4-Year Funded PhD Position: Cultural Ecologies Project

Qualification type: PhD
Location: Indianapolis, IN, USA
Funding for US and International Students
Hours: Full Time
Closes: 31 March 2019

Project: Cultural Ecologies Project
Principal Supervisor: Jason M. Kelly, PhD
Email: jaskelly@iupui.edu

Project Description

The Cultural Ecologies Project is a public research program of the IUPUI Arts & Humanities Institute (IAHI). It asks the seemingly simple question, "How do cultural interventions transform cities?" We work with community stakeholders to examine the impact of the arts and humanities across multiple scales — from the personal to the neighborhood to the city level.

The Challenge

The arts and humanities are fundamental to the life of cities. They help shape the way that we see the world. They foster creativity, understanding, self-reflection, and empathy. They encourage us to pursue nuanced and complex ideas in our conversation and communication. They bring pleasure and respite from the stresses of everyday life. They create more livable environments that attract and retain residents. They provide valuable skills, essential to the knowledge economy. And, they generate revenue, create jobs, and build the tax base far beyond the cost of investment.

Despite their importance however, we are generally quite poor at analyzing and understanding the role that the arts and humanities play in our cities. We have some good economic data, which planners often use to design neighborhood rejuvenation schemes. Arts organizations collect basic information such as attendance rates and audience satisfaction to report to funders. But, we often don't ask bigger questions—questions that go beyond simple quantitative and instrumentalist metrics. How do the arts and humanities participate in the larger transformation of our cities? How do these changes take place at the individual, neighborhood, and citywide scales? Are there better ways that we might analyze, understand, and evaluate cultural interventions? What is it that we should be measuring? For whom are we measuring? What types of cultural programs might make the city a better place? How do our arts and humanities interventions constructively and ethically engage with issues of social justice?

These are just a few of the big questions that funders, planners, arts organizations, artists, politicians, and community members face when cultural projects are implemented. The answers to these questions differ depending on who is doing the analysis—what criteria they use to gauge success—and for whom they are doing the research. 

Our Approach

A number of recent national and international studies have noted an overall lack of adequate methods and tools for understanding the transformative power of the arts and humanities in communities. The Cultural Ecologies Project responds to this deficit by designing and implementing mixed methods research for understanding how cultural interventions transform cities. We use the concept of an ecology to frame our approach. Put simply, we take the perspective that communities are ecologies—always in flux—made up of interlocking networks of cultural, political, social, and economic interdependencies. Rather than focusing on the cultural intervention as an output that simply needs to be quantified or described, we study its effects on behaviors, attitudes, and values over time.

The tools that we use to capture these complex interactions examine: (1) the shifting experiences of individuals and groups; (2) the changes in institutional practices (funding, programming, etc.); as well as (3) the structural shifts in cities’ cultural, economic, and political ecologies. Our research protocols focus heavily on understanding historical and sociopolitical patterns in addition to surveys, focus groups, and field work. Currently, the project team’s work is focused on Indianapolis, where we have embedded PhD students with the Mayor’s Office and a number of non-profit organizations.


The Cultural Ecologies Project

  • produces scholarly articles and monographs based on the project’s research

  • generates annual community reports for community stakeholders

  • develops informal educational programming focused on expanding knowledge about the role that arts and humanities play in cities

  • creates open access qualitative and quantitative data sets

Lead Researcher
Jason M. Kelly, PHD
Director, IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute
Associate Professor of History, IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI
755 W. Michigan St., UL 4115T; Indianapolis, IN 46202
jaskelly@iupui.edu | 317-274-1689

Course of Study

As an applied PhD program, students will pursue both a course of traditional coursework and a four-year, community engaged research assistantship facilitated by the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute (IAHI) in collaboration with its community partners. 

In the first two years of the program, the PhD student will take the required core courses in the PhD program, which will be supplemented with relevant courses in disciplines including geography, history, anthropology, and urban studies. While taking coursework, the PhD student will be employed as a research assistant at the IAHI, which embed them in research partners in Indianapolis. This research assistantship is the centerpiece of the program and replaces the role that teaching assistantships often play in graduate programs. Through their internship, the student will develop relevant technical skills in participant observation, interviews, oral histories, exhibition and program design, and community engagement. They will also have the opportunity to co-author publications and grants with the project team as well as present at conferences. In years three and four, the student will pursue research that culminates in the doctoral research project. 

Subject Areas / Keywords

Participant Action Research; Applied Anthropology; Visual Anthropology; Urban Anthropology; Human Geography; History; Public History; Museum Studies; community-engaged research; public scholarship

Candidate Requirements

This project is ideal for a student with a master’s level degree in anthropology, art history, history, public history, museum studies, geography, or field related to this research topic. 

The ideal candidate will

  • Demonstrate an aptitude to develop technical skills including GIS, audio/video editing, and basic web design.

  • Have previous coursework or experience in ethnography, oral history, and/or exhibition design.

  • Be prepared to work in a collaborative environment.

Further information

You are encouraged to reach out to Jason M. Kelly at jaskelly@iupui.edu before submitting your application.

American Studies PhD at IUPUI: http://americanstudies.iupui.edu/amst/ph-d/ 
Cultural Ecologies: https://www.culturalecologies.org


To apply for the program, visit https://sisjee.iu.edu/sisad-prd/p/Guest.do?methodToCall=start&inst=IUINA&career=GRAD

In your letter of application, please mention the project title: “Cultural Ecologies.”