RESEARCH: ART WORKS: Grant Program Description

Background

In September 2012, the National Endowment for the Arts' (NEA) Office of Research & Analysis published a five-year research agenda, supported by a system map and measurement model. Titled How Art Works, the report offers a framework for studying research topics critical to a broader public understanding of the arts' value and/or impact for individuals and communities.

In December 2016, the NEA’s research office updated its five-year agenda for 2017-2021, which reflects a tighter focus on Arts Participation and Arts/Cultural Assets as essential research topics. Arts Participation, in the new agenda, remains inclusive of various modes of participation and specific arts activities. These modes are: attending arts events; reading literature; creating or performing art; consuming art via electronic media; and learning in the arts. Arts/Cultural Assets denotes artists and arts workers, arts venues and platforms, and arts organizations and industries. The NEA is interested in research seeking to identify and to examine:

  • Factors that enhance or inhibit Arts Participation or Arts/Cultural Assets;
  • Detailed characteristics of Arts Participation or Arts Cultural/Assets, and their interrelationships;
  • Individual-level outcomes of Arts Participation, including those corresponding with the following domains:
    • social and emotional well-being
    • creativity, cognition, and learning
    • physiological processes of health and healing; and
  • Societal or community-level outcomes, including those corresponding with the following domains:
    • civic and corporate innovation
    • attraction for neighborhoods and businesses
    • national and/or state-level economic growth

Both the 2012 How Art Works report and the 2017-2021 agenda offer guidance on the types of study questions and topics that continue to appeal to the NEA’s long-term research goals.

Regarding the types of studies to be undertaken, funds will be given for projects that involve analyses of primary and/or secondary data. Primary data collection is an allowable activity under these grants, as long as a proposed project also includes analysis of that data. We will not fund projects that focus exclusively on data acquisition. Projects may include, but are not limited to, primary and/or secondary data analyses; economic impact studies; organizational research; psychological and physical health-related or therapeutic studies that take place in clinical or non-clinical settings; education studies in a variety of contexts (e.g., classrooms, informal venues, distance learning, or home-school environments); third-party evaluations of an arts program's effectiveness and impact; and statistically-driven meta-analyses of existing research so as to provide a fresh understanding of the value and/or impact of the arts. We also are interested in translational research that moves scientific evidence toward the development, testing, and standardization of new arts-related programs, practices, models, or tools that can be used easily by other practitioners and researchers.

Data Sources and Samples

Applicants may propose projects that focus on quantitative, qualitative, and/or mixed-method approaches using data gleaned from primary or secondary sources. These may include but are not limited to, surveys, censuses, biological or medical experiments, observations, interviews, focus groups, social media, administrative data, and transactional/financial data. Other examples of data sources include archived materials such as written documents, audio/video recordings, or photographs and images.

We welcome the use of data in both the public and private domain, including commercial and/or administrative data sources. For a list of publicly available datasets that include arts-related variables, click here

Track One: Value and Impact

Some of the most compelling research about the arts has originated in non-arts specialties: labor economics, for example, with its lessons about the arts' impact on national and local productivity; cognitive neuroscience, with its discoveries about the arts' role in shaping human development and learning-related outcomes; urban planning work that seeks to understand the arts as a marker of community vitality; and psychological or physical health-related or therapeutic studies that posit the arts' relationship to individual well-being. We encourage applications from diverse research fields (e.g., economics, psychology, education, sociology, medicine and health, communications, and urban and regional planning) in addition to projects that address a diverse array of topics concerning the value and/or impact of the arts.

For this Track, priority will be given to projects that present theory-driven and evidence-based research questions and methodologies that will yield important information about the value and/or impact of the arts on individuals and communities, and/or that use novel and promising research approaches, such as rigorous analyses of organizational or social networks and/or social media data. Projects with a primary focus on experimental/quasi-experimental design methods should not apply under this Track and should apply to Track Two.

NOTE: Applications will not be transferred from one Track to the other after the deadline.

Track Two: Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs

Despite compelling research conclusions from studies such as The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth (National Endowment for the Arts, 2012), there is a lack of findings about the causal relationship between the arts and short- or long-term individual or community benefits. Particularly in assessing the effects of a program, policy, or practice (referred to here as an "intervention"), more rigorous methods are needed to isolate—to the greatest extent possible—the impacts of the intervention from those associated with other influences (e.g., geographic or temporal factors, or pre-existing differences between participants and non-participants). For questions about causality, experimental approaches such as randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are generally preferred. When experimental approaches are not feasible, high-quality, quasi-experimental design studies offer an attractive alternative.

We encourage applications from diverse research fields (e.g., economics, psychology, education, sociology, medicine and health, communications, and urban and regional planning) and that use experimental or quasi-experimental design methods to test the impact that the arts can have on a variety of possible outcomes.

Experimental designs, or RCTs, include study participants who are assigned randomly to form two or more groups that are differentiated by whether or not they receive the arts intervention under study. Such projects may include between-subject designs, within-subject designs, waitlist-controls, repeated measures, and/or other design characteristics. The studies may employ assignment or analysis at the individual or cluster level (e.g., examining groups of individuals, such as within a school, a therapy group, or a broader community).

Random assignment also may include blocking the sample into groups before random assignment, random subsampling, using groups with different populations, or using groups of different size. At the time the sample is identified (and before the intervention), the groups should be similar, on average, on both observable and unobservable characteristics. These types of research designs incorporate robust statistical controls, and may include mixed-method studies that pair qualitative and quantitative methods. Experimental designs allow any subsequent (i.e., post-intervention) differences in outcomes between the intervention and comparison groups to be attributed solely to the intervention. 

A quasi-experimental design compares outcomes for individuals or clusters who had access to the intervention with those who did not but were similar on observable characteristics. Importantly, quasi-experimental design studies, while rigorous, are less able to determine causation, since even with equivalence on observable characteristics, there may be differences in unobservable characteristics that could introduce bias into an estimate of the effect of the intervention.

More information on experimental and quasi-experimental design studies can be found in a number of federal resources, such as the Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse's Handbook and the Clearinghouse for Labor Evaluation and Research's Causal Evidence Guidelines.

For this Track, priority will be given to projects that present theory-driven and evidence-based research questions and methodologies that will yield important information about the value and/or impact of the arts for individuals or communities.

NOTE: Applications will not be transferred from one Track to the other after the deadline.