Art Works Blog

Taking Note: Fall Research Funding Opportunities & Related Study Updates

We’re almost a month away from the application deadline for the 2020 Research Grants in the Arts program (formerly called Research: Art Works). As in previous years, the National Endowment for the Arts will award grants to support experimental and quasi-experimental studies that seek to identify causal relationships between the arts and positive individual and social outcomes. Another set of grants will support studies suited to other types of research questions about “the value and impact of the arts.”

Details about the application process and timeline—and about the program itself—can be found here, while research papers that have resulted from such grants are on this page. Decisions on all awards will be made in March and April 2020. Next year, the application deadline for Research Grants in the Arts will be in March—about six months earlier than it ordinarily has been. That’s because the Arts Endowment now will use one review cycle for its research grants and the NEA Research Labs program. Starting in 2020, both programs will have the same application deadline.

Speaking of NEA Research Labs, later next month the National Council on the Arts will review staff-recommended awards to transdisciplinary teams who will foster and implement a long-term research agenda in the arts. These Labs would join 12 previously funded projects, whose principal investigators convened in Washington, DC, last June for an “All-Labs Summit.”

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Apart from offering these two research awards programs, the Arts Endowment has issued a program solicitation for an entity to build and sustain a Sound Health Network, based on previous work done by the agency in partnership with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and opera soprano Renée Fleming. Following a 2017 research workshop on music, neuroscience, and health, NIH established a trans-agency working group whose deliberations resulted in a $5 million funding opportunity for biomedical and behavioral research on music, health, and wellness. The Arts Endowment cosponsored this opportunity, which will yield new grants early this fall.

Other outputs from the partnership include presentations and workshops at the Kennedy Center and an article in the peer-review journal Neuron. (A September 12th panel on the initiative will feature during The REACH Opening Festival to celebrate the Kennedy Center’s newly expanded campus.) In recent years, as it happens, several NEA Research Labs have begun to tackle projects at the intersection of neuroscience, health, education, and music or music therapy.     

The Sound Health Network will bring together key researchers, practitioners, and policymakers who seek to improve public knowledge about music’s integral role in health and human development. In recent months alone, several studies and reports have sprung from this fertile domain.

Examples include:

  • A Canadian study of educational records for more than 110,000 high school students showed that children who had engaged in school-based music activities or music education showed greater academic achievement than did children who had not engaged in music. These differences, which appear independent of demographic and socioeconomic factors, as well as prior academic history, were especially acute for students who played instrumental music versus those who did not. The authors of the study article, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, highlight potential differences in executive functioning, “motivation-related characteristics,” and social-personal development as pathways enabling greater academic achievement for music participants.
    • Last year, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded a research grant to the University of Southern California, where principal investigator Assal Habibi is studying the benefits of music education for adolescents’ executive functioning and emotional regulation. Teens in the study will have had music training through an El Sistema-inspired community music program, and their neurodevelopmental outcomes will be compared with those of teens who have participated in a community-based sports program but who have not had musical training, and also with outcomes from teens who have had neither after-school music nor sports training. Recently, Habibi and her colleagues published results from a preliminary study showing that parents of children involved in extracurricular, community-based music and sports programs for at least four years rated their children higher on emotional stability and lower on aggression and hyperactivity than did parents for children who had not participated in these programs. Between the two groups, by contrast, no significant differences were reported on these scales at baseline.
  • A study of residents at 12 centers that are supported by the Administration on Aging and serve racially/ethnically diverse older adults found that participants in a six-month community choir program showed greater reduction of self-reported loneliness and greater improvements in “interest in life” than did participants who had been waitlisted for the program. Importantly, the choir program is “multimodal”—it “comprises activities that engage participants cognitively, physically, and socially,” according to the study’s author Julene Johnson, University of California San Francisco, who also co-wrote The National Endowment for the Arts Guide to Community-Based Research on the Arts and Health.
    • The organization Chorus America has released The Chorus Impact Study: Singing for a Lifetime, which reports data from online surveys of 5,736 chorus participants, data from a “representative general population sample” of 506 adults aged 18 and older, and data from a more concentrated sample of adults in the general population, aged 62 and older. The report finds that 73 percent of choral singers said the activity “helps them feel alone or less lonely”; choral singers were also less likely than adults as a whole to report “indicators of isolation and depression,” according to the study. Other comparative advantages that registered for chorus singers, relative to the general population samples, were a greater reported sense of purpose, optimism about the future, and perceived meaningfulness in their lives. Sixty-eight percent of choral singers reported that singing helped them to socialize better in general. This report was supported by—you guessed it—a research grant from the Arts Endowment.
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