Art Works Blog

Taking Note: New Guidelines for NEA Research Grant Projects

The NEA’s Research: Art Works grants program supports research that investigates the value and/or impact of the arts for individuals and communities. The application deadline for the 2017 grant round is October 11, 2016

Last month, we released the 2017 application guidelines for the program. Among changes to the program this year is a lift in funding for certain types of studies. 

Please join us for a September 7 webinar to learn more, and bring along your questions! Meanwhile, we’ve prepared some answers to FAQs we’ve received so far. 

Q: What’s new in this year’s application guidelines?

A: The biggest change is an expansion of the program into two different grant tracks:

  • Track 1: Value and Impact projects will examine the value and/or impact of the arts in any topic area(s) by using data and any methods appropriate to the proposed research questions. These can includebut are not limited toqualitative methods, primary data collection, secondary data analyses, and mixed methods study. As in past years of the Research: Art Works program, these awards range from $10,000-$30,000, and a one-to-one non-federal funding match is required.
  • Track 2: Experimental and Quasi-Experimental projects test causal or inferred-causal impact of the arts on individual or cohort outcomes using experimental or quasi-experimental design methods. Awards for this track will range from $30,000-$100,000, and a one-to-one non-federal funding match is required.

Q: Does this mean that there will be less funding for qualitative research or secondary data analyses?

A: Not at all. In fact, we expect the total award amount awarded through Track 1 grants to be comparable to past years of the Research: Art Works grant program. The revised structure marks an expansion that we hope will benefit researchers working in a broad range of methods and study designs. 

Q: Are there different deadlines for each track?

A: No. The Research: Art Works application process and deadlines are the same for both tracks.

Q: I’m having trouble envisioning an arts research project with an experimental design. Can you give me an example?

A: Absolutelyand keep in mind that this is only one example. 

In 2014, we awarded a grant to George Mason University researchers to support a randomized, waitlist-controlled trial examining the effects of visual arts, music, and dance therapy on the emotional and cognitive functioning of older adults. (If this project came to us for the 2017 cycle, the researchers surely would have applied under Track 2!) 

The study occurred in a long-term care facility that houses low-income, older adults from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Trained facilitators engaged older adults in a music, imagery, and movement (MiM) intervention, or, alternatively, in social group interaction. Results suggested there was a stronger decline in depression levels from pre- to post-intervention reported by older adults who participated in the MiM intervention, compared with reports from older adults in the control group. This study was particularly novel given the paucity of research on arts interventions that use random assignment to a control group and the intervention; these types of methods allow for researchers to statistically test the causal impact that an arts intervention might have on participant outcomes. Indeed, findings from this experimental study suggest that positive and unique benefits for older adults in long-term care facility housing experience are a function of participating in an arts intervention. Results from the first year of this project were recently published in Family in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services, and results from the full study will soon be freely available for download on the NEA Research: Art Works Study Findings page.

Q: Can you share an example of a successful Research: Art Works application that uses qualitative and/or descriptive methods?

A: Earlier this year, we awarded a grant to a Duke University team to support a nationwide evaluation of the organizational characteristics and social networks of El Sistema USA (ESUSA) programs. (Because this project uses qualitative, mixed-method, and innovative approaches, the application would have fallen under Track 1 for the 2017 cycle.) 

ESUSA programs offer after-school orchestral music instruction to historically underserved populations. This project aims to understand the characteristics, attitudes, and needs of ESUSA programs by extracting and triangulating major themes that emerge through various qualitative methods. Researchers are working with ESUSA program members to analyze and code key themes that emerge from each program's mission, artistic endeavors, and community engagement, as well as to document information about board members, funders, and other external key partners.

Where appropriate, the qualitative information will be quantified, so that basic descriptive statistics can be calculated, such as the average number of events the programs held in the last year or the average number of funders per program. The research will use social network analysis to create visual representations of the program networks, and to inquire how various program elements correspond with each other (e.g., whether a program has more than one funder, or whether a funder supports more than one program).

In general, the Duke University research project—and others like it—seek to provide descriptive information about programs. They do not necessarily aim to show causal effects from one program versus another (or versus no program at all). 

Keep in mind that there are nearly endless possibilities for how you can choose to design your own study and research questions.

Q: Are there any other significant changes in the 2017 guidelines?

A: Another important change is that “novelty” was added to the review criteria. In other words, we are interested in research projects that have a high likelihood of adding significant new knowledge to the field of arts-related research.

Q: I submitted a proposal to the new NEA Research Labs program in July 2016. Can I still apply for the 2017 round of Research: Art Works?

A: Yes—as long as you apply with a distinctly different project.

Q: I still have questions about the guidelines. How do I get in touch with you?

A: You can reach us by email at

Q: I’ve made an interpretive dance of the new 2017 guidelines. How can I share it with you?

A: Trust us when we say we would love to see thisbut it won’t influence the review process for your application. Connect with us on Facebook or Twitter to share.


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