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NEA Funds Dr. Ryberg-Webster, team of researchers for PACS Research Lab

Stephanie Ryberg-WebsterStephanie Ryberg-Webster, Ph.D. will collaborate with a research team studying the intersection of the arts and diversity, equity and inclusion across the US. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has approved an NEA Research Lab award of $125,000 to a team of researchers, including Dr. Ryberg-Webster, Associate Professor of Urban Studies in the Levin College of Public Affairs and Education at CSU.

The grant will support Place, Arts, & Cultural Systems Lab (PACS): To Study Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in US Arts and Cultural Districts, or ACDs as they’re known in research circles.

The NEA is supporting four new Research Labs to fund transdisciplinary research teams grounded in the social and behavioral sciences. Their investment explores the value and impact of the country’s arts ecosystem and the ways the arts can impact other areas of American life.

“Our team is excited and honored to earn this highly competitive award, which will advance collaborative research around arts, culture, and DEI efforts,” said Dr. Ryberg-Webster. “The project brings together a group of research and community partners at the local, regional, and national levels. I am thrilled to be a part of this team, along with my colleagues from Boise State University, Wayne State University, and the University of Arizona.” 

The first action item that the grant (renewable every two years as research continues) supports is a national survey of arts districts to glean insight on how they view their own DEI activities—but also to deep-dive into the challenges that they see in this regard.

Stephanie Ryberg-Webster“We expect this to provide a wide variety of information that spans a wide range of places and communities,” said Dr. Ryberg-Webster. “Arts and cultural districts are a big deal for cities and neighborhood revitalization, but at the same time, there’s a lot to untangle. With PACS, we’re looking at everything from art museums and performance venues, down to smaller, more community-focused districts.”

While the project includes a national survey, the long-term focus of the PACS Lab is the Intermountain West and Industrial Midwest regions, which tend to be ignored in other studies of this kind. With local projects partners, including Cleveland’s Playhouse Square (left) and Northwest Neighborhoods—formerly Detroit-Shoreway, which oversees Gordon Square—the collective has a wide swath of data and knowledge to tap into.

“The dominant lines of inquiry usually focus on the coasts,” agreed Dr. Ryberg-Webster. “We have a downtown regional anchor and a neighborhood arts district in our technical working group for the project. Both are representative of robust, energetic arts and culture we have here in the Midwest.”

Stephanie Ryberg-WebsterThe PACS Lab “will both learn from and serve ACD organizations and neighbors by creating a typology and national public database of ACD characteristics,” using the resulting database to analyze patterns of DEI practice by district types, geographies, and capacities, and then developing and sharing a flexible toolkit for communities with a range of resources and needs.

“Arts and cultural districts are widespread and the barriers to—and best practices for—making those districts inclusive, equitable and drivers of economic and social innovation is incredibly important,” Dr. Ryberg-Webster said. “This is not just a purely academic exercise. The national survey is phase one; phase two will delve into qualitative case studies to develop deep insights for arts and cultural districts.”

Dr. Ryberg-Webster serves as an investigator on the PACS Lab project. The principal Investigators are Dr. Amanda Ashley and Dr. Leslie Durham from Boise State University.