NEA RESEARCH LABS: Program Description


Part 1 - Submit to

March 27, 2023 at 11:59 p.m., Eastern Time

Prepare application material so that it’s ready to upload when the Applicant Portal opens

Part 2 - Submit to Applicant Portal

March 30-April 6, 2023 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time

Earliest Announcement of Award or Rejection

November 2023

Earliest Start Date for Proposed Project

January 1, 2024

The NEA Research Labs program funds transdisciplinary research teams grounded in the social and behavioral sciences, yielding empirical insights about the arts for the benefit of arts and non-arts sectors alike.

Established in FY 2017, the NEA Research Labs continue to build public knowledge about the arts and their contributions to individuals, communities, and society at large. Through this program, we are cultivating transdisciplinary research partnerships that are producing research findings and evidence-based tools of value not only to arts practitioners, but also to non-arts sectors such as healthcare, education, and business or management. Institutions of higher education and/or nonprofit research and policy organizations may submit applications to be NEA Research Labs.

The NEA Research Labs program offers grant funding for longer-term research agendas. These agendas will include multiple research studies and activities that build and inform the field throughout the life of an NEA Research Lab. Applicants seeking grant funding for a specific and discrete research study should refer to the Research Grants in the Arts program guidelines.

Each NEA Research Lab will design a transdisciplinary research agenda, conduct project activities to execute that agenda, and prepare and disseminate reports and other products or services that will contribute substantively to a wider understanding of one of the following research areas of special interest to the NEA:

  1. Measuring the Impacts of the Arts:

    1. On U.S. Economic Growth, and/or Innovation
    2. On Cognition and Learning
    3. On Health and Wellness for Individuals
  2. Monitoring and Improving Systems:

    1. Community Health and/or Revitalization
    2. Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Arts
    3. Other Aspects of the Arts Ecology

These research areas correspond with priority topics and related questions identified in the NEA’s research agenda for FY 2022-2026. Applicants are strongly urged to consult the agenda for detailed descriptions of each priority topic and for related sample questions.

NEA Research Labs serve as “hubs” or centers of excellence in the domain of interest. Each NEA Research Lab will develop a pipeline of projects or products, including a website, while conducting at least one major study. More detail on NEA Research Labs activities can be found in the “NEA Research Lab Project Activities” section.

Projects and Research Methods

As in previous years, we welcome applications from diverse research fields (e.g., economics; psychology; education; sociology; medicine, health, and therapy; communications; business administration; urban and regional planning). We expect our total awards portfolio to be diverse in terms of geographical distribution, the artistic and research fields or disciplines involved, and the research topics proposed. We also expect our portfolio to reflect an array of study design characteristics.

Accordingly, applicants may propose research projects drawing from a range of study design types. In recent years, the NEA has supported a growing cohort of studies that hypothesize a cause-effect relationship between the arts and key outcomes of interest (e.g., in health, education, or the economy). For projects seeking to explore causal claims about the arts, experimental approaches (e.g., randomized controlled trials) are generally preferred. Where experimental approaches are not feasible, then high-quality, quasi-experimental design studies offer an attractive alternative for impact studies about the arts.

In many cases, however, other or different study design characteristics will be preferable. These designs may include, but are not limited to, case studies, complex surveys, mixed methods, and meta-analyses. In particular, we encourage community-based participatory research approaches where warranted by the research objective. Program evaluations also are eligible for funding.

The NEA research agenda states that, through such awards, the agency will “incentivize the creation of practitioner tools grounded in research.” In keeping with this aim, we especially welcome 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. This function is especially important to NEA Research Labs, which should be prepared to contribute products and services not only for the research community but for practitioners in the arts and other sectors.

Data Sources and Analysis

Projects supported under this program must include data analysis activities that occur during the period of performance, and can include either primary and/or secondary/archival data sources. We do not fund projects that focus exclusively on data acquisition.

Primary data sources refer to research data or information that did not exist prior to the project and that 1) will be actively collected by the applicant during the period of performance and 2) is part of the project budget.

Secondary/archival data sources refer to research data or information that was or will be actively collected outside of the period of performance and is not part of the project budget. Examples of this might include an existing dataset or archival information that applicants plan to analyze under an NEA award.

Data analysis may include quantitative, qualitative, and/or mixed-method approaches. Data sources may include, but are not limited to, surveys, censuses, biological or medical experiments, observations, interviews, focus groups, social media activity, 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. Visit the NEA website for a partial list of publicly available datasets that include arts-related variables. Some of these datasets are also available through the NEA’s public data repository: the National Archive of Data on Arts & Culture (NADAC).

We do not fund

  • Projects that do not include a focus on a priority topic outlined in the NEA’s research agenda.
  • Projects that focus exclusively on data acquisition.
  • Projects that do not include data analysis.
  • Projects that focus exclusively on conducting a literature review.
  • Project activities that include the creation and/or installation of public art as part of the proposed project activities and budget. Public art refers to the commissioning and installation of artwork in public spaces, such as temporary or permanent outdoor furnishings (e.g., benches or market structures), or other artwork such as a sculpture or mural that is temporarily or permanently installed in public spaces.
  • Seasonal or general operating support.
  • Costs of physical construction or renovation, or the purchase costs of facilities or land.

See the General Terms and Conditions for Grants and Cooperative Agreements to Organizations for more information on unallowable costs and activities.

Required Partnership

We aim to make arts-relevant research a shared endeavor (with shared benefits) for academic researchers, arts practitioners, stakeholders, and the greater public. Accordingly, the NEA Research Labs program requires a confirmed partnership between the official applicant organization and a nonprofit arts organization at the time of application. The nonprofit arts organization is expected to contribute substantially to the NEA Research Lab.

Applicants are also strongly encouraged to partner with other non-arts or arts organizations (for-profit or nonprofit entities) with expertise in the proposed research topic area. We welcome organizations from sectors such as health, business, and science, and educational entities such as school districts or individual schools.

In addition to a required partnership with a nonprofit arts organization, NEA Research Labs are also required to develop and maintain a technical working group, including representatives from partner organizations and other experts in the field or a related field, to offer feedback to the NEA Research Lab on key project activities and deliverables. The technical working group will periodically review the activities conducted under this award and report back to the NEA Research Lab.

Applicants seeking funding for a specific, discrete research study that may or may not involve a partnering organization should consider applying to the Research Grants in the Arts program instead.

NEA Research Lab Project Activities

Research Agenda, Keystone Study, and Related Activities

  • Choose one of the following research areas (described below) in which to develop and refine a multiyear research agenda. For detailed descriptions of NEA priority topics and related sample questions, applicants are directed to NEA’s own research agenda for FY 2022-2026.

    1. Measuring the Impacts of the Arts:

      1. On U.S. Economic Growth, and/or Innovation
      2. On Cognition and Learning
      3. On Health and Wellness for Individuals
    2. Monitoring and Improving Systems:

      1. Community Health and/or Revitalization
      2. Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Arts
      3. Other Aspects of the Arts Ecology
  • Create an interdisciplinary core team of researchers of at least two different research disciplines to engage in all aspects of the NEA Research Lab. We encourage teams that include research personnel at various stages in their career (e.g., tenured professors, mid-career professionals, early-career professionals, graduate students, and postdocs).

  • As part of the multiyear Research Lab agenda and within the initial award’s period of performance, conduct a keystone study or series of studies that addresses at least two key research questions under the topic area selected above (see the NEA’s FY 2022-2026 research agenda for sample research questions under each NEA priority topic).

As part of the multiyear research agenda, applicants must propose a plan for sustainability of the NEA Research Lab beyond the initial award’s period of performance, including any potential plans to continue studies beyond the initial award’s period of performance, and/or a pipeline of studies that the NEA Research Lab would start after the initial award’s period of performance.

Products and Services

  • Develop, host, and regularly update a public website specifically about the NEA Research Lab. At minimum, this website should include a description of the NEA Research Lab and accompanying research agenda and studies and periodic updates on the progress of fulfilling the research agenda and related studies. The website should also carry information about key personnel and technical working group members and about research products, events, and resources associated with the NEA Research Lab agenda—including working products and in-press products, as well as conference presentations. Additional content will be based on a proposed dissemination plan and will draw upon guidance to be developed through an NEA technical assistance provider (See Administration section below). The NEA Research Labs visual identifier should be included in a prominent area of the website, the NEA Research Lab funding source should be clearly acknowledged, and appropriate disclaimers must be included.

  • Produce at least one research report that documents the methods and findings of each research study.

  • Through the NEA Research Lab website and other vehicles, disseminate research reports or other products, tools or services, data, or communications (e.g., literature reviews, research or policy briefs, white papers, blog posts, podcasts, webinars, and technical guides) to researchers, arts practitioners, and the general public.

  • Prepare and deliver at least two presentations per year, one to a community of researchers and the other to a community of arts practitioners.


  • Establish and support a technical working group. It will include representatives from partner organizations, and/or experts in distinct fields of practice or research that are needed to inform the work of the NEA Research Lab. The technical working group members will offer feedback to the NEA Research Lab on key project activities and deliverables. The technical working group will periodically review the activities conducted under this agreement and report back to the NEA Research Lab.

  • Partake of technical assistance activities, as provided by the NEA, relevant to the NEA Research Labs program.

    • With guidance from the NEA Research Lab Technical Assistance provider, develop and implement a plan for communications and stakeholder engagement around the NEA Research Lab’s activities.
    • Participate in an NEA Research Labs needs assessment process.
    • Participate in professional development and communications trainings, webinars, and web conferences.
  • Participate in transdisciplinary NEA Research Labs meetings every six months that include multiple NEA Research Labs supported under the NEA Research Labs program. The meetings are expected to be audio-video conferences, with the possibility that one meeting per year will be conducted in person (or in a hybrid format). Costs for travel and subsistence for transdisciplinary NEA Research Labs meetings that occur in person are to be included in the total project budget for the NEA Research Lab award. The NEA Research Labs technical assistance provider will organize and schedule these meetings. In the event that a convening is not held, and/or travel is not required (e.g., if the event is virtual), those costs may be redirected to other allowable project activities.

  • Obtain any necessary intellectual property rights, permissions, consents, licenses, and releases as appropriate to the project activities (the “Rights”), and provide to the NEA. The Rights may include, but are not limited to, approval from Institutional Review Boards (IRBs), and/or data licensing for the acquisition of existing data, as may be required (see Responsible Conduct of Research section).

Award Information

Grants will range from $100,000 to $150,000, based on the availability of funding.

Grants cannot exceed 50% of the total cost of the project. All grants require a nonfederal cost share/match of at least 1 to 1. These cost share/matching funds may be all cash or a combination of cash and in-kind contributions, and can include federally-negotiated indirect costs. You may include in your Project Budget cost share/matching funds that are proposed but not yet committed at the time of the application deadline.

Applicants whose projects are recommended for less than the requested amount will have the opportunity to revise the project budget to reflect any necessary changes to the project, based on the recommended funding amount.

We reserve the right to limit our support of a project to a particular phase(s) or cost(s). All costs included in your Project Budget must be expended during your period of performance. Costs associated with other federal funds, whether direct or indirect (e.g., flow down through a state arts agency), can't be included in your Project Budget. No pre-award costs are allowable in the Project Budget. Costs incurred before the earliest project start date of January 1, 2024, can't be included in your budget or cost share/match.

All applications submitted and grants made in response to these guidelines are subject to the NEA’s grant regulations and terms and conditions.

Period of Performance

Our support of a project may start on or after January 1, 2024. The period of performance is a minimum of 12 months and a maximum of 24 months. An awardee may not receive more than one NEA award for the same activities during the same period of performance.

Subsequent Awards

The NEA may enter into up to four subsequent renewal awards with the recipient of a NEA Research Labs grant for a project consistent with the intent of the program. Any such future awards, however, would be subject to agency priorities, the availability of funds, awardee performance, and the agency’s regular review process.

Applicant Eligibility

The official applicant must be an organization with research and policy as a principal focus for its core components, either as the primary work or as part of a transdisciplinary mission. Eligible official applicants are:

  • U.S. institutions of higher education, or
  • Nonprofit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3), U.S. organizations with a three-year history of commissioning and conducting research in the behavioral or social sciences, and communicating research findings and policy implications through reports and/or convenings, at the time of application.

NEA Research Labs require a partnership that involves multiple organizations. One organization that meets the eligibility requirements below must act as the official applicant, submit the application, and assume full responsibility for the grant. Partnering organizations are not required to meet the eligibility requirements below.

To be eligible, the applicant organization must:

Eligible organizations that received American Rescue Plan (ARP) or CARES Act funding may apply to this program as long as there are no overlapping costs during the same grant period.

All applicants must have a Unique Entity Identifier (UEI), be registered with the System for Award Management (SAM, and maintain an active SAM registration until the application process is complete, and should an award be made, throughout the life of the award.

The following are not eligible to apply as the official applicant organization:

  • Organizations that served as the official applicant for any previous NEA Research Labs award in any topic area. For a listing of previously awarded NEA Research Labs, see the NEA Research Labs webpage.

  • Organizations whose primary purpose is to channel resources (financial, human, or other) to an affiliated organization if the affiliated organization also submits its own application. This prohibition applies even if each organization has its own 501(c)(3) status. For example, the "Friends of ABC Organization" may not apply if the ABC Organization applies.

Late, ineligible, and incomplete applications will not be reviewed.

Applications will not be transferred from Research Grants in the Arts to NEA Research Labs or vice versa.

Competition for NEA Research Labs is extremely rigorous. It is expected that an applicant organization selected to receive an NEA Research Labs award will complete the proposed research project activities. We will not transfer the award to another organization.

Application Limits

  • An organization may submit more than one application under these NEA Research Labs guidelines. In each case, the request must be for a distinctly different project. However, an organization will not receive more than one new NEA Research Labs award.

  • Applicants to the NEA Research Labs program may apply to other NEA funding opportunities within the same fiscal year, including Research Grants in the Arts. However, each proposal must be for a distinctly different project.

  • An organization will not receive both a Research Grants in the Arts award and a new NEA Research Lab award in the same fiscal year.

Application Review

Applications will be reviewed on the basis of agency-wide criteria of artistic excellence and artistic merit. For the Research Awards programs, artistic excellence and artistic merit can be considered as research excellence and research merit, respectively, as they relate to the bullets below.

The following are considered during the review of applications:

The artistic excellence of the planned project activities, specifically the:

  • Clarity of the research agenda and project activities, including commitment to both short- and long-term project objectives. This includes the appropriateness of the project for the NEA Research Labs program, the coherence of the proposed project activities and their correspondence to the Lab’s central theme or research agenda, and evidence that the research agenda is informed by extant literature, as appropriate.

  • Clarity of the proposed keystone research study to be completed during the initial award period of performance, including the conceptual framework, research design, and analytical methods to be used, and the relationship of these elements to the proposed research questions. This includes, if relevant, the keystone study’s Institutional Review Board plans and/or status.

  • Research qualifications of the key project personnel and organizations involved, including the proposed technical working group. This includes the degree to which the mission and experience of the proposed research partners, or the nature of the interdisciplinary collaboration, advance the purposes of the NEA Research Labs program and the proposed keystone study. As appropriate, this includes discussion of planned or actual ethics training on human subjects research protections for relevant personnel.

  • Ability to carry out the project on time and within budget, including the reasonableness of the budget.

The artistic merit of the planned project activities, specifically the:

  • Potential of the project activities to yield empirical insights about the arts for the benefit of arts and non-arts sectors alike.

  • Novel or promising research questions, approaches, and/or methods.

  • Plan to develop evidence-based products and/or services that will engage the scientific and artistic communities and the greater public regularly and throughout the period of performance. This includes plans to generate and release reports, articles, tools, programs or services, convenings, or data for the benefit of arts and non-arts sectors alike. This also includes creative communication and distribution strategies to make the research findings, products, and data accessible to the public and to other researchers and practitioners.

  • Potential for a sustained research program beyond the period of performance.

  • Potential for raw- and/or meta-data to be shared with other researchers and the public, as applicable.

What Happens to Your Application

After processing by our staff, applications are reviewed, in closed session, by interdisciplinary research and evaluation advisory panelists. Each panel comprises a diverse group of arts-research experts and other individuals, including at least one knowledgeable layperson. Panels are convened remotely. Panel membership changes regularly. The panel recommends the projects to be supported, and the staff reconciles panel recommendations with the funds that are available. These recommendations are forwarded to the National Council on the Arts, where they are reviewed in an open, public session.

The Council makes recommendations to the Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. The Chair reviews the recommendations for awards in all funding categories and makes the final decision on all awards. Applicants are then notified of funding decisions. It is anticipated that applicants will be notified of award or rejection in November 2023.

NOTE: All recommended applications undergo review to evaluate risk posed by the applicant prior to making a federal award. This may include past performance on grants and cooperative agreements, meeting reporting deadlines, compliance with terms and conditions, audit findings, etc.

After notification, applicants with questions may contact the staff. Any applicant whose request has not been recommended for funding may ask for an explanation of the basis for denial. In such instances, the NEA must be contacted no later than 30 calendar days after the official notification.