2010 study was modeled after research First Stage was already conducting.  According to UPAF’s summary of the study presented at this meeting, the study included a sample of 547 students – 101 involved in First Stage programming – from 23 Milwaukee Public Schools and charter schools.  The sample was representative of Milwaukee area children who are economically disadvantaged, the ethnic makeup reflected the service populations of participating organizations and the age range was from 6-18+ (children ages 9-11 were the largest group). 

Remarkably, the study shows that 48% of the students experienced a positive EQ change between their pre- and post-test.  Students with the lowest “starting” EQ benefitted the most from arts education programming, proving the positive impact of arts education on a child’s emotional intelligence, reinforcing what each participating arts group already knew about the importance of the programs it provides.

First Stage’s mission – like the other groups participating in the study – has arts education by serving young people throughout our community at its core, as Goodman described during the discussion:

“First Stage’s mission is to touch hearts, engage minds, and transform lives by creating extraordinary theater experiences for young people and families through our professional Theater productions that inspire, enlighten, and entertain; our unparalleled Theater Academy training that fosters life skills through stage skills; and our dynamic Theater in Education programs that promote active learning in our schools and community.”

For all people – especially young people – Goodman states that “the arts are something that we have to have.  It sustains us; it’s what makes us people,” Goodman continued. 

When asked for thoughts on the next steps to ensure that arts education remains in the community, Goodman offered that “we need to build an Education Resource Center, so that we can provide professional development to teachers to be able to keep arts-integrated methods in their classrooms and further develop the positive EQ of their students.”

To learn more about First Stage’s arts-integrated programs through its Theater in Education department, click hereFor details on First Stage’s portion of the 2010 study, click here

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