The Value of the Arts for Social Cohesion

Scoping for an Extended Study in Rural Saskatchewan 

In 2019, the SAA in partnership with the Organization of Saskatchewan Arts Councils initiated a series of community conversations in the rural Saskatchewan communities of Weyburn, Shaunavon and Humbolt. Drawing on funding from the South Saskatchewan Community Foundation and Mitacs, the research team developed scoping questions to explore the position of the arts and artists in these communities and the role of the arts in community cohesion. The research team consisted of the SAA Executive Director, Marnie Gladwell; SPAR Director, Mary Blackstone; Amber Fletcher, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Social Studies, University of Regina; and Allie Patton, a student also in that department. Findings from the province’s southern community conversations were published in the South Saskatchewan Community Foundation’s Vital Signs 2019 Report (p. 29).

Simultaneously, the same research team worked with the University of Saskatchewan’s Social Sciences Research Laboratories (SSRL) to develop and deliver a more extended telephone survey of the Saskatchewan public. It confirmed SPAR’s findings regarding the Saskatchewan Public’s engagement in and attitudes towards the arts and provided a statistical backbone for more in depth studies of the role the arts play in specific communities. See report"The Value of the Arts for Social Cohesion in Saskatchewan Communities"

Based on findings from this preliminary research, it was decided to pursue a multi-case study, multi-community approach to further understanding the Value of Arts and Culture for Community Cohesion:

With the addition to the research team of Barbara Meneley, SAA Research Officer and Mitacs Post Doctoral Fellow and additional support from the University of Regina Community Engagement Research Centre, the research has to date explored its area of focus from four different perspectives—and it is actively exploring and welcoming other case-studies in the context of this larger research focus.

Responding to Previous Research Findings

The SAA initiated this research project as a follow-up to the research findings produced by the Saskatchewan Partnership for Arts Research (SPAR) in its study, "Understanding the Arts Ecology of Saskatchewan." Beginning in 2014, this organization (in which the SAA was a partner) produced a series of reports and articles based on data derived from the first comprehensive survey of Saskatchewan artists, an arts related public survey and a number of focus groups ( This research revealed a potential disconnect between artists and communities in rural Saskatchewan, especially northern and Indigenous communities and the broader provincial arts ecosystem. It also suggested that the Saskatchewan public generally, and newcomers in particular, saw the arts as a vital daily component of their lives and a contributor to their sense of place, belonging and connection to their communities. This was especially true of newcomers—although they as artists or audience members did not feel especially connected with the broader arts ecosystem in the province.

The Research Team

Dr. Mary Blackstone is Professor Emerita in the Theatre Department,  University of Regina and Director of the Saskatchewan Partnership for Arts Research and Chair of the SAA Research Committee. She also leads the Centre for the Study of Script Development and works as a dramaturg for dramatic writers creating new work for stage, screen and new media. Her current area of research and publication is concerned with understanding the arts ecosystem of Saskatchewan to inform policies and mechanisms for strengthening the cohesiveness of all players in the system. This includes applied models and approaches for supporting more sustainable and productive creative practices for a representative diversity of Saskatchewan artists and cultural workers. (Photo: Don Hall)

Dr. Amber Fletcher is Associate Professor of Sociology & Social Studies at the University of Regina. Her research explores how individuals and communities experience major changes and crises, focusing particularly on how social inequality shapes people’s experience of environmental disasters. Amber’s research is centered on rural and Indigenous communities in the Canadian Prairie region.

Dr. Barbara Meneley is the Research Officer for the Saskatchewan Arts Alliance and a MITACS Post Doctoral Researcher. She is a prairie-based intermedia artist and contract faculty member at the University of Regina, Luther College and First Nations University. Barbara's site-responsive art practice engages foundations of colonial structures in the prairies and contemporary settler relationships to site.