On Thursday, September 20, 2012, I along with many other arts and emerging arts leaders gathered at American University to participate in the NEA public forum “How Art Works”. The forum was assembled to “explore the newly released NEA report How Art Works: The National Endowment for the Arts’ Five-Year Research Agenda, with a System Map and Measurement Model”. (arts.gov)

After a welcome by Sherburne Laughlin, Director of the Arts Management program at American University and comments by NEA chairman Rocco Landesman, Tony Siesfeld, Partner, Monitor Institute, Director, Research Design and Analysis took the podium to present and explain the How Art Works systems map (commonly referred to as “The Map” throughout the forum.) During his presentation we were able to see the highly anticipated map for the first time. At the center of the map was arts creation and arts participation, From the center branched out: benefit of artist to individuals, benefit of art to society and communities, societies capacities to innovate and express ideas, arts infrastructure, education and train, and finally at the top and almost separated human impulse to create and express.


After Siesfeld presented the map and explained the process used to create the map, Director of Research and Anaysis at the National Endowment for the Arts, Sunil Iyengar gave his presentation about how the current research agenda at the NEA fits into this map and how it might affect future research plans. For example, three research reports/surveys focused on societal capacities to innovate and express ideas include The Arts, New Growth Theory, and Economic Development, Analysis of Arts Variables in the Rural Establishment Innovation Survey, and Study of Design Patens and Product Innovation.

Following Iyengar’s presentation on how the NEA’s reaserch plan fits on the map were two panel discussions moderated by American University Arts Management faculty, Ms. Anne L’Ecuyer and Mr. Andrew Taylor. Panelist included John Borstel, David Fraher, Roland Kushner, Shahin Shikhaliyev, Kathy Dwyer Southern, and Ximena Varela. Each Panelist dissected the map, explaining how they might change it, how they might use it, and how each section on the map effects their daily lives as arts leaders. Audience members were also given the opportunity throughout the forum to ask questions and share opinions.

Overall, the forum flowed very nicely and many insightful questions were raised. For me I want to know what happens next. How will having this information help the arts world in the US and internationally? How do we use this information? And what does it mean for people who feel like they do not fit on the map? I believe the map is an important first step into figuring out how art works. It is up us arts leaders and emerging arts leaders figure out how it is useful to us, and use it to make a difference.

Click here to view the webcast

And join the discussion on twitter #HowArtWorks