BREAKING: National Endowment for the Arts awards $150k research grant to IOB and UWM

University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee & Islands of Brilliance to Receive $149,487 Award from the National Endowment for the Arts

 Milwaukee—The University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and Islands of Brilliance will receive a $149,487 NEA Research Lab award to support ABLE: the Autism Brilliance Lab for Entrepreneurship. This project will establish a new research lab that will study how creativity in art and design serves as a vehicle for preparing the autism spectrum population for the workforce and preparing neurotypical work environments for neurodiverse peoples.

“The National Endowment for the Arts is pleased to welcome Islands of Brilliance, the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and UWM’s Lubar Entrepreneurship Center into the network of NEA Research Labs that are contributing critical information about the arts’ impact on different facets of our lives,” said Director of Research & Analysis Sunil Iyengar. “As demonstrated by IOB’s lab and others in this announcement, the arts can be a source of resilience, well-being, and experiential learning. These skills and attributes have become increasingly sought-after in our challenging times.”

“We’re absolutely thrilled to have support from the NEA to grow the ongoing relationships between UWM and Islands of Brilliance; ABLE will build on their amazing work, facilitating new skills, job creation, pathways to college, community in the workplace, and more, with autistic people,” said Dr. Nathaniel Stern, Professor of Art & Design and Mechanical Engineering and Director of the Startup Challenge at the UWM Lubar Entrepreneurship Center.

“I’m excited to join this team and start ABLE. I see tremendous opportunities for conducting research to support neurodiverse populations here and across the country. I’m looking forward to working together to build on the wonderful programming that the Islands of Brilliance offers,” said Dr. Celeste Campos-Castillo, Associate Professor at the UWM Department of Sociology.

“Academic research examining Islands of Brilliance’s use of creativity as an intervention for autistic individuals has been a long-time goal,” said Mark Fairbanks, Cofounder and Executive Director of Islands of Brilliance. “The opportunity to work with Dr. Nathaniel Stern and Dr. Celeste Campos-Castillo at UW-Milwaukee through funding from the NEA is an incredible opportunity, one that will positively impact the community we serve and forever alter the trajectory of our organization.”

To address high unemployment among neurodiverse populations, UWM researchers will partner with the non-profit, Islands of Brilliance (IOB), to create the Autism Brilliance Lab for Entrepreneurship (ABLE) at the Lubar Entrepreneurship Center, examining how creativity in art and design serves as a vehicle for preparing populations on the spectrum for the workforce, and preparing neurotypical work environments for people living with autism. Our long-term goal is to become an international hub for studying, modeling, publishing, programming, developing and scaling models of creative innovation and entrepreneurship, onboarding, job placement, and universally designed work environments, specifically for people living with autism across fields of art, design, and production.

For more information about research on the arts and its impact on and value to American communities, visit Read the full press release at