Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: For many education advocates, the arts supposedly increase test scores, generate social responsibility and turn around failing schools but research that demonstrates a causal relationship has been virtually nonexistent. Now the NY Times reports that with the opening of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, a 50,000 square foot museum with an $800 million endowment funded by Alice Walton, the daughter of Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, a large-scale, random-assignment study of school tours to the museum, has determined that strong causal relationships does in fact exist between arts education and a range of desirable outcomes. Students who, by lottery, were selected to visit the museum on a field trip demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of social tolerance, exhibited greater historical empathy and developed a taste for art museums and cultural institutions. Moreover, most of the benefits are significantly larger for minority students, low-income students and students from rural schools — typically two to three times larger than for white, middle-class, suburban students — owing perhaps to the fact that the tour was the first time they had visited an art museum. Further research is needed to determine what exactly about the museum-going experience determines the strength of the outcomes. How important is the structure of the tour? The size of the group? The type of art presented? "Clearly, however, we can conclude that visiting an art museum exposes students to a diversity of ideas that challenge them with different perspectives on the human condition," write the authors. "Expanding access to art, whether through programs in schools or through visits to area museums and galleries, should be a central part of any school’s curriculum."