Skip to Content

National Endowment for the Arts Lab

Commissioning Public Art Through Community Engagement Arts to improve Health and Social/Emotional Well-Being by Reducing Youth Firearm Injury

The Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design and the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan are proud to partner on the National Endowment for the Arts Research Lab entitled Commissioning Public Art Through Community Engagement Arts to Improve Health and Social/​Emotional Well-Being by Reducing Youth Firearm Injury. The lab focuses on the impact public art has on reducing gun violence in communities.

About the Project

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 improve the health of communities by reducing firearm-related police incidents (and other violent crimes). 

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 about what kind of artworks they are and how they were made. Preliminary results from our Pilot data support the idea that there are fewer firearm-related incidents (and other violent crimes) in residential areas where public art is located. Still, we have more work to confirm this and determine why that might be the case.

Working with community partners and Detroit residents 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 done with communities in reducing firearm violence? 

  2. What are the characteristics of community-engaged public art 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?



Portrait of Jane Prophet, a woman with red hair wearing a multicolored patterned jacket

Dr. Jane Prophet is a Professor at the University of Michigan’s Stamps School of Art & Design. Over the last 20 years, she has led interdisciplinary research collaborations with community engagement to co-design Apps and exhibits similar to the proposed research. Her expertise and leadership are in transdisciplinary collaboration across art and science; co-design and delivery of research with communities; participatory public engagement programs; and articulating the findings of such joint research via peer-reviewed publications, community projects, and exhibitions. Awarded two McArthur equivalents: UK National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts fellowship (2005) and Kong Humanities and Social Sciences Prestigious Fellowship Award (2013), she was UK’s Wellcome Sanger Centre External Evaluator of their scientists’ Public Engagement with Science work with communities. She is the PI of the project.

Portrait of Marc Zimmerman, a man with grey hair wearing a blue shirt and glasses

Marc Zimmerman, PhD. is the Marshall H. Becker Collegiate Professor of Health Behavior and Health Education at the School of Public Health and a Professor of Psychology at the U. of Michigan (UM). He has received $60+ million in research funding and published qualitative and quantitative research in 325+ articles and book chapters on topics including violence and evaluation methods. He is the Director of the CDC-funded MI Youth Violence Prevention Center (YVPC) and led the development of public health applications of crime prevention through environmental design, which applies similar methods as the proposed study. He is the CoPI of the NIH-funded Firearm Safety among Children and Adolescents project, which funded the pilot study for the proposed research. He will help oversee data collection, coding, and analysis as part of his responsibilities for the YVPC and FACTS projects which involve overlapping tasks. He will be involved in human subjects’ research and has all relevant UM certifications.

Portrait of Stephanie Tharp, a woman with long grey hair wearing a dark jacket and burgandy shirt

Stephanie M. Tharp, MID, is an industrial designer, educator, and professor at the University of Michigan’s Stamps School of Art & Design. She received her master of industrial design from the Rhode Island School of Design. She has work experience with Ford Motor Company, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Armstrong Industries, and and runs materious, an award-winning product design studio. Her current research surrounds the practice and theory of discursive design, with a book released by MIT Press in January 2019. She will serve as Co-Principal Investigator on the project. She will be in charge of gathering data about public art in Detroit, co-leading the workshops, overseeing the student researchers, and contributing to disseminating the results.