Culture, Society & Family Mind & Brain Researcher news

Two faculty win NEH fellowships to study music and human brain; quest for Kurdish state

The National Endowment for the Humanities named SMU professors Zachary Wallmark and Sabri Ates as fellowship grant recipients in January — the only two recipients in North Texas for the current funding cycle.

Wallmark, assistant professor and chair of music history at SMU Meadows School of the Arts, is using music studies, cognitive sciences and original brain imaging experiments to research the nature of our emotional response to music.

“I am deeply honored to receive this recognition,” Wallmark said. “With the support of the NEH, I hope in my work to help people better understand music’s grip on human emotion and imagination.”

Ates, associate professor in the Clements Department of History, is drawing on a variety of archival sources from different languages to write Sheikh Abdulqadir Nehri (d. 1925) and the Pursuit of an Independent Kurdistan. In the book, Ates will explore the quest for a Kurdish state between 1880-1925, when the creation of such a state emerged as a distinct possibility and then quickly unraveled.

“What this grant tells us is that our work has national relevance,” Ates said. “Recognition of SMU’s faculty work by a prestigious institution like NEH further cements SMU’s standing as a research university. With the support of NEH, I hope to answer one of the enduring questions of the contemporary Middle East: The Kurdish statelessness.”

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at

This is the first time since 2010 that two awards were granted to SMU faculty members within the same funding cycle. More recently, history professor Alexis McCrossen received the fellowship in 2015 and assistant professor of English Timothy Cassedy earned it in 2014.

“NEH fellowships are among the most competitive humanities research opportunities in the nation, with a funding rate of approximately seven percent,” said Meadows Dean Sam Holland. “We are delighted that Zach has won this recognition, which is significant for the Meadows Music Division and reflects the growing visibility and stature of SMU on the national research stage.”

“Recognition from the NEH reinforces that our faculty garner national and international recognition for their research,” said Dedman Dean Thomas DiPiero. “Professor Ates’ work is very timely as the world struggles to determine how best to address our needs for greater intercultural understanding.”

Wallmark teaches courses in American popular music, including opera history and the psychology of music, and serves as director of Meadows’ new MuSci Lab, an interdisciplinary research group and lab facility dedicated to the scientific study of music. His first book, Timbre and Musical Meaning, is under contract with Oxford University Press. He will be combining his NEH support with a sabbatical from Meadows for a full year of dedicated research and writing time.

Ates’ research focuses on Ottoman-Iranian relations, Kurdish history, borderlands and the borderland peoples, and the history of sectarianism in the Middle East. His first book Tunalı Hilmi Bey: Osmanlıdan Cumhuriyet’e Bir Aydın, (Istanbul: Iletişim Yayınları, 2009), examines competing projects of Ottoman intellectuals to keep the disparate parts of the Empire together, as well as their responses to the age of nationalism and the birth of the Turkish Republic. Partially based on his award-winning dissertation, his second book, Ottoman-Iranian Borderlands: Making a Boundary (Cambridge University Press, 2013) discusses the making of the boundaries that modern states of Iraq, Turkey and Iran share.

Culture, Society & Family Learning & Education Researcher news

National Center for Arts Research white paper counters findings of the Devos Institute Study on Culturally Specific Arts Organizations

NCAR study identifies the key differences between culturally specific organizations and their mainstream peers and calls for a more equitable measurement of performance


The National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) at Southern Methodist University today released a white paper that examines the distinguishing characteristics of arts organizations that primarily serve Asian American, African American, and Hispanic/Latino communities.

The study is designed to provide insights, based on measurable data, about the operating contexts and unique challenges that these organizations face. Co-authored with Andrea Louie, Executive Director, Asian American Arts Alliance, and Zenetta Drew, Executive Director, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, the goal of the white paper is to provide a more nuanced understanding of culturally specific organizations and to help establish a more equitable measure of their performance.

Inspired by the DeVos Institute’s 2015 publication “Diversity in the Arts: The Past, Present and Future of African American and Latino Museums, Dance Companies, and Theater Companies,” NCAR’s paper responds to two key aspects of the DeVos Institute’s findings: first, that arts organizations of color are in general smaller and “far less secure” than their mainstream counterparts; and second, that funders might see greater results by providing larger grants to a smaller number of “effective” organizations, rather than continuing to fund a larger number of organizations through smaller grants.

Based on its research, NCAR found that culturally specific arts organizations are not disproportionately smaller than their mainstream peers. Taking into account their sector and age, the data shows that they are generally younger and therefore at a different stage in their evolution than mainstream organizations.

NCAR argues that the funding model proposed by DeVos would be detrimental to the cultural ecology, as it could effectively reduce the overall number of smaller organizations and therefore diminish the level of diversity, dynamism, and innovation in the field. NCAR calls for a deeper understanding of culturally specific organizations before significantly altering or abandoning their funding.

“We recognize that culturally specific organizations have particular characteristics that should be understood for what they are, neither good nor bad nor a sign of ineffectiveness but simply a different starting point,” said Zannie Voss, director at NCAR. “With this study, we want to reframe how we assess the performance of these organizations by identifying the differences in their operating contexts and by establishing a more precise framework of what expected performance should look like, rooted in evidence-based research.”

NCAR’s study examined the operating characteristics of arts organizations that primarily serve African Americans, Asian Americans, or Hispanics/Latinos as compared to their more mainstream counterparts, and examined whether they perform significantly differently on a variety of metrics. An analysis of data from a large sample of organizations across 12 different arts and culture sectors produced several other key findings:

  • Culturally specific organizations are more prevalent in sectors that have lower average budget size (e.g., community-based arts, arts education), and less prevalent in sectors with larger budgets (e.g., museums, opera companies, performing arts centers).
  • Culturally specific organizations have similarly sized budgets and physical facilities as mainstream organizations but spend less on marketing, earn less from subscriptions, and have lower trustee giving; however, they attract a higher level of support from government sources.

These organizations also demonstrate performance characteristics that distinguish them from one another (as well as their mainstream counterparts). More specifically:

  • Asian American organizations generate more attendance using fewer resources but also attract a lower level of support from all sources except for government.
  • African American organizations tend to have fewer programmatic offerings that generate lower annual attendance and program revenue but more contributed revenue, especially from individuals, foundations and corporations.
  • Hispanic/Latino organizations tend to have a higher number of programmatic offerings, full-time employees, and development expenses, which generate higher overall contributed support, especially from corporations and foundations, but lower program revenue and lower individual giving.

In order to create the level playing field it seeks to establish, NCAR’s study controlled for a number of factors:

Inherent differences within the arts and culture sector; e.g., data shows that art museums have higher attendance rates than do dance companies.

Organizational characteristics, especially fundamental characteristics that are difficult to change in the short term but can influence performance attributes of an organization, such as size of the physical facility and organizational age.

The characteristics of the community where the organizations operate; e.g., New York City has a larger population with higher average income and tourist visits than most U.S. cities, but also more competition for arts and culture consumers.

“Diversity in the arts is a multifaceted and complex issue. As an academic institution that seeks to educate future leaders in the arts, we are proud to make this contribution to the broader field discussion on diversity,” said Sam Holland, dean of the Meadows School of the Arts at SMU. “NCAR was established to catalyze new and informed thinking about important issues in the arts with a data-driven approach. It is our hope that the compelling insights set out by this study will help support the sustainability of a dynamic and diverse arts and cultural community around the country.”