RESEARCH: ART WORKS: Grant Program Description


In September 2012, the National Endowment for the Arts' 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.

"Value"-oriented research measures or otherwise clarifies one or more factors, characteristics, or conditions of the U.S. arts ecosystem. Examples may include but are not limited to descriptive studies of arts participation and arts learners, artists and art workers, arts organizations and arts industries, and arts funders and arts volunteers. Such research also may examine the underlying conditions and vehicles for arts participation. For instance, it can examine how training and education affects arts creation, arts audiences, or other aspects of arts engagement.

Separately, research on "impact" investigates direct and indirect pathways of arts participation to economic prosperity; individual health and well-being; individual cognitive capacity, learning, and creativity; community livability; and other areas of human endeavor. Research also could examine the effects of arts participation on broader-level outcomes, such as new forms of self-expression, new outlets for creative activity, and the overall creative and expressive capacity of U.S. society.

The How Art Works system map (see below) presents several different research areas that focus on the value and/or impact of the arts for individuals, organizations, and communities, each ripe for fresh inquiry. To obtain a better understanding of each area of the map, researchers can collect and analyze data on a host of variables. Research areas include the system's core components of Arts Participation and Arts Creation; the system's inputs (Arts Infrastructure and Education & Training); and the system's main outcomes, e.g., civic or economic benefits to communities, or cognitive or emotional benefits to individuals. The system map is not prescriptive. It is intended primarily to communicate to potential applicants a cluster of topics and relationships that the National Endowment for the Arts has been exploring as part of its most recent five-year research agenda.

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 studies that take place in clinical or non-clinical settings; 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

How Art Works System Map

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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 learning-related outcomes; urban planning work that seeks to understand the arts as a marker of community vitality; and psychological and clinical studies that posit the arts' relationship to health and well-being across the lifespan. 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 are not eligible under this Track and should apply to Track Two.

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 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.