2022 - 2024, Active

National Endowment for the Arts Research Lab on Commissioning Public Art Through Community Engagement Arts to improve Health, and Social / Emotional Well-Being by Reducing Youth Firearm Injury

Institute Project

This research lab aims to establish and promulgate transdisciplinary research about relationships between public art and firearm injury prevention, building on a pilot study database created at the University of Michigan. The project team will investigate our hypothesis that public art can benefit communities by reducing firearm-related police incidents (and other violent crime). Preliminary results from our pilot data support the hypothesis. The research agenda is to deepen understanding of relationships between public art and firearm and other interpersonal violence; report results in new publishable research and policy briefs; conduct community engagement in Detroit via beneficial public art projects that reduce firearm incidents.

In partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, this NEA Research Lab is dedicated to transdisciplinary investigation of the role of the arts and humanities in improving health and social/emotional well-being by reducing youth firearm injury and promoting community factors that protect youth from firearm violence. The NEA Research team prioritizes community-centered design and engagement, as well as rigorous methodology, to enhance the evidence base and improve the built environment for residents of Detroit. Our research partners, community partners, advisors, and funders help us fulfill our commitment to providing a dedicated space for investigation of the intersection of community firearm violence and the arts.

For any questions related to the NEA Research Lab, please reach out to Project Manager, Haley Crimmins at hmcrim@umich.edu.


Our transdisciplinary research explores the relationships between the location, production and impact of public art in Detroit.  The focus is on Detroit residents’ security, especially in relation to firearm injury prevention. We think that public art located in residential areas can benefit communities by reducing firearm-related police incidents (and other violent crime).  

The lab builds on a Pilot Study during which we created a database of public art in Detroit housed at the University of Michigan. We worked with Detroit residents and partner organizations to map the location of artworks and to gather information what kind of artworks they are and how they were made. Preliminary results from our Pilot data support the idea that there is fewer firearm-related incidents (and other violent crime) in residential areas where public art is located, but we have more work to do to confirm this and find out what that might be the case. 

Working with community partners and Detroit residents we will deepen our understanding of relationships between public art and firearm and other interpersonal violence, report results in new publishable research and policy briefs, and support community engagement in Detroit via beneficial public art projects that reduce firearm incidents. The research is designed to answer three core questions: 


  1. How successful are public art projects made with communities in reducing firearm violence?
  2. What are the characteristics of community engaged public arts projects that are successful in helping to reduce firearm violence?
  3. Does following a novel “best practice” model for commissioning and producing public art with communities increase the success of such projects in reducing firearm violence? 

Project Team

Jane Prophet, PhD
Marc Zimmerman, PhD
Stephanie Tharp, BS, MID
Daniel Lee, PhD, Lead Faculty - Data
Rachel Wyatt, MADS, Manager - Data
Haley Crimmins, MPH, Project Manager
Mary Byron, BA, Student Researcher
Shreya Sampath, Student Researcher

Community Partners

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Garage Cultural

The mission of Garage Cultural is to serve as an arts and cultural anchor in Southwest Detroit by providing a variety of events, public art installations, and educational programs to the residents of its communities. The center serves as an incubator for local artists, arts educators, organizers, activists, entrepreneurs and youth in the community. Assisting them in pursuing their personal and collective goals as they produce and exhibit in our multipurpose areas, galleries, and mercaditos. Garage Cultural is formed through collaborations with several community organizations and members who are committed to coming together to share their strengths and resources for the long-term advancement of the residents and artist it serves.

Southwest Detroit is a diverse community; Garage Cultural seeks to ensure its continued diversity by highlighting the existing culture and encouraging collaborations with new populations in a mutually beneficial manner through its programs and events.


As a partner we offer support through co-facilitating the team’s Counter Data workshops, adapting our “Maptime” workshops. These tried and tested workshops are designed to open the doors of cartographic possibility to anyone interested by making a time and space for collaborative learning, exploration, and map creation using mapping tools and technologies. In the proposed workshops, participants will drive the mapping topic which may include mapping out areas in their neighborhood where they feel safe or unsafe, included or excluded, inspired or creative. The proposed workshops share values with our organization’s goal to democratize map making: to help everyone learn how to make maps and become literate map readers.

Detroit Collaborative Design Center

The Detroit Collaborative Design Center (DCDC) is a multidisciplinary, nonprofit design center based in the University of Detroit Mercy’s School of Architecture and Community Development (SACD). DCDC exists to bring high-quality and community-engaged design to all neighborhoods in Detroit. They do this by engaging, educating and promoting equity in design processes and outcomes. They work with community partners citywide on a range of projects at different scales, prioritizing participation in the planning and design process with the belief that local expertise leads to the best ideas.

Detroit City Walls

The City of Detroit launched the City Walls program in the Summer of 2017. The new initiative integrates a multifaceted approach to enhancing public space by focusing on an essential urban element: the city wall.  The program goals are to highlight the values and the identity of the communities where art work is being created, empower Detroit artists, and provide a positive cost benefit to the public via art versus the cost of blight remediation. The program ensures that the art develops organically and holistically within the community by the community.

Technical Working Group

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Lorraine Gamman, PhD
Dr. Lorraine Gamman is Professor of Design at Central Saint Martins and Director of University of the Arts London’s award-winning Design Against Crime Research Centre (DACRC), which she founded in 1999. An authority in applied social design practice, she is co-creator of a range of award-winning anti-crime product interventions and online resources that interpret and address offender techniques. Lorraine teaches in the UK and overseas and is currently advisor to the UK’s National Criminal Justice Arts Allowance (NCJAA). She works with policy-makers, crime prevention practitioners, students and communities; and draws on creative teaching and learning methods to involve prisoners in designing against crime.
Jane Golden, MFA
Jane Golden has been the driving force of Mural Arts Philadelphia since its inception, overseeing its growth from a small city agency into the nation’s largest public art program. Under her direction, Mural Arts has created over 4,000 works of transformative public art. In partnership with innovative collaborators, she has developed groundbreaking and rigorous programs that employ the power of art to transform practice and policies related to youth education, restorative justice, environmental justice and behavioral health. Golden currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania and as a board member of the Justice Arts Coalition.
Eric Gordon, PhD
Eric Gordon is a professor of Media Art at Emerson College and director of the Engagement Lab. His research focuses on the role of storytelling and emerging technology on trust and governance. He specializes in collaborative research and design processes, and has served as an expert advisor for local and national governments, as well as NGOs around the world, designing responsive processes that help organizations transform to meet their stated values. He is the author of over two dozen academic articles, and three books on civic design and urbanism, and the editor of Civic Media: Technology, Design, Practice.
Nadia Malik, MS
Ms. Malik is the director of the Porch Light Program at Mural Arts Philadelphia. She completed her masters degrees in Social Work and Nonprofit Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania. Previously, she worked as a journalist in the suburbs of Chicago and with several national nonprofits. Her nonprofit involvement has been in international and domestic policy for refugees, facilitating community involvement and communication at religious centers, and working with development departments on media and education projects. The Porch Light Program offers Ms. Malik an opportunity to combine her love of art and writing with her passion for community work, particularly in the arena of mental health.
Janíce T. Samuels, PhD
Dr. Janíce T. Samuels is an educational technology leader, writer, activist and conflict resolution facilitator who is also the founding Executive Director of the National Youth Art Movement Against Gun Violence (NYAM), a Chicago-based nonprofit project that combines art, Augmented Reality technology, and conflict resolution training to provide marginalized youth with the opportunity to be thought leaders in gun violence prevention. She has secured numerous supporters and partners and gained national and international attention through multiple conference presentations and publications, including a showcase of NYAM youth artwork at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum. Dr. Samuels teaches non-profit leadership in the Urban Environmental Education (UEE) Master’s program at Antioch University Seattle.
Katherine Theall, PhD
As a social epidemiologist, Theall’s research focuses on reducing health inequities by understanding and altering built and social neighborhood environments and social policies for better health in vulnerable populations and researching innovative methodologies to do so. Dr. Theall has received funding from the CDC, NIH, HRSA and private foundations. She has published over 100 peer reviewed papers and presented numerous scientific talks in her area of research. As director of an academic center with a strong base in community partnered participatory research aimed at addressing social determinants of women and children’s health and the processes that shape these determinants, she continues to find ways to disseminate her team’s work and turn it into action.
Kevin Vagi, PhD
Kevin Vagi, PhD, is a Behavioral Scientist in the Division of Violence Prevention at CDC’s Injury Center in Atlanta, Georgia. A Developmental Psychologist by training, Dr. Vagi came to CDC in 2008 as an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer. During the past 15 years at CDC, Dr. Vagi has gained expertise in multiple violence prevention topics, including youth violence, community violence, bullying, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), sexual violence, and teen dating violence. Dr. Vagi has also served as the Science Officer for the University of Michigan’s Youth Violence Prevention Center (YVPC) since 2015.

Check out the NEA Lab Blog for the latest project updates!

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The Role of Art and Design in Injury Prevention

Learn about a research project led by Jane Prophet and Lia New at a presentation from the Epidemiology of Firearms and Youth Session of the FACTS Symposium 2020. The project examined thirty-nine art and design works to find patterns in them to find a typology for firearm injury prevention. The research team uncovered four major categories to examine creative work about firearm injury prevention: social commentary, social engagement, collaborative work, and design.