Dr. Sarah Bainter Cunningham

Executive Director of Research, School of the Arts
Virginia Commonwealth University
sbcunningham@vcu.edu

As Executive Director of Research at VCU School of the Arts, Dr. Cunningham works with the school, faculty, and students to expand VCU’s presence as an international leader in arts research.

Prior to VCU Arts, Dr. Cunningham served as the Director for Arts Education at the National Endowment for the Arts, providing national leadership in all artistic disciplines. In addition to chairing the panel review process, Cunningham led several NEA National Initiatives, including NEAJazz in the Schools, Poetry Out Loud, and Shakespeare in American Communities. In 2007, Cunningham founded the Education Leaders Institute, a design workshop to place arts at the core of public education, attracting a funding partnership with the Dana Foundation. During her leadership,NEA arts education funding increased significantly totaling $17 million annually. In 2011, Cunningham was named in the top 30 “Most Powerful and Influential Leaders in Nonprofit Arts.”

Dr. Cunningham has worked with the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities as well as The Arts Education Partnership, a coalition of arts service organizations, state arts agencies, businesses, and universities funded by NEA and the U.S. Department of Education. In addition, Dr. Cunningham has served in an advisory capacity to the U.S. government on arts assessment, design education, neuroscience and the arts, state arts agencies, summer schools in the arts, and international matters. At NEA, she initiated the first national study of arts assessment. She currently serves on the National Advisory Board of the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project as well as serving as the Chair of the Research Task Force for “Art-Making in Research Universities,” an effort of more than 30 institutions nationwide. In 2012, Dr. Cunningham was appointed the first American expert to serve on the Council of Europe’s cultural policy Compendium, a research project that tracks global trends in policy, with a focus on 50 European countries.

Prior to NEA, Dr. Cunningham served as the founding dean at The Oxbow School, a visual arts high school in Napa, California initiated by Robert Mondavi. Dr. Cunningham has held teaching positions at a variety of institutions, including assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Maine in Orono, and Burke Teaching Fellow in Aesthetics at Vanderbilt University. As a philosopher, she has written and lectured on Kantian aesthetics, theater and politics in Rousseau, and education reform. She speaks frequently on the future of arts in public education, with special interest in media/digital arts and game design. In 2012, she will be speaking at the University of Basel on the philosophical foundations of the creative cities movement.