Through the participation of local communities in the arts, Community‐Based Arts Education (CBAE) raises awareness of ecology and the environment, and also facilitates the search for and establishment of a socio‐cultural identity. It provides students with specific forms of experiential learning involving out‐of‐classroom experiences. Since 2003 the Education Bureau in Hong Kong has promoted learning arts in the community in an informal arts educational context. To suit the needs of CBAE, since 2011 the Leisure and Cultural Services Department has offered four successful community‐based arts educational schemes to local primary and secondary students. The aim of the schemes is to enrich students' knowledge of arts and culture and strengthen their capacities to learn arts appreciation and criticism. Between 2011 and 2013, over 30,000 primary and secondary students participated in the schemes. This article reports on a study of the schemes which aimed to identify key elements of good practice in CBAE from students' and teachers' perspectives. In this larges‐cale study, a total of 15,430 students between Primary 1 and Secondary 6 (age 6 to 17) and 1,306 teachers who participated in the schemes were invited to take part in surveys and focus group interviews. The results show that the three central tenets of self‐determination theory, namely, competence, autonomy and relatedness, are the key elements of good practice in CBAE. It is hoped that the research findings will enrich existing knowledge of and provide a new research direction for CBAE. Copyright © 2018 The Author.