Sarah Bainter Cunningham has recently taken the post of Executive Director of Research at Virginia Commonwealth University's School of the Arts after serving the federal government as Director of Education at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). At VCU Arts, Cunningham directs VCU Arts research efforts and teaches arts education policy. She currently serves as research chair for the National Task Force on "Art-Making in the Research University," as well as advisory board member to the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP).
In 2011, Cunningham was named one of America's top 30 "most powerful and influential leaders in non-profit arts." While at the NEA, she founded NEA's Education Leaders Institute, an effort to design public education centered on the arts. Modeled after the Mayors Institute on City Design, the Institute designed arts education efforts in 29 states. She also directed national initiatives such as NEA's partnership with Jazz at Lincoln Center which produced Jazz in the Schools, as well as directing NEA's Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest, a partnership with the Poetry Foundation. Cunningham supervised the review of hundreds of art education applications, including recruiting over 50 panelists each year. She also served as NEA liaison to the Arts Education Partnership, the President's Committee on Arts and Humanities, and the U.S. Department of Education.
Prior to the NEA, Dr. Cunningham participated in founding The Oxbow School, an unusual arts high school initiated by Ann Hatch and Robert Mondavi. She then went on to direct a national charter school accreditation program. Dr. Cunningham's philosophical work has been primarily in aesthetics and continental philosophy, with a focus on public policy. Dr. Cunningham writes and speaks on a range of topics including art and public policy, game design and arts education, and the future of arts and American schooling. A graduate of Phillips Academy Andover and Kenyon College, Dr. Cunningham received her M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy from Vanderbilt University.