Art Works Blog

Taking Note: Tips for Applicants to the NEA’s Research: Art Works Program

As a developmental psychologist, I find it amusing to consider the National Endowment for the Arts’ Research: Art Works  program as something of a toddler. The program has entered its third year and continues to find its footing in the larger world of research grants.

I came to the NEA in January 2013, bringing a deep background in psychology, research methods, and, felicitously, the studio arts. In grad school, I derived special satisfaction from mentoring young scholars on their research projects, just as my mentor, Kenneth H. Rubin, had done for me. Without exception, such projects were unique and interesting. For example, one study assessed change in social play behavior for anxious-withdrawn toddlers in a social skills training program. Another study focused on the effects of parental stress on parenting behavior, and still another compared adolescents’ relationships with their same-sex best friends and their romantic partners. Each scholar started with a research question, a theory (e.g., attachment theory), and a hypothesis, and many of these scholars have attained academic distinction in fields such as psychology, medicine, and social work.

How does all this relate to my current role at the NEA and the Research: Art Works program? I suppose this penchant (or passion) for mentoring has led me to view my stewardship of the NEA’s research grants program as an opportunity to advise NEA applicants more effectively than might have been possible otherwise. From my recent experiences in talking with numerous applicants and grantees, here then are some things you might want to keep in mind as you consider applying to Research: Art Works.

Think Interdisciplinary. By interdisciplinary, I mean that arts-related research often emerges from a variety of different fields, such as psychology, economics, education, sociology, anthropology, and urban planning and development, to name a few. The grants awarded in FY12 and FY13 as well as the panelists who were involved in reviewing the applications speak to the interdisciplinary nature of the program. It is important for you to speak to a wide research audience, operationalize your constructs clearly, and use clear language throughout your proposals. Check out the FOIA Reading Room for some samples of successful proposals from the FY12 Research: Art Works grants cycle.

Think Research. At the core of every competitive research proposal should be a convincing reason why your topic is important to study; that reason should be woven throughout the proposal. Often such reasons are rooted in theory and/or theories and in extant empirical literature. In terms of the Research: Art Works grant program, I encourage you to think critically about why the arts (broadly and/or narrowly defined) might be important for humans and societies. For example, from a developmental psychology  perspective, how might art be associated with physiological/neurological, cognitive, and socioemotional development across the lifespan? Are there contextual variables that might alter those relations? Or, to look at different outcomes entirely, what is the association of art to certain economic, civic, or societal benefits? Oh, and, did I mention that we now allow projects involving primary data collection?

Think Art/Creativity. As part of the Research: Art Works grants program, proposals naturally must consider at least some aspect of the arts. Art can be operationalized in a number of different ways—embracing genres such as music, visual arts, dance, theater, literature, or design, and various sub-genres and styles of art within those categories. Your construct or constructs may involve arts creation, arts learning, or some other kind of arts engagement; and participation may occur in formal or informal settings. For example, from a developmental perspective, art for children often occurs during play, such as when children are listening to or singing music and songs, playing with a drum or other instruments, finger painting, playing with clay, and pretending or engaging in dramatic play. From an economics perspective, meanwhile, art can happen in a number of different labor industries, such as industrial design.

Think Method. Beyond operationalizing your constructs and including a literature review of the appropriate theories and empirical research to date, another important component of a competitive proposal is a rigorous research design. I would encourage you to also clearly describe your research model, and how you plan to answer your research questions or hypotheses. For example, what are the procedures, what is the expected sample, how are you going to recruit such a sample (if applicable), what types of information/data are you going to collect from that sample (and how are you going to store/share it, if appropriate), and what types of quantitative and/or qualitative approaches are you going to use to analyze your data.

Think Budget. Another critical component of a competitive proposal is the budget. The FY14 grant program requires matching funds. I would encourage you to speak with your organization’s budget officer earlier rather than later to see what matching funds might be available to you internally as well as externally. In addition, this contact will help you figure out how much items will cost, such as salaries/stipends for the research staff and materials and supplies that you might need to execute your project.

Think Deadlines. The FY14 deadline for Research: Art Works grant applications is November 5, 2013. Most proposals have to go through a number of different hands before they are actually submitted. If you work within an academic institution, then I would encourage you to reach out to your research administration to see if it has internal deadlines that may fall sooner than November 5.

Think Directions. A competitive application is one that follows the directions. If I haven’t mentioned this enough already, make sure that you address each of the review criteria  in your proposal.

Think Contact. If you have any of your own questions, comments, or concerns, please don’t hesitate to let us know. We are here to help guide you through the grant application process. We will do our best to respond as soon as we are able, and we will do our best to also make sure that we do the necessary research to answer your questions appropriately and accurately. There are many ways to get in contact:

Cheers, and good luck!


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