Taking Note: Spring Round-Up of Research Grant Products

By Sunil Iyengar, NEA Director of Research and Analysis
photo of graphs and charts with a cup of coffee and text that reads Taking Note

Not long after joining the National Endowment for the Arts in the summer of 2006, I was asked to help research the origins of the NEA’s Office of Research & Analysis (how’s that for meta?) for an official history of the agency. Plowing through the archives, I unearthed a 1977 report titled Research in the Arts: Proceedings of the Conference on Policy-Related Studies of the National Endowment for the Arts.

For my efforts, I was rewarded with this paragraph on pp. 50-51 of the ultimate history book:

"Two years after the [NEA research] division’s founding, Joseph Coates, assistant to the director of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, stated at an agency conference that he welcomed a 'long-term commitment on the part of scholars to a program of arts research; not the kind of in-and-out contract research [formerly conducted].' He predicted, 'The issue will arise whether the Endowment should be doing basic or applied research. I believe that at this stage it should be committed to applied research; research that has a high utility element.'"

If Mr. Coates were to review application guidelines for the NEA’s Research: Art Works grants program, now in existence for nearly seven years, I hope he’d be pleased. All NEA research grant recipients must submit a working paper or research article resulting from their project. Our office posts these products to our website, as a way to “promote public knowledge and understanding about the contributions of the arts”—a strategic goal of the agency.

A fresh crop of articles and working papers is now available. See the “Research: Art Works Study Findings” page at arts.gov for a comprehensive list to date. (Entries can be filtered by four broad topic areas.) Or see below for short summaries of recent research output. In addition, go here for a list of continuously-updated publications citing data sources that the NEA maintains through a free, online research repository.

•Duke University: Researchers at the university's Social Science Research Institute teamed with Katie Wyatt, executive director of El Sistema USA (ESUSA), to examine how membership within the ESUSA formal network relates to “organizational success” outcomes. Based on original survey findings, along with IRS Form 990 data from nonprofit groups, the team makes useful comparisons between ESUSA members and non-members, and between independent versus “nested” El Sistema-inspired programs within larger nonprofit groups. The study focused on differences in organizational values reviewing mission statements), budgets, staffing, and programming. Across 111 organizations, the average program's budget was roughly $300,000, employing three administrators and 11 teaching artists and serving 191 students, with an average of seven music classes offered.

• University of Missouri, Kansas City: Carolyn Barber and Jessica Ross, in Missouri's School of Education, looked at data from two international surveys of civics and citizenship, to discern whether prior arts participation by these youth (also documented by the surveys) translated into more favorable civic-engagement outcomes. The two surveys (named CIVED:99 and ICCS:09) were fielded ten years apart, and included 28 and 38 countries, respectively. The paper finds that “arts participation was a unique, significant predictor of attitudes toward historically-disenfranchised groups” in one survey and, in the other, was “a unique predictor or trust and expected future participation in informal, local civic activities.” Bonus finding: in both studies, arts participation occurred more frequently among female than males, “even after controlling for overall levels of participation.” 

• University of Maryland, College Park: Which school factors are positively associated with the provision of arts education at the high school level? To answer this question, Kenneth Elpus, an associate professor of music education, consulted data from the U.S. Department of Education's High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS) as well as school characteristics reported annually as part of ED's Common Core data reporting requirements. Elpus also did the painstaking work of checking that all arts courses were properly coded in the HSLS dataset. In the end, school size emerged as “the strongest and most consistent” school factor linked to arts availability.  Across all school types, public charter schools “had the least availability of arts education.” As for the presence of students eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch, this factor is negatively associated with the likelihood of offering arts education in public schools, but positively associated with arts ed. provision in private schools. And the location of a school—whether in an urban, rural, or suburban area--was not significantly linked to visual arts or music offerings, though dance and theater were less available in rural schools.

• Arizona State University: Researchers Stephani Etheridge Woodson, et al., have published an article setting forth a theoretical model of theater arts being used to affect individual behavior patterns with respect to health and wellness. The model grew from research around the ASU team's CENAS program (Cultural Engagements in Nutrition, Arts and Sciences; “cenas” means “suppers” in Spanish), which has focused for years on collaborative theater and communal story-telling practices that reinforce healthy eating habits. The diagram illustrating the model, and the carefully defined terms that populate it (e.g., “bracketing,” “authorship,” “play,” “ensemble,” “rehearsal,” “embodiment,” “emotional arousal,” and “agency”) have allowed the researchers to “pull out the rich joy of theater-making in order to articulate potential causal pathways for future study.” Of note, the ASU/CENAS team included not only a theater artist and scholar, but a theater historian, a performing artist/cook, a medical anthropologist, and consultants from nutrition science and nursing.

• Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis: On EconomistsTalkArt.org, a resource launched in partnership with the Association of Cultural Economists International, researchers Joanna Woronkowicz and Doug Noonan elaborate on study findings they first published last fall in the journal Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice. We already know from previous research on artists that they are more likely to be self-employed (read: entrepreneurial) than other types of workers. However, by constructing a longitudinal dataset from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, permitting a view of workers’ transitions to and from self-employment, two years at a time (over a 13-year period), Woronkowicz and Noonan pinpoint other key distinctions. For example, although the self-employment rate between 2003 and 2015 decreased for other “professional” workers, it increased for artists. Demographic characteristics such as gender and age are less significant variables in artists’ transitions to self-employment than in other professional workers making this shift. Further, “married females are more likely to transition from arts-related self-employment than other groups, suggesting that family support mechanisms are important to enabling entrepreneurship for some artists,” the authors write, suggesting that greater understanding of unique factors related to self-employment patterns could inform polices to stimulate entrepreneurship within regional economies.

Are you a researcher who wants to join the conversation? Good news: application guidelines for the NEA’s Research: Art Works grants program will post later this summer. Check back at this website or email nearesearchgrants@arts.gov if you’d like receive the announcement directly.