First Annual Renée Fleming NeuroArts Investigator Award Winners Announced

First-ever Renée Fleming NeuroArts Investigator Awards given to researchers in the emerging field of neuroarts.

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Researchers studying the impact of dance on brainwave patterns, assessing the value of drawing for reducing anxiety, and measuring the neurophysiological benefits of live music for people with early Alzheimer’s disease are among the recipients of the first-ever Renée Fleming NeuroArts Investigator Awards.

The inaugural winners of the annual award were announced today by the Renée Fleming Foundation and the NeuroArts Blueprint initiative (a partnership between Johns Hopkins University and the Aspen Institute). These early-career investigators are working in interdisciplinary settings across the sciences and the arts to inform the emerging field of neuroarts, defined as the study of how the arts and aesthetic experiences measurably change the body, brain, and behavior and how this knowledge is translated into practices that advance health and wellbeing. The NeuroArts Blueprint initiative was launched in 2019 to help build the neuroarts field.

“We are thrilled to seed research that uses a range of methodologies to advance our knowledge about how all art forms influence health,” said Eric Nestler, MD, PhD, neuroscientist and dean for academic affairs and chief scientific officer at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and co-chair of the NeuroArts Blueprint Advisory Council. Nestler also co-chaired the blue-ribbon committee that evaluated the award proposals. “Building a deeper evidence base to explain the science involved will allow academics, funders, and policymakers to elevate music, dance, theatre, visual arts, and so many other art modalities to promote our health.”

The Renée Fleming NeuroArts Investigator Awards fund both basic and applied research, supporting a broad range of innovative and collaborative work. “This expanded exploration promises discovery that will aid human wellness,” said Anna Deavere Smith, actor, playwright, and University Professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, who also co-chaired the awards review committee. “It is a growing field that will likely spark innovation for arts pedagogies. An outcome: healthier people and healthier art.”

Renée Fleming, the renowned soprano, is artistic advisor to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, co-chair of the NeuroArts Blueprint Advisory Council, World Health Organization Goodwill Ambassador for Arts and Health, and author of the just-published anthology Music and Mind: Harnessing the Arts for Health and Wellness. Fleming commented, “The awards program reflects both my own experience of the power of the arts and a commitment to foster inquiry and collaboration among young scientists and artists, nurturing the imaginative spirit that propels the expanding neuroarts field.” Fleming added, “I also wish to thank Jeralyn Glass and her family for their generous contribution, in memory of Dylan Sage, to the Renée Fleming Foundation in support of these awards. Other private and public support is being sought to increase the number and size of awards as the NeuroArts Investigator Awards Program grows.”

Each funded project includes young collaborators from both the science and arts sectors. Seven basic and applied research projects will receive a total of $122,500 to:

  • Examine the impact of live music on heart rate variability, brain activity, and anxiety among people with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers. AZA Stephen Allsop, MD, PhD, an assistant professor at the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University and director of the Center for Collective Healing at Howard University, and Victor Wooten, musician, author, and educator at the Berklee College of Music and Victor Wooten’s Center for Music and Nature, are co-principal investigators.
  • Evaluate the use of disc-jockeying and producing hip hop music as interventions for individuals with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Julia Basso, PhD, director of the Embodied Brain Laboratory and codirector of the Science and Art of Movement Laboratory at Virginia Tech, and Craig Arthur, associate professor of practice and director of Digging in the Crafts-Hip Hop Studies at Virginia Tech, are co-principal investigators.
  • Examine whether engaging with music enhances cognition among individuals with and without hearing loss. Alexander Chern, MD, a researcher in music perception and cognition, and a fellow in ear and skull base surgery at Johns Hopkins University, is principal investigator.
  • Demonstrate the feasibility of producing musical rhythm to improve the connections between individuals living with dementia and their caregivers. Aaron Colverson, PhD, post-doctoral fellow at the Global Brain Health Institute and the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco is principal investigator.
  • Study whether a guided drawing activity helps to reduce anxiety and alter emotional regulation. Sarah Myruski, PhD, assistant research professor of psychology and associate lab director of the Emotion Development Lab at Pennsylvania State University, and William J. Doan, PhD, professor of theatre and director of the Arts & Design Research Incubator at Penn State’s School of Theatre are co-principal investigators.
  • Use electroencephalogram technology to measure brainwave patterns in response to dance and movement therapy. Joanna Sands, MS, who is pursuing her PhD in electrical engineering at Stanford University, is principal investigator.
  • Assess whether spaces designed to enhance connections to the natural environment improve attention capacity, mitigate stress, and enhance creativity. Jeffrey Vadala, PhD, director of the Neurology Virtual Reality Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania Brain Science Center and a researcher at the Penn Center for Neuroaesthetics, and Anjan Chatterjee, MD, director of the Penn Center for Neuroaesthetics and professor of neurology, professor of psychology and professor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, are co-principal investigators.

“These awardees are working at the intersection of medical research, the arts, and technology,” said Susan Magsamen, MAS, executive director of the Johns Hopkins International Arts + Mind Lab, who codirects the NeuroArts Blueprint initiative. “We expect their work will lead to larger awards as they generate and publish their findings.”

“The projects we selected reflect the vision of the NeuroArts Blueprint initiative,” added Ruth J. Katz, JD, MPH, executive director of the Health, Medicine & Society Program at the Aspen Institute, who also codirects this initiative. “The work will allow us to advance our overall mission of building the neuroarts field so that the arts become part of mainstream medicine and public health.”