New research center out to make its mark

The Mason Arts Research Center will focus its child development research on theater, dance, music and the visual arts. Thinkstock photo.

The Mason Arts Research Center does not have a physical structure at George Mason University. But its co-directors want to make it a highly visible hub of research into how arts participation affects child development.

It will do so with a two-year, $150,000 renewable grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the vision of co-directors Thalia Goldstein, assistant professor of applied developmental psychology; Adam Winsler, professor of applied developmental psychology; and Kim Sheridan, associate professor of educational psychology.

The center also will partner with the Mason Community Arts Academy and the Virginia Repertory Theater in Richmond.

The center’s focus will be on theater, dance, music and the visual arts. Read the NEA's announcement here.

“The idea is doing a variety of research in the arts,” Goldstein said, “projects that are started within Mason’s departments of education and psychology, and also projects answering questions the National Endowment for the Arts or the arts partners might have. Everything that comes out of this will be jointly presented by the National Endowment for the Arts and George Mason.”

“What is most exciting is bringing the research together,” Sheridan said. “Developing a research center that not only allows the three of us to collaborate, but to reach out to the local arts community and research labs across the country, is a way to coordinate findings and methods and insights.”

Sheridan’s research explores how arts classrooms support students’ sense of agency; that is, when they feel they are doing their own work and making their own decisions.

Goldstein will work with children enrolled in the camps and classes of the Mason Community Arts Academy. By bringing them into a lab space in David King Hall on the Fairfax Campus—a mini theater, she called it—and having them act out monologues and talk about characters, Goldstein will examine the students’ development of empathy and emotional control.

Winsler’s research, through his continuing study of 40,000 students, ages 4 through high school, in Miami-Dade County in Florida, will look at how participating in school arts classes has positive benefits for academic achievement and engagement.

“It’s going to be great,” Winsler said. “We have a great assortment of different types of studies planned for the upcoming years. We also hope to broaden the focus and bring in other researchers and artist and community members to understand about the arts and human development.”

“The idea is that this is step No. 1,” Goldstein said of the creation of MasonARC. “We’re going to build it from there.”