The Arts Engagement Project

The Arts Engagement Project is a study of ~4000 undergraduate students at the University of Michigan that asked questions about the impacts, precursors, barriers, frequency, and perceptions of co-curricular arts engagement in college.


Drawing from a subset of open-ended questions and responses, we created ontological topic models for each question and an interactive decision support tool to facilitate collaborative interpretation of the topics. We also measured a variety of linguistic and psychographic factors associated with the responses using three different dictionary-based tools. We then combined these measures with the measures of topic prevalence in a principal components analysis to explore the relationships between the topics, tone, and structure of the responses.


The results — particularly when coupled with an analysis of their relationship the demographic profiles of the respondents — provided important insights for the design of arts-based experiences in higher education, as well as the impacts of the arts on student learning and engagement.

Future Project Development

This project studied only University of Michigan Students, but the study design and analysis methods could be used on other campuses to look at a broader range of students and their arts experiences. For instance, arts administrators in higher education may be interested in partnering with us, creating a larger network of research projects on this topic. We are currently documenting this project, describing the workflows used to develop the insights here, and possibly developing an end-to-end workflow for quickly making sense of large collections of interviews, recording, or open-ended survey responses about emerging topics.

The results of this work have been used to add an array of categories of impacts to A2RU’s Impacts Map.

Source code for this book is maintained at:

Study Funding/Support

Funding and support for the Arts Engagement project has come from a number of sources. The pilot year (and beyond) in Spring 2011 was supported by University of Michigan Sr. Vice Provost Lester Monts, who also was Special Counsel to the President for the Arts.


Suggested Citation: Harp, G., Mexicotte, D., and Bowman, J. Impacts of Curricular and Co-Curricular Arts Engagement on Post-Secondary Student Development [Arts Engagement Project Working Paper]. (2020, March 1). url:

Deb Mexicotte

  • Principal Investigator, Arts Engagement Project
  • Managing Director ArtsEngine 2015-Present
  • Program Director Arts at Michigan 2007-2015

Gabriel Harp

  • Principal Investigator, NEA Impacts Project
  • Research Director, ArtsEngine/A2RU, 2016-present

Jack Bowman

  • Research Assistant, ArtsEngine, 2018-2020

Mengdan Yuan

  • Research Assistant, ArtsEngine, 2018-2019

Veronica Stanich, Research Program Manager, A2RU, 2017-current

Madeleine Debot, AAM Gradate Intern, Lead Survey Design

Justin Meyers

Dani Koel

Thomas McGinnis

Marco Benedetti

Tian Gu

Margaret Banker

Lauren Ziemmba

Lester Monts, Sr. Vice Provost

Ann Hower, Director, ONSP

Joe Levickas, Program Specialist, AAM

Tami Beach, Financial Coordination, ONSP