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The cover of the Museums USA publication.

NEA research report Museums USA (1974). 

In 1974, the NEA commissioned a comprehensive survey of museums through the contractor National Research Center of the Arts, Inc., an affiliate of Louis Harris and Associates. Museums USA was the first major research project undertaken by the agency, covering 1,821 art, history, and science museums in 50 states and the District of Columbia. This important study proved critical in advancing quantitative research for the field. By documenting staff levels, attendance, membership, budgets, and regional trends in museums in the United States, the report sparked substantive policy discussions about appropriate support mechanisms for these institutions.

Noting the importance of gathering data such as this, the National Council on the Arts in 1975 approved the first program budget for the agency’s Research Division (later named the Office of Research and Analysis). The agency’s new focus on empirical data collection and analysis would lead to documenting the “state of the arts” for various disciplines and extended those inquiries into artist employment, arts participation, and other domestic indicators that would be used to guide policy. The NEA is now considered a leading source of research studies in the arts and arts education, and has expanded to include grant programs to fund studies that investigate the value and impact of the arts and NEA Research Labs, which funds transdisciplinary research teams grounded in the social and behavioral sciences to investigate empirical insights about the arts for the benefit of arts and non-arts sectors alike.