NEA Convening – June 3 – 4, 2024, Washington DC 

In early June, the National Endowment for the Arts brought together 18 members of its national network of Research Labs to share approaches and findings and to discuss the issues raised by their work. PI from the REACH Lab, Dennie Palmer Wolf, chaired a panel, “The Power of Proximity: The Enriching and Challenging Consequences of Community-engaged Work,” that focused on the vital – and sometimes difficult – ways in which community-engaged research raises questions about how we examine the impact of the arts on human lives. Wolf spoke to the early challenges faced by the Lullaby Project, a collaboration between REACH investigators, Carnegie Hall, and community childcare providers in Philadelphia. She shared how the partnership with trusted center directors, teachers, and caregivers informed and dramatically changed the project’s design, with the result that enrollment, persistence, and satisfaction rose for both participating families and the teaching artists who had joined the research team. Similarly, Wolf shared how engaging caregivers as co-researchers changed the depth and quality of project data.  Based on these learnings. Collaborating REACH partner Tarrell Davis, Executive Director of Early Childhood at Settlement Music School, corroborated the importance of this kind of “ear-to-the-ground” knowledge in working with families. With the REACH team, she and Wolf are exploring potential synergies between the Lullaby Project and Settlement’s Kaleidoscope Preschool, which could make music a partner in early development 0 – 5. 

Wolf was joined by representatives of three other labs, each of whom spoke to additional ways in which intimate and ongoing partnerships with participants and larger communities fundamentally shifted how they conducted their research: 

  • Nathaniel Stern, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, ABLE (Autism Brilliance Lab for Entrepreneurship)  
  • Jane Prophet, University of Michigan, Commissioning Public Art through Community Engagements 
  • Emily Hartlerode, University of Oregon, Oregon Folklife Network, Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program 

Throughout the session, audience members used a specially-designed graphic to take notes on how they entered, explored, and wrote about the impact of the arts – and the issues they encountered. This interactive approach yielded a lively “gallery” of comments and questions. Those comments, along with the conversations that ensued, have been collected and transcribed to produce the following graphic that could help other research projects to think more deeply and equitably about what one participant called “human and humane” approaches to the effects of the arts in and on communities.