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ASU’s Herberger Institute receives $150,000 to develop NEA Research Lab

Deborah Sussman

Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts is among five recipients selected from across the country to receive an award to conduct a 2020 National Endowment for the Arts Research Lab. The $150,000 award supports the Creative Health Collaborations Caregiving Research Lab, which will examine the role of three art forms in three caregiving situations: how theater might support families of children with special needs; how a smartphone app designed for easy journaling can assist families of cancer patients; and how music aids families of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Now in its fifth year, NEA Research Labs investigate the value and impact of the arts through the social and behavioral sciences for the benefit of the arts and non-arts sectors. The labs are housed at different universities and use transdisciplinary research teams to explore specific research questions in the areas of health, cognition and innovation. To date, 17 labs make up this growing national network.

“We’re grateful to the NEA for its understanding of, and support for, the idea that design and the arts have something powerful to offer health care providers and caregivers,” said Steven Tepper, dean and director of Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. “This is yet another area where we as a society have not fully availed ourselves of the assets that artists and designers have to offer, and ASU is eager to be in the lead there.”

Creative Health Collaborations was first conceived in 2015 to encourage collaborations between ASU faculty in health, humanities, arts and design. In the spring of 2017, Creative Health Collaborations joined the Team Leadership Academy of Knowledge Enterprise, a capacity-building initiative designed to foster ASU’s readiness to respond to new research challenges and advance initiatives of central importance to ASU. 

Creative Health Collaborations is co-directed by founding members Tamara Underiner (Graduate College and Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts) and David Coon (Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation). Founding members constituting its interdisciplinary board of ASU faculty advisers are Marlon Bailey, Bradley Doebbeling, Cora Fox, Shelby Langer, Elizabeth Reifsnider and John Takamura. Kimberly Fields serves as program manager. The team’s mission is to bring about a healthier world through collaborations integrating arts, design, health and humanities approaches in research, education, practice and policy.

“We know in our bones that the arts, design and humanities have something to do with healing, for both individuals and communities," said Underiner. "Creative Health Collaborations is about trying to understand how, and why, and under what circumstances this is so. If we can start to build the right kind of evidence, in collaboration with colleagues in the health sciences, then integrating the contributions of arts, design and humanities into regular health care practices and settings will more and more become the norm — for the benefit of all. And where else but ASU to do that kind of work?" 

Underiner said that the new Caregiving Research Lab supported by the NEA will bring community arts partners together with researchers in Herberger Institute, nursing, health solutions and humanities to help caregivers access creative resources not otherwise available to them and their loved ones. "Studying the effects on their relationships and well-being will help us understand the role the arts, design and humanities can play in broader health outcomes and help to build that evidence base,” Underiner said. 

The lab will study the health-supporting role of the arts in different types of caregiving contexts and via a range of participatory arts experiences involving both caregivers and their loved ones. The lab’s first set of activities will be in partnership with Childsplay Theatre Company, involving workshops with families of children with special needs. Underiner and Coon serve as co-principal investigators. Creative Health Collaborations team members Reifsnider and Langer are co-investigators, while School of Film, Dance and Theatre Professor Stephani Etheridge Woodson joins the team as an investigator. 

Parallel to the lab’s research activities will be the development of collaborative research and practice frameworks that will be of use to others interested in working in this intersectional space.

For more information on NEA Research Labs, visit arts.gov/news.