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The Science and Art of Research

Evaluating a community-based program in Memphis that uses art as a pathway to healing

In the city where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. met Thich Nhat Hanh, the Memphis-based artist collaborative Grounded is paving new pathways to nonviolence. Me and the Light and the companion film featuring movement artist Lil Buck with original soundtrack by Paul Taylor, Valerie June, and Drumma Boy, is an immersive program for high school students designed to reveal the power of art as a transformative force. Weaving together mindfulness practices and conversations about individual and collective trauma, the program helps young people connect with their own creativity and use it to benefit themselves and their communities.

The Research & Action Center partnered with Grounded from the beginning. Honoring both the science and art of good research, we worked with them to design a logic model and process that ultimately would identify the program’s “secret sauce” and impact. That meant reaching beyond obvious metrics of success to evaluate the complexity of their endeavor while ensuring the findings would be clear and compelling. 

I always thought art was, oh maybe you’re a dancer, or maybe you draw or paint. But then I realized after the Grounded experience that art can be a way of expressing yourself or expressing your feelings. But without having to verbally say it. I’ve been able to understand it myself as well as how art is inside of me.
– participating student

We dug deep into the meaning and impact of the program for everyone involved, through focus groups and surveys with participating students and interviews with adult artists, educators and others who worked with the students, and even spoke with those funding Me and the Light.

It’s one of the first places, if not the only place, I’ve felt my entire life can be shared… I could easily talk about my experience in law enforcement, as well as experiences in art and mindfulness and movement, and being a father.
– adult collaborator

Our three-year evaluation showed that the intentional and supportive space combined with an expansive definition of art led students to recognize their own talents and become increasingly comfortable expressing themselves creatively, while the wellness strategies and tools they gained were useful in their everyday lives. The program also had considerable positive impacts on the adult collaborators. In essence, Me and the Light showed that art could indeed be a pathway to healing as the foundation for nonviolence

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