The Arts Ecosystem Research Project (AERP) is an initiative of Seattle University’s Master of Fine Arts in Arts Leadership Program and Lemieux Library dedicated to researching, documenting, and sharing information on the Seattle region’s dynamic arts and culture sector. The focus is the arts organizations, businesses, and major events that have shaped the region’s unique cultural character, with the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair serving as a threshold event in recent cultural history.

The first phase of research looks at the fifty years from 1962 to 2012. Data collected by participating MFA students provides the foundation for a digital Arts Ecosystem Timeline. Additional student research and related sources augment selected timeline entries via a digital repository. Data will be collected and added each year to the timeline and the repository.

The Seattle region has pioneered numerous notable and innovative approaches to the creation, development and presentation of the arts since 1962. This project is designed to:

  • Collect information while many of the individuals involved are able contribute to the understanding, legacy, and lineage of this still young and vibrant arts ecosystem.
  • Provide a foundation for a more nuanced and holistic understanding of the sector and set the stage for further research to inform the future of the arts sector here and elsewhere.
  • Involve and inform future arts leaders though participation in applied research.

The MFA in Arts Leadership at Seattle University requires students to develop applied research skills. Students enrolled in the program’s annual Applied Research Seminar actively contribute to the Arts Ecosystem Research Project.



Fifteen graduate students in the inaugural Applied Research Seminar gathered data from arts leaders with the guidance of faculty and Advisors during winter 2018. The data identified noteworthy moments, seminal arts events, organizations, and businesses in the region for the initial set of entries for the digital timeline.

Seventy-four arts leaders participated in the 2018 research. More than 200 potential entries for the Arts Ecosystem Timeline were identified, as well as information on the context and evolution of the sector. Students interviewed a total of twenty-eight arts leaders. This was a nearly 80% rate of response, reflecting strong community interest in contributing to this research project. Additionally, a total of seventy-one surveys were sent of which forty-six were completed -- an impressive 65% response rate. Respondents also provided more than 300 suggestions of additional potential research contacts, and numerous offers to participate in further research such as case study development.

Students shared the results of their research with leadership from the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture and 4 Culture in a presentation. Practicums with graduate students continued through 2018 to organize the data and set the stage for the online resource and data gathering in subsequent years.


Exploratory case studies were developed during 2019 by Applied Research Seminar students to provide depth to selected timeline entries. Case studies were built on twenty-seven interviews capturing the lived experience of individuals involved in the selected organizations, supplemented by primary and secondary research. Case studies were completed by students, and professionally edited. These initial case studies created a model for future student research, providing valuable insights about these organizations for the community at large.

Lemieux Library staff built and refined the AERP website and data archives, integrated with Seattle University’s new institutional repository, ScholarWorks. This created a robust academic and community platform designed for scholarly and public access and able to accommodate flexible growth as the project evolves.

The Seattle Office of Arts & Culture and 4Culture continued to support AERP in 2019, joined by other regional entities, including MOHAI and Seattle Public Library Special Collections. AERP benefits greatly from supportive research access. New pathways for financial support became possible through the creation of “Friends of the Arts Ecosystem Research Project”, with Shunpike as fiscal sponsor. The AERP website was publicly launched December 2019 with preliminary Timeline entries and nine case studies.


Organizations formed by and/or serving communities of color in the Seattle region were the AERP research focus for the 2020 Applied Research Seminar. Students developed case studies on relevant entities, conducting 18 in-depth interviews with individuals whose lived experience shaped or intersected with the evolution of these organizations. Case study guidelines were established based on what was learned in 2019. Additional research efforts in 2020 include linking Timeline entries to current organization websites, providing links to selected KUOW-FM digitally-archived audio of relevance, and identifying and posting relevant Timeline images from MOHAI and other archive sources.

About the First Three Years

For more details about the evolution of the first three years of the project, please see Arts Ecosystem Research Project: Linking Student Research with Community Benefit. This paper, authored by Claudia Bach; AERP Project Founder and Director, Felipe Anaya, Coordinator, Service Design and Assessment, Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons; and Alma Davenport, MFA Arts Leadership, was presented at the Association of Arts Administration Educators (AAAE) Conference in 2020.


An AERP BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) Research Initiative was undertaken in 2021 with a research team consisting of students and alumni, led by Claudia Bach and Felipe Anaya, and supported by 4Culture. The foundational work done in 2020, as well as input from the AERP advisors, helped the team identify BIPOC leaders who have been instrumental in the Seattle region. Despite the constraints of the pandemic, the research team was able to design and conduct a qualitative survey to investigate entities and events in communities of color, followed by an optional facilitated Zoom conversation. The BIPOC Research Initiative resulted in more than 25 new entries to the Timeline and new materials for the AERP archives including the stories shared in the Zoom event. Additional research efforts in 2021 include the addition of more than a dozen new case studies, ongoing additions to the Timeline, and the linking of entries within the Timeline to demonstrate the interconnected nature of the arts ecosystem.

Project Team