As Executive Director for Research at VCUarts and Director of the Arts Research Institute, Cunningham provides national and international leadership in arts research through individual scholarship, interdisciplinary collaboration, and research development support and consultation.
From 2005-2011, she held the post of Director of Arts Education at the National Endowment for the Arts, founding the NEA Education Leaders Institute to develop arts education policy and strategy in 29 states. In addition to managing a portfolio of 250 funded projects per year, Cunningham served as Team-Lead for NEA’s Literature Poetry Out Loud (A National Recitation Competition), and managed NEA’s Jazz in the Schools program with Jazz at Lincoln Center. In addition, Cunningham was responsible for numerous research reports including “Improving the Assessment of Student Learning in the Arts,” as as well NEA’s investment in the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project Survey. Cunningham also served on the Board of the Arts Education Partnership, with partners that included the U.S. Department of Education, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, and the Council for Chief State School Officers. She also served on the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities, overseeing the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards. Prior to NEA, Cunningham was the founding Dean of The Oxbow School, a visual arts high school in Napa, CA.
Cunningham currently serves on the board of the National Guild for Community Arts Education. She also serves as Chair of Richmond’s Public Art Commission and is an advisor to the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities. Cunningham received her PhD and MA in philosophy from Vanderbilt University, and continues to write and speak on aesthetics, political philosophy, and education. In 2011, she was named among the top 30 most influential leaders in nonprofit arts.