RESEARCH GRANTS IN THE ARTS: Grant Program Description

Grant applications previously submitted to the Research: Art Works category will now be submitted to the Research Grants in the Arts category.


Nearly a decade ago, the National Endowment for the Arts' Office of Research & Analysis published a five-year research agenda, supported by a system map and measurement model to guide the Agency’s research program. Titled How Art Works, the report provided 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 Arts Endowment’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 updated 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. We are 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, specifically outcomes 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 of Arts/Cultural Assets, specifically outcomes corresponding with the following domains:
    • civic and corporate innovation
    • attraction for neighborhoods and businesses
    • national and/or state-level economic growth

The 2017-2021 research agenda offers guidance on the types of study questions and topics that continue to appeal to the agency’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. 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.

Primary data collection is an allowable activity under these grants, as long as a proposed project also includes analysis of the data. We will not fund projects that focus exclusively on data acquisition.

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 partial list of publicly available datasets that include arts-related variables, click here. Some of these datasets are also available through the NEA’s public data repository: the National Archive of Data on Arts & Culture (NADAC).

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.

Dosage studies or comparison studies of arts interventions are eligible projects under Track One. However, projects that intend to test causal or inferred-causal impacts of arts interventions, by using at least one arts group and at least one non-arts group, should apply to Track Two instead.

Track Two: Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs

Historically, there has been a lack of reliable information on causal links between the arts and individual or community outcomes. 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 of 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.

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 sizes. 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.

Eligible projects under this track must use experimental/quasi-experimental design methods and must, at minimum, include at least one arts-based intervention group and at least one non-arts-based control/comparison group. 

Below are examples of eligible arts-based intervention groups and non-arts-based control/comparison groups:

  • A painting group compared to a no-intervention group or to a social interaction group.
  • A music group compared to a soccer group.
  • A fiction reading group versus a non-fiction reading group versus a no-reading group.

The following examples do not qualify as eligible projects as all groups are arts-based:

  • A visual arts group compared to a theater arts group.
  • An active music engagement group, such as a singing group or an instrument-playing group, versus a music appreciation or music-listening group.

If you are unclear about whether your groups are distinctly arts versus non-arts, contact Arts Endowment staff at

Projects involving primary data collection activities must also include plans to ensure fidelity of the data collection and program/therapy implementation through routine monitoring and oversight.

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.