What IS arts integration, anyway?” Below, find the answer to this and some of our other most commonly-asked questions!


What do you mean by the arts?  What disciplines are considered the arts?

The arts can be defined in many ways, as a group of disciplines or as a set of mindsets and practices.

In our own research, we have defined the arts this way:

What do we mean by the arts? The mindsets and practices of creativity and making--strongly associated with the humanities and the fine, performing, and applied arts & design--rather than the discipline labels themselves.

Source: Harp, Gabriel, Veronica Stanich, and Stephanie Gioia. The Case for Arts Integration. E-book, Ann Arbor, MI: Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities, 2019, https://doi.org/10.3998/mpub.11599226.

We also appreciate the following definitions advanced by our partners at the Rochester Institute of Technology as part of a campus wide arts initiative:

(The arts) involve creative expression that connects individual experiences with shared understanding. (The arts) involve creative endeavors that communicate and connect through aesthetic experience.

Source: Rochester Institute of Technology T/A/D initiative

Finally, the United States has this Congressional definition of the arts:

The domain of the fine and performing arts includes, but is not limited to, music (instrumental and voice), dance, drama, folk art, creative writing, architecture and allied fields, painting, sculpture, photography, graphic and craft arts, industrial design, costume and fashion design, motion pictures, television, radio, film,  video, tape and sound recording, the arts related to the presentation, performance, execution, and exhibition of such major art forms, all those traditional arts practices by the diverse people of this country, and the study and application of the art to the human environment.

Source: U.S. Code § 95

What is integration?

We like to cite the definition used by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in their 2018 report on the importance of arts and humanities integration in STEM:

'Integration'  is a term used in higher education research that may or may not refer specifically to the integration  of  the humanities, arts, and STEM/M fields. 'Integration' in the context of  the higher education scholarship may refer broadly to educational experiences that help students integrate or bring together ideas.'

Source: NASEM - National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. The Integration of the Humanities and Arts with Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Higher Education: Branches from the Same Tree. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/24988.

What is arts integration?

"Integration can mean different things to different people, and arts integration is no exception. Practitioners take both formal and informal approaches—from thinking in terms of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary archetypes [see below and the next question in this section for more on this topic] to simply showing up and working together. Successful integration involves two complementary activities: 

DIFFERENTIATION: Recognizing the distinctions between fields, perspectives, practices, and possibilities.


INTEGRATION: Recognizing the meaningful applications and connections between fields, perspectives, practices, and possibilities—as well as their contingencies."

Source: Harp, Gabriel, Veronica Stanich, and Stephanie Gioia. The Case for Arts Integration. E-book, Ann Arbor, MI: Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities, 2019, https://doi.org/10.3998/mpub.11599226. 6

Arts integration brings the arts into conversation--via methodology, practice, epistemology, etc--with other fields or disciplines. In an interdisciplinary arts integration, the arts might make principles from another field accessible through another medium (e.g., science communication), or use the work from another field as a jumping-off point (e.g., a gallery exhibition inspired by sociological data). An arts integration that approaches transdisciplinarity requires both a deep exploration of the arts and conversation across multiple disciplinary perspectives; the arts and some other field are influencing and advancing each other through their dialogue, with an outcome that transcends its component fields.

What’s the difference between “interdisciplinarity” and “transdisciplinarity”?

"Transdisciplinary" describes a multi-disciplinary collaboration that is "more than the sum of its parts", whereas "interdisciplinarity" implies a collaboration where one can still identify the distinct contributions made by each of the participating disciplines (For example: "the engineer did this piece and then the choreographer stepped in and did this part."). At a2ru, we most often advocate for a transdisciplinary approach; interdisciplinarity can set the stage to instrumentalize the arts, where they simply serve as a tool for communication, decoration, or illustration. These are indeed assets the arts can bring “in  service of” other disciplines, but there is a lot more the arts can contribute if artists are at the table when research questions are first formulated.

There is merit to all the stops on the continuum described by Bruce Mackh in the early a2ru publication Surveying the Landscape (2015), where he put transdisciplinarity in the middle: 


We value deep, single disciplinary knowledge and do not see value exclusively in any one stop along this continuum, although we do feel that  when solving complex issues, a more holistic approach is needed. Collaborative teams can use any approach at any stage in tackling an issue.  (Humans do not think from a  single disciplinary perspective about the problems, and research questions they address are not discipline-specific either). The ability to transfer knowledge from one disciplinary context to  another is very important, and a2ru programs such as the Emerging Creatives Student Summits are proving grounds for these skills.

We further examine transdisciplinary research ecologies in our Ground Works special collection "Vibrant Ecologies of Research."


What We Do

What are a2ru's major activities?

a2ru offers a national gathering place for the arts and arts integration in higher education. We have an annual conference, a student summit, publish an interdisciplinary online journal Ground Works, manage a research-to-practice listserv, provide job listings, and host an ongoing series of webinars. For more information, see the archive of a2ru annual reports.

Why do the arts need a support network in higher education?

The arts in higher education are often siloed, and underfunded compared to other academic disciplines. Meaningfully integrating the arts with STEM and medicine as equal partners can be a challenge because, given the critical importance of research dollars in higher education in addition to enrollment dollars, the arts have a disproportionately small amount of funding available (as exemplified by spending from the major federal agencies funding academic research in the chart below).

Source: http://www.bit.ly/a2ru-fedgrants-neh

Is a2ru an advocacy organization?

A2ru is an alliance of universities, schools, and  colleges who actively foster and champion the arts on their campuses and across higher education. The best practices and collective knowledge that emerge from the network inform broader case-making. We do not organize or actively participate in lobbying activities but do represent the network at events such as Arts Advocacy Day hosted by Americans  for the Arts.

What about workforce development? How does a2ru interface with industry on behalf of the arts?

We have an industry relations advisory group and are forming a council of faculty and staff from the network who work on industry/education issues to coordinate strategy. We also follow this excellent column from Benjamin Wolff in Forbes magazine to keep up with emerging trends and practices in this area.

How does a2ru promote equitable practices in its activities?

A2ru is committed to dismantling systemic racist practices in its programming and activities. Our a2ru Scholars Grants and our "Steps Towards Change" programming at our conferences work to center historically marginalized voices at our events, but we know there is much more to be done. As an organization, we will be developing a detailed equity action plan over the 2021-2022 academic year and will share that plan on this site and with our members for public feedback. 


Memberships & How to Get Involved

How do I get involved in a2ru?

The best way to support the arts and arts integration on campus and to join a network of those advocating for the arts is to become a member of a2ru. A2ru is an alliance open to all higher education institions–including art and  design schools, community colleges, and liberal arts colleges–as well as to individuals who are independent or affiliated with a  non-member institution.

Here  is a partial list of ways to engage with a2ru:

  • Attend the annual conference. Anyone can attend the a2ru annual meeting, but membership reduces the cost of registration.
  • Join the Research to Practice  Listserv.
  • Join  the mailing list for updates, opportunities, and  the latest news.
  • Engage in activities designed for students. Attend the Emerging Creatives Student Summit. Starting with the first summit hosted by Stanford in 2014, a2ru has helped hundreds of students experience intensive interdisciplinary work in collaborative teams. Themes such as “Water” (University of Florida); “Food” (James Madison University); “Rise Up and Risk Something Real” (Equity, University of Cincinnati, and “Spectacle” (Louisiana State University) (link to Emerging Creative testimonials page by students). Additionally our annual meeting has opportunities  for students to network and present research.
  • A2ru partners (with 3-year commitments) can run for the executive  committee, the advisory board for a2ru.
  • Any member can run  to serve on the editorial board of  a2ru Ground Works.
  • Any member can propose a webinar or a2ru Connect conversation series topic.
  • A2ru  campus contact teams can work directly with a2ru staff to strategize next steps to benefit the arts and arts integration activities on campus.

The more engaged in a2ru activities you are, the more you will benefit from the network.

What type of membership do I want?

The best way to figure out the a2ru membership that best meets your or your organization’s needs is to look at the list of membership benefits.  a2ru staff are also available to have a conversation, learn about your activities and goals, and introduce you to aspects of a2ru membership that are most relevant to your practice, research and  teaching. Please contact us for more information or to set up a meeting.



What do you do with member dues?

All earned income (including conference and event registration) is used to support our four core staff positions and our student workers, fund a2ru Scholars and student travel grants, and cover costs for core activities such as  convenings, the website, and a2ru Ground Works platform maintenance and development.

Does a2ru have any contributed income?

a2ru has received major support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and ArtPlace America. With funding from both the Vice Provost for Engaged Learning and the Arts Initiative at the University of Michigan (a2ru's administrative host), we are developing two projects: 1) a ten-year anniversary leadership convening in 2022, and 2) a Pilot Census of the Arts to map arts assets across U-M's campuses and develop a generalizable model that can be used across higher education institutions.

How can I donate to support arts integration through the network?

You can make a gift to a2ru here.


Allied Organizations and Other Resources

How does a2ru collaborate with other organizations?

A2ru acts in solidarity with many organizations  in addition to its immediate network  of universities, schools, and colleges. We work  with Leonardo/ISAST, Imagining America, the International Council of Fine Arts Deans (ICFAD), Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) The Humanities Indicators (a project of  the American Academy of Arts and Sciences), Artists Thrive, ArtPlace America, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, The Association of Arts Administration Educators (AAAE), Association of Independent Art and Design Colleges (AICAD) and National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

We have presented on our research and programming at Network for Advancing the Societal Impact of  Science (AESIS), Science of Team Science, Advancing Research in Society (ARIS), the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP), ICFAD, AAAE, CAA, and the American Geophysical Union.


Press and Media

How can I get a press pass to an a2ru event? Can I interview someone at your organization?

Please email a2ru Associate Director Shannon Fitzsimons Moen at skfitz@umich.edu for all press and media inquiries.