Art Works Blog

Taking Note: On the Road Again–NEA Researchers in Their Own Words

As another school year begins, the National Endowment for the Arts’ research staff looks back on a summer that abounded with opportunities to learn about compelling research and evidence-based programs in the arts. Below, staff analysts Bonnie Nichols and Melissa Menzer each reflect on conferences where they spoke about NEA research. Patricia Moore Shaffer, the agency’s deputy director for research and analysis, rounds out the entry by forecasting arts-related research happenings over the next few weeks and months.

Considering the latter category, I look forward to hosting two panels at Grantmakers in the Arts’ annual conference this year in Oakland, California, from Oct. 21-24. Those sessions are titled, respectively, “Integrating the Arts with Higher Education: What Funders Need to Know” and “A Vision for the Arts in Food-and-Agricultural Grantmaking.” But before that, I’ll join research colleagues for a session at the 2018 National HBCU Week Conference, here in Washington, DC. And before that, there’s a series of events under the “Sound Health” initiative, a partnership of the Kennedy Center and the National Institutes of Health, in association with the NEA, on Sept. 7-8. And before that

Okay, let’s see what staff have been doing, shall we?

Bonnie Nichols, NEA Operations Research Analyst:

Back in June, I had the pleasure of participating in the 2018 Music Industry Research Association (MIRA) Conference. The event blended presentations by academic researchers with panels of music industry professionals. For example, former White House Chief Economist Alan Krueger unveiled results of the first MIRA Musician Survey, and Billboard’s Melinda Newman hosted a panel featuring film/TV composer Raney Shockne.

I presented stats on musicians and the music industry. One item, in particular, drew interest: women musicians (working full-year/full-time) earn $0.92 for every dollar men musicians earn. (This is notable because earnings parity with men is achieved by few women artists.)

The conference was held at The Village, a famous recording studio in West Los Angeles. Of particular interest to me, The Village houses Studio D, where many iconic albums (including Tusk by Fleetwood Mac and Goats Head Soup by the Rolling Stones) have been recorded.  

Then, in August, I presented at the NEA-supported Advanced Appalachian Gateway Communities Workshop, held at the National Conservation Training Center, a lovely facility in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

The workshop was attended by Appalachian-area economic developers, county commissioners, and park rangers, among others. The NEA’s director of design and creative placemaking, Jennifer Hughes, was herself a speaker and workshop coach at this event.

I shared findings on the rural arts economy, as shown in the report Rural Arts, Design, and Innovation in America (2017), which our office produced in partnership with the Economic Research Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

For my talk, I emphasized the connection between the arts and scenic/recreational amenities in rural areas. For example, 40 percent of non-metropolitan counties that house performing arts organizations are in or near a national park or forest.

West Virginia’s Randolph County illustrates this association. Between 2004 and 2014, Randolph County gained two performing arts organizations. Randolph County, in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, is home to amenities provided by the Monongahela National Forest and the Dolly Sods Scenic Area.

Melissa Menzer, NEA Program Analyst:

In August, I co-chaired two sessions at the American Psychological Association’s (APA) annual convention. In the first session, Miriam Lense (Vanderbilt University Medical Center), Rob Horowitz (Teacher’s College, Columbia University), and Ah-Jeong Kim (California State University, Northridge) and her colleague Christopher Lawrence presented on arts-based interventions for youth with autism, with a focus on dance, music, theater, and visual art. Miriam heads the National Endowment for the Arts Research Lab at Vanderbilt University Medical Center; Rob and Ah-Jeong are past recipients of NEA research grants.

In the second session I co-chaired, Julene Johnson (University of California, San Francisco) and Gregg Gorzelle (I’m Still Here Foundation) presented on innovative arts- and media-based approaches that are used in promoting health and well-being for older adults. Julene is a co-author of the NEA Guide to Community-Engaged Research in the Arts and Health (2016). I’m Still Here Foundation is a former NEA research grantee. By the way, the deadline for Research: Art Works grant applications is rapidly approaching on Oct. 9, 2018! See the guidelines and instructions here.

Together, these APA sessions highlighted cutting-edge qualitative, quantitative, mixed-method, and experimental/quasi-experimental studies revealing positive impacts that arts engagement can have for autistic youth as well as for older adult populations. Each panel featured a thoughtful discussion about the need for more rigorous research and the difficulties inherent in conducting such studies.

Lastly, the highlight of the convention was a “blitz” session organized by APA’s Division 10 (also known as the Society for the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts), with more than 15 different researchers and creative arts therapists giving five-minute talks in rapid succession. Judges rated each presentation on artistic merit and psychological merit. The blitz-winner was Ian Levy (University of Massachusetts, Boston), who presented on his work using hip-hop and spoken-word therapy with urban youth.

Patricia Moore Shaffer, NEA Deputy Director of Research & Analysis:

Next week, at the Arts Education Partnership annual meeting in Indianapolis, I’ll lead a panel focused on how two NEA Research Labs are teaming with practitioners across art forms to conduct studies of the arts’ effects on student development and success. Presenters Thalia Goldstein of George Mason University and Jay Greene of the University of Arkansas will discuss replicable models of research partnerships, and how data can be used to advance arts engagement and cognitive, social, and emotional skills in children.

Then, in November, I’ll chair two sessions at the American Evaluation Association conference in Cleveland: one on “collective impact” initiatives in arts education, and another on engaging stakeholders in the design of arts programs.

Later in the month, at the National Guild for Community Arts Education conference in Baltimore, I’ll speak at a lunchtime event on “Documenting and Communicating Impact: Research Partnerships that Work.” By working closely with researchers, arts organizations can document outcomes associated with community-based arts education programs. This session will educate attendees on how professionally trained researchers can help arts organizations and artists understand the efficacy and effectiveness of their programs; how to validate, improve, and replicate these programs; and how to obtain broader support from funders, policymakers, and the community members most likely to benefit.


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