a2ru Research History

Since our founding in 2012, a2ru has conducted three major research projects on arts and arts integration in higher education.

1. Mellon-funded interviews and SPARC analysis
With two cycles of funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (2012-2018), a2ru conducted over 900 interviews at 46 U.S. universities, exploring the models, obstacles, implementation strategies, costs, and impacts of arts integration with students, faculty, staff, and leadership. By 2017, these interviews had been transcribed, cleaned, and parsed, yielding a dataset of 579 usable interviews representing 38 research universities. This SPARC (Supporting Practice in the Arts, Research, and Curricula) dataset, including full-text interviews and data sheets, is available in the National Archive of Data on Arts and Culture (NADAC) with support from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Across the different SPARC topics, the a2ru research team used a range of analysis methods, including topic modeling, machine-assisted reading and categorization, close reading, manual coding, and iterative annotation. The resulting insights are the foundation of our understanding of Tenure and Promotion, Interdisciplinary Collaboration, Impacts, Best Practices, and definitions of “research” and “arts research”—together, an a2ru theory of how arts integration in the university works.

This study is complete.

2. The Arts Engagement Project
ArtsEngine, an interdisciplinary initiative at the University of Michigan, ignited this study. Between 2010 and 2015, project lead Deb Mexicotte surveyed undergraduates about their experiences with the arts, collecting over 4000 responses, some of which were longitudinal across a student’s four years at the university. In partnership, Mexicotte and a2ru Research team members analyzed this data using topic modelling, collaborative interpretation of topics, rhetorical analysis, measures of topic prevalence, and principal components analysis. The results provide long-needed concrete information about the role of the arts in the undergraduate experience, and have been incorporated into a2ru’s work on Impacts.

This study is complete.

3. Collaborative study with MICHR
Recognizing their shared interest in fostering an expansively interdisciplinary team science—one that could include artists and humanists—a2ru and the Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research (MICHR) launched a study of artists on STEMM research teams in 2019. The study follows research teams that include scientists, engineers, clinicians, and artists, and aims to identify the ways that different disciplinary backgrounds inform team interaction and outcomes.

The study uses qualitative methods of interview, observation, and survey, and an iterative approach to coding and annotating data. It follows a case study logic whereby the unique, situated details of a particular case are used to sound existing theory—in this case, a2ru’s understanding of how interdisciplinary collaboration works.

This study was significantly stalled by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, 2020, as public health restrictions and new demands on time prevented interdisciplinary groups from meeting. Nonetheless, as of summer 2021, the study has yielded insights into the formation and support needs of expansively interdisciplinary groups in their early stages.

This study is ongoing as of 2021.