Drexel Selected to Be Site in NEA’s First-Ever Funding of Arts Labs

a mixture of painted colors
An example of a painting produced during an art therapy session.

Drexel University was selected as the site of the first-ever arts and health research lab established by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The lab, called “Arts Research on Chronic Stress (ARCS)” will examine how creative arts therapies can benefit those who have experienced long-term stress, including chronic pain, trauma, academic stressors and extended caregiving.

Girija Kaimal, EdD, assistant professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions, applied for the grant and will lead the visual art therapy component of the lab. Joke Bradt, PhD, associate professor in the college, will head up the music therapy portion of the lab.

“Modern society has separated and distanced us from artistic expression and creativity,” Kaimal said. “Studies that will be conducted in this lab will help us understand whether and how the arts and arts therapies can help us live healthier lives — both physiologically and psychologically.”

To fund this lab, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has earmarked almost $150,000 for two years. The lab’s funding has the potential to be renewed three times, so that it could possibly run for eight full years after its proposed launch in March 2017. The call for proposals resulted in 44 submissions and four, including the one at Drexel, were eventually awarded.

“The NEA usually funds smaller research grants, but this will likely allow us to explore systematic, long-term scientific studies that address the needs in the fields of arts and health while also aligning with goals of our University and the NEA,” Kaimal said. “The end goal is to develop a strong empirical research base for the fields of art and health.” 

Kaimal and Bradt are no strangers to this type of work. This year, Kaimal released results from a study that showed art therapy leads to lowered levels of cortisol, a hormone related to stress. Also this year, Bradt published a systematic review confirming that listening to music or participating in music therapy alleviates pain, anxiety and fatigue in cancer patients

The projects tied to this lab will “build upon our prior work,” Kaimal said.

“It’ll add to an existing grant we have on arts-based approaches to caregiver stress and Dr. Bradt’s project on music therapy for chronic pain,” she explained. 

Other Drexel faculty will be involved with the lab as well: Juan Muniz, PhD, of the College of Nursing and Health Professions, and Fenqing  Zhang, PhD, of the College of Arts and Sciences, along with Guy Diamond, PhD, and Loretta Sweet Jemmott, PhD, both of the College of Nursing and Health Professions, serving as senior advisors. In addition senior advisors include Dr. William Levin from The University of Pennsylvania and Dr. Joshua Smyth from Penn State University

Community arts partners for the project include, Settlement Music School, Build a Bridge and ArtWell. Other partners could come on board over time.

With years of work ahead of her, Kaimal hopes the lab will continue to add to the base of knowledge we have about the ways that arts therapies and visual art, music and dance themselves impact our physical and mental health.

“We are excited about the unprecedented opportunity this lab provides to boost scientific study of arts-based interventions,” Kaimal said. “It will also help build a continuum of practice from the creative arts therapies to community arts providers. That, in turn, could prompt the integration of arts practices in everyday life as a means to sustaining health and wellbeing.”