Monday, October 15, 2012

The NEA's "How Art Works" Research Approach

Cover of How Art Works  On September 20, American University hosted the National Endowment for the Arts' unveiling of its HOW ART WORKS report. This report is both the presentation of a systems map as a conceptual framework to inform priorities for research planning and prioritization, and an agenda for the NEA's five-year research strategy. The systems map is both complex and too simple - attempting to articulate and demonstrate how arts expression and experience impacts individuals, communities and society.

For the NEA, the idea of a systems map was chosen because it reflects the world of art itself - as a complex, interrelated connection of people, ideas and the impact of the expression of those ideas. And, if the complexity is well articulated, it provides multiple entries into understanding and reflecting on the components of the system.

The public forum at American University offered a presentation of the systems map by the researcher Tony Seisfeld, partner at Monitor Institute; a presentation by Sunil Iyengar, Director of Research and Analysis, of the NEA; as well as opportunity for Q&A and two panel discussions - one the Impact on Individuals and one on the Impact on Society and Communities. The event is available in individual video segments.

The premise of the systems map to both understand 'how art works' and to inform the next five years of research for the National Endowment for the Arts is quite intriguing. And, intellectually, taking the NEA, and by extension the field, into a brave new world. I found Sunil's articulation of the NEA's research agenda particularly interesting because it provides those of us in the field with a framework to connect with, push against, or propel forward the value and impact of the arts in our world.

If you care about the future of arts research and its societal impact, scanning these videos and getting a copy of the report will be worth your while. Enjoy!

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