NEA Grant to Fund Arts-based Social Mobility Research

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Friday, May 15, 2020
An interdisciplinary team from UNC Charlotte has received a Research Grant in the Arts from the NEA

An interdisciplinary team from UNC Charlotte has received a $29,000 Research Grant in the Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) for the project “Arts-based social mobility: Exploring cultural capital in Charlotte, NC.” Led by Associate Professor of Sociology Vaughn Schmutz, the research team includes Professor of Architecture Ken Lambla, Associate Professor of Art Education Jane Dalton, and Meg Whalen, director of communications and external relations in the College of Arts + Architecture. Nikkeia Lee, managing director of The Possibility Project-Charlotte, joins the team as an independent contractor.

A variety of artists and arts organizations in Charlotte create work and offer programs with the explicit goal of positive social impact. Many such activities aspire to increase the cultural capital of participants through arts education, community-based cultural events, creative placemaking, and other types of arts-based experiences. The UNC Charlotte project will explore how artists and organizations in Charlotte conceptualize and assess the social impact of the arts, what motivates individuals and families to participate in those activities, and how both providers and participants describe those experiences.

“Arts-based social mobility: Exploring cultural capital in Charlotte, NC,” builds upon a social impact of the arts study initiated by Lambla, Whalen, and Lee and supported by a 2019-2020 Opportunity Research Faculty Fellowship administered by the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute and funded by the Gambrell Foundation. That initiative, Arts Impact Charlotte, was developed in response to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force Report addressing low economic mobility in Charlotte and was carried out in collaboration with a community advisory group. It began with a survey, administered in the fall of 2019. Learn more about Arts Impact Charlotte and see survey results at

Dalton, who teaches art education in the Department of Art & Art History, is a practicing artist and a researcher who uses a range of arts-based, self-study, and phenomenological research methods to capture data that reveals the impact the arts have for transforming teaching and learning. She will implement arts-based research methods as part of the project data collection.

Schmutz is well-equipped to lead the research team. In addition to his PhD in sociology, he holds a doctorate in Arts & Culture Studies and has a long history of interdisciplinary research in the arts. Currently, he is co-editor-in-chief of Poetics: Journal of Empirical Research on Culture, the Media and the Arts. In recent years, he has conducted research in partnership with two organizations in Charlotte that offer free music and visual arts education to low-income students.

The research team will begin work this summer with the help of three Charlotte Community Scholars, funded through the UNC Charlotte Office of Undergraduate Research, and graduate research assistant Lindsey Miller, a master’s student in the Department of Sociology. Research will continue through August 2021.

Established by Congress in 1965, the NEA is the independent federal agency that supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. Research Grants in the Arts support research that investigates the value and/or impact of the arts, either as individual components of the U.S. arts ecology or as they interact with each other and/or with other domains of American life. To learn more about the NEA, visit