A photo of two young people painting and smiling at a Culture Days 2024 activity.

Active engagement in cultural activity benefits youth

By: SaskCulture Staff March, 2024

Cultural activity covers a wide range of activity from music, visual arts or dance lessons to learning about traditional cultures, storytelling or exploring a museum, heritage site or art gallery. Activities can involve watching, learning or actively engaging in a cultural experience. While all cultural experiences are valuable for children and youth, active engagement has been shown to have a more lasting impact – contributing to mind, body and soul.  

Key characteristics of meaningful cultural activities and experiences are ones that encourage participants to: 

1. Experience the world around them and build understanding  

Today we live in communities that are made up with people from a diversity of backgrounds. Meaningful cultural activity will expose us to this diversity and help us open our minds to differences in backgrounds and how different cultures add value to our communities and to our own lives. 

“Learning languages fosters cross-cultural understanding and global thinking — we learn to see beyond ourselves and our own lives. I really believe that learning languages connects us to one another.” – Gabriele Waidlich-Harrison, executive director, Saskatchewan German Council 

2. Express feelings in creative ways  

Cultural activity, particularly creative arts, opens the door to our hearts and minds. When we have opportunities to actively explore our thoughts, values and feelings, and then express them creatively in some way – whether by painting, drawing, dancing, playing an instrument, acting, writing, sculpting, crafting or speaking another language, we can understand ourselves better. 

“Dance is a great emotional outlet to forget your troubles for a couple of hours and have some fun. As well as, being able to create something and put it out in the world.” – Caitlin Preston, Prairie Gael School of Irish Dance 

3. Practice critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making  

Meaningful cultural activity challenges us to think about life from new angles and understand that there can be more than one right answer. When involved with cultural activity, or working alongside others, we have the opportunity to think creatively about ideas and explore new solutions with an open mind. 

“Drama education is more than helping students overcome stage fright and honing public speaking skills, it is a valuable creative outlet for young people, as well as contributing to important life skills. Drama education encompasses a broader spectrum of skills, including teamwork, problem-solving, resilience, and critical thinking.” – Ray Deans, Saskatchewan Drama Association 

4. Develop confidence and self-esteem  

When children and youth have the opportunity to find and experience meaningful cultural activity, they often spend time honing new skills and forming a passion for this creative outlet. Time spent on a meaningful cultural activity helps build their confidence and contributes to a higher self-esteem. 

“Musical expression allows youth the opportunity to develop their own voice. There is confidence that comes from finding your own voice, and it’s really important for setting them up for success in the world.” – Eliza Doyle, Community Arts Mentorship Program 

5. Develop a shared understanding of different cultures from authentic sources  

When exploring new cultures it’s sometimes easy to hear, learn and believe in incorrect stereotypes. Meaningful cultural activity is delivered by sources that have the lived experience required to teach and help others understand. Learning from these sources provides a deeper understanding and connection for all involved.  

“Passing on cultural practices gives a sense of belonging. It promotes the passing on of important knowledge, skills and craftsmanship and language. It helps shape who we are and where the future may take us.” – Elder Brenda McDougal  

6. Feel a sense of belonging, acceptance and inclusiveness  

Meaningful cultural activity creates an environment where we feel we have found a safe place, where we can be ourselves and share our interest and ideas with others. Whatever our background and beliefs, gender identity and/or physical or mental disabilities, meaningful cultural activity will provide an open door, a friendly face, and any accommodations needed to ensure that everyone who wants to participate feels included. 

“People underestimate the effect art has on skill development and confidence. It gives or gives back voice to those who do not feel heard.” – Traci Foster, Listen to Dis’ 

7. Develop social skills  

Being part of cultural activities in our communities provides us with the opportunity to meet, converse and develop relationships with others. Meaningful cultural activity gives us space to have meaningful interactions. Whether we are dancing, acting on stage, or working with a writers groups, cultural activity provides us with the opportunity to be part of a team, to collaborate on ideas and receive support from others. 

“One thing any parent will tell you right now, is the struggle of how to help kids feel like all their friendships are not solely online. SaskExpress actually gives kids physical, in-person support with likeminded people. Ninety-five per cent of our casts say to me, ‘I’ve made friends for life.’” – Danny Balkwill, SaskExpress 

8. Increase their academic performance, skills, and abilities  

Experiencing many different cultural activities, such as music, visual art, dance, language lessons, etc., creates new connections in our brains that increase our abilities to concentrate and understand more complex ideas found in different areas of education. 

“Research shows that taking part in cultural activities enhances reading, mathematics, and grades. These activities help students refresh their minds and boost brain function, leading to better concentration and higher grades.” – Ashley Green, Texas A & M College 

9. Increase physical and mental health  

Cultural activities that get our bodies moving, such as dance, heritage tours, playing an instrument, and even singing, help improve our physical health, in the same ways as active sports. These activities can help refine our motor skills and coordination. Besides physical health, meaningful cultural activity will contribute to improved mental health by helping us express ourselves, explore our inner emotions and participate in something we enjoy.  

“That's why I was really interested in in providing these teachings to the students to reconnect them to their culture and to give them some skills to cope with their mental health so, they have something healthy to turn to.” – Lindsay Smith, beading instructor 

The earlier we start in a cultural activity we enjoy, the more time we have to involve ourselves, learn and experience a lifetime of personal enjoyment. Ask any artist or cultural leader and they will tell you that having a passion has been deeply meaningful to their lives. 

“It’s important to me because being creative allows me to explore myself, my feelings and my emotions. And, when I’m creating, I learn a lot of about why I am who I am. I hope that at some point after I’m gone a song that I’ve written will connect with somebody, or helps somebody feel like they are not alone, because to me that’s leaving my mark.” – JJ Voss, musician