Artistic Expression and the Path to a Better World

Statement of Problem

Arts-based research can provide important insights to understand and address a wide range of TCR issues including illiteracy, conflict resolution, self-control, positive body image, and promoting healthy lifestyles — but, until recently there have been few attempts to develop and implement such programs with community involvement at every stage. The integration of arts-based research and community action research involving an organizational partner has the potential to foster cost-effective, impactful programs that are actually implemented and utilized. Rather than providing an alternative to science as a way to creating knowledge, the arts provide a complementary approach (Belk 1986). Accordingly, an integrated team of artists, consumer behavior researchers, community members and community partner leadership – each bringing different areas of expertise and different sets of skills – has greater potential to address TCR issues than any one of these groups working alone.

Goal of Track

The goals of the session are:

  • To collaborate with the Western Family YMCA to use arts-based research to address social issues in the community, and
  • To develop a conceptual framework for the application of arts-based research to TCR issues in collaboration with community partners. Arts-based research is defined as an effort to extend beyond the limiting constraints of discursive communication in order to express meanings that otherwise would be ineffable” (Barone and Eisner, 2013, P. 1). ABR offers ways to tap into what would otherwise be inaccessible, make connections and interconnections that are otherwise out of reach, ask and answer new research questions, explore old research questions in new ways, and represent research differently, often more effectively with respect to reaching broad audiences and non-academic stake-holders. (Leavy, 2015, p.21)  Arts and culture promote understanding and action on issues facing our communities and the world. For an example by session co-chairs, Overby and Moffett, see A few areas impacted by arts and cultural projects include healing, attitudinal change, increased civic participation, cognitive, behavioral and affective engagement, enhanced empathy, and policy change (

Kelly Worrall, Associate Executive Director, Western Family YMCA (Newark, DE), is eager to collaborate with us before and after TCR in person and by Skype during the conference, and has offered to bring in appropriate additional staff members as the project moves forward. The branch focuses on youth development (including programs involving literacy, early childhood education, and safe spaces), healthy living (including programs for diabetes prevention, healthy eating, and active seniors) and social responsibility (including programs addressing conflict resolution, violence prevention, and civic involvement) and has a wide variety of programs to improve the well-being of children, families and the community. This breadth gives us an opportunity to tailor our work in a direction that suits both the Y and session participants, and address the most pressing issues. In addition, programs developed at The Western Family YMCA have the potential to be shared and modified for use by other Y’s.

Prior to the conference, session participants (including our community partner) will develop a broad understanding of arts-based research, community action research, and the YMCA’s current mission and programs; and view and experience many examples of arts-based research. (See details below.) Through poetry, music, dance, and visual arts, we will move from entertainment to education to empowerment, remaining cognizant of ethical issues – including those related to community members and issue selection — and working within appropriate guidelines. Following discussion and experiences with art making and assessment using arts-based research, we will design an arts-based research project to be used by the Western Family Y, and potentially adapted for use by other branches.

Tentative Structure


  • Track chairs will issue a general call for participation in this track. Approximately nine (8-10) academic researchers with a demonstrated interest or prior work in this area will be selected to participate. Participants will be selected to provide diversity in their experiences with different methodologies, paradigms, creative arts, and TCR issues, as well as in their career stages.
  • We will identify a set of 8-10 key papers, videos, or web sites that each participant will read during the fall. Materials will be selected to provide a broad, common base of knowledge about a.) Arts-based research, b.) Community action research, and c.) The issues, resources, and people served by our community partner, the Western Family YMCA of Delaware.  Each participant will be invited to suggest one or two key sources that all should read or watch.
  • Prior to the conference, participants will be assigned a creative art form, and will prepare a short (5-10 minute) presentation to introduce track members to how arts-based research involving that art form has been used to investigate and address issues involving issues directly or indirectly related to the Y’s mission to promote youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.

During the Conference 

Conference Day 1 

The goal of the first day is to outline a general framework and a specific arts-based research project to pursue in collaboration with a branch of the YMCA.

  • 9:00 – 10:00AM: Presentations: To provide exposure to a wide variety of perspectives on arts-based research and what it can achieve, participants will take turns leading the discussion around their presentations.
  • 10:00 – 12:00: One of the session co-chairs will lead participants in 2-3 artistic practices within an arts-integrated lesson to demonstrate how an art form can be a medium through which to explore another subject or idea.
  • 2:00 – 3:00: Participants will integrate, summarize and develop key themes drawn from the preconference readings, the presentations, the arts- integrated lesson, and the morning’s discussions. The goal for this hour is to develop a set of conceptual and methodological issues to guide future research, and to determine which community issues are most important and suitable for arts-based research.
  • 3:00 – 4:00: Small groups will brainstorm on different aspects of the issues identified in the previous hour.
  • 4:00– 5:00:  Participants will develop one or more posters to aggregate their ideas to share with conference attendees.

Conference Day 2 

The goal of the second day is to continue to refine the conceptual framework identified on the previous afternoon into an outline of a manuscript suitable for the special issue of JBR associated with the conference, and to flesh out the arts-based research plan to address a specific issue in collaboration with the Western Family YMCA.. A secondary goal is to identify issues for further research and teams interested in investigating these issues.

  • 9:00 – 9:30: Identify and integrate any new insights that may have been gained at the poster session or upon further reflection.
  • 10:00-12:00: Develop a detailed set of action steps to implement arts-based research to address one of the issues of importance to the Western Family YMCA (Newark, DE) and an outline for a paper based upon the conceptual framework suitable for the special issue of JBR. Determine an implementation plan – who will do what, and when will they do it? Identify future research directions, including both conceptual pieces targeted towards arts research or public health journals, and empirical issues; identify participants who commit to pursuing these issues.


Publication and Implementation Plans

Participants will:

  • Implement an arts-based research project in collaboration with the Western Family YMCA, assess findings, make appropriate revisions, and potentially develop a scalable program that can be adapted for other branches of the YMCA,
  • Co-author a conceptual paper providing insight into collaborations with community partners for arts-based research to investigate and address societally relevant issues, and submit it to JBR within the submission deadlines for the special issue.
  • Collaborate on additional possible articles – e.g., an article on the specific contributions of consumer behavior to arts-based research targeted to an arts-based research journal, an article describing the process, findings, program developed, and program impact, targeted to a journal related to program developed.


Meryl P. Gardner

Associate Professor of Marketing at University of Delaware

Lynnette Young Overby, Ph.D.

Professor of Theatre and Dance at the University of Delaware

A.T. Moffett

University of Delaware

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