What is the connection between artists, designers, and broad societal innovation in relation to economic and job growth?

This is one of three questions that Virginia Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT) will focus on as a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Research Lab, which is part of the organization’s $34 million effort to support the arts nationwide. The institute is one of only four in the nation awarded funding and the lab designation this year.

“In this research lab we will be exploring how organizations outside universities incorporate the creative process into their work practices and how this might inform the ways we can help our students succeed after they graduate,” said Ben Knapp, ICAT's executive director and the project's principal investigator.

In partnership with Leonardo, an international network of transdisciplinary scholars, artists, scientists, technologists, and thinkers, ICAT researchers will apply a framework for a new model of innovation, called da Vinci's Cube. The model extends Pasteur’s Quadrant, a model adopted by industry and U.S. government agencies to explore the relationship between basic and applied scientific research by reinforcing aesthetics and human-centered approaches to innovative efforts that seek to provoke an emotional response and appeal to the senses.

With Knapp, co-principal investigators Tom Martin, professor of electrical and computer engineering; Lisa McNair, deputy director of ICAT, director of the Center for Educational Networks and Impacts, and professor of engineering education; Diana Ayton-Shenker, chief executive officer at Leonardo; and Termeh Rassi, chief strategy officer at Leonardo, will use a mixed-methods approach to collect evidence of historical, current, and future arts-integrated entrepreneurship and innovation activities. Additionally, an advisory committee working with the team will include the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities (A2RU), the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center for Study of Invention and Innovation, and corporate entities.

This collective effort will entail three phases of inquiry: a systematic literature review, interviews with businesses that are incorporating arts-integrated practices, and meetings of thought leaders and practitioners of arts-based innovation within industries. Data gleaned will be used to create and evaluate a pilot program that will embed creative professionals within various industries to promote crossdisciplinary collaborations.

Intended results of this lab will yield evidence-based publications and best practices for arts-integrated innovation and a compilation of scholarly articles.

"Reframing the conversation about innovation and creativity is vital to the growth of industry as well as our ability to solve the complex global challenges we face today,” said Rassi. “For nearly 60 years, Leonardo has supported, published, and amplified the work of hybrid creatives, and we look forward to continuing the conversation around the need to embed art in innovation at every step."

The NEA Research Labs program funds transdisciplinary research teams grounded in the social and behavioral sciences, yielding empirical insights about the arts for the benefit of arts and non-arts sectors alike.  

“These National Endowment for the Arts grants underscore the resilience of our nation’s artists and arts organizations, will support efforts to provide access to the arts, and rebuild the creative economy,” said NEA Acting Chair Ann Eilers in a news release. “The supported projects demonstrate how the arts are a source of strength and well-being for communities and individuals, and can open doors to conversations that address complex issues of our time.”

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