Indiana State University Newsroom

Indiana State research lab collaborates with ArtSpaces

October 1, 2014

Last spring, Indiana State University's survey research lab and ArtSpaces Inc. joined forces to gauge the public's appreciation for outdoor sculptures in Terre Haute.

The not-for-profit ArtSpaces, established in 2003, focuses on "uniting business and the arts to positively impact the economy of the area" by providing businesses with outdoor sculptures, according to the organization's website.

ArtSpaces' executive director Mary Kramer said she needed research to inform her marketing plan and tapped the university's survey research lab, housed in the department of psychology, after learning the valuable resource was available.

This interaction spurred a multi-class project in which the research lab, psychology department chair Virgil Sheets and two psychology classes of more than 100 students collaborated with Kramer to compile survey questions.

Kramer said she merely expressed her goals and visited to track the project's progress at the lab. The students took the project there until completion, when they presented Kramer with a comprehensive summary.

An added bonus to the lab's professional research services was the cost -- free.

"And for no less expertise," Kramer said.

ArtSpaces Inc., as a not-for-profit, must seek free or cost-effective resources; as such, Kramer said she considers the information obtained and the help provided from the survey research lab to be a "tremendous donation to ArtSpaces."

"We would have had to spend time and resources raising funds to carry out the survey research," Kramer said. "We are a small non-profit, and our budget is very small. We have great momentum in projects and hope to keep that going and having this kind of contribution as a donation helps us to continue to be able to develop the sculpture collection for the public and associated educational programs."

Kramer also learned a little about current survey techniques and instruments and said she was impressed by the way the project was organized.

Sheets oversaw the students' work, and graduate assistant Matt Swift "had the logistic challenge of organizing 120 students to be at different places at different times," Sheets said.

While Sheets and Kramer came up with the base questions, the students were encouraged to suggest additional questions.

The extra-large group of students was also given tasks that would aid in the project, as well as expand their skillsets as budding psychological researchers, said Sheets.

One part of the project involved taking observational surveys, which required no verbal interaction. The researchers would simply watch the reactions of people who walked by the sculptures. Students coded their subjects by what they did: whether they walked past the pieces without looking, stopped to appreciate it or even if they touched the art (despite the "no touching" signs).

A few days later, Sheets said, the students conducted brief face-to-face interviews to collect information on how passers-by felt about a certain sculpture and outdoor sculptures in general.

Another task was to conduct telephone interviews, which the survey research lab has lots of experience. This particular survey effort covered five counties, including Vigo.

Student phone-surveyors made their way through a script and a number list to ask residents about the importance of outdoor sculpture. Among these students was Alexia Curley, a senior criminal justice and psychology double major from Zion, Ill.

"I have gained a new respect for telemarketers through this process," Curley said. "It was a struggle to get people to listen long enough to agree to complete the survey. However, once individuals listened to the explanation for the survey, most were willing to take the five short minutes out of their time to help us."

Students also asked if there were any sculptures that interviewees remembered in particular, Sheets said. This question was so the lab could get an idea for what sculptures were considered "landmarks" by residents and visitors, and among those, how many of those sculptures were placed by ArtSpaces Inc.

After all the information was gathered, Sheets and Swift summarized the results of in a way that made it easy for Kramer to interpret, which she said she appreciated.

The size of the classes involved was also unusual for the spring 2014 semester, explained Sheets, so the lab was also in a position of heightened resources and a need for a large project to satisfy the student's experiential needs.

"It's nice for students to see that there's practical meaning for research, which isn't just learning how to do stuff in a lab, but learning to answer questions that real people need to know," Sheets said.
The survey research lab accommodates businesses' research needs by negotiating on the company's individual financial needs.


Contact: Virgil Sheets, psychology professor and department chair, Indiana State University, 812-237-2451, or Mary Kramer, executive director of ArtSpaces Inc., 812-235-2801.

Writer: Kristen Kilker, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3773 or