The University of Michigan’s Arts Initiative continues to move forward exploring new models for students, faculty and staff to work collaboratively within the arts and across disciplines to share knowledge resources with a bold new set of demonstration projects set to launch this fall.

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The projects were selected by the initiative’s working group, which hopes they will enable experimental ways of thinking about the role of the arts for the U-M community and the Southeast Michigan region, and to serve as exemplars for the Arts Initiative’s Startup Phase, a three-year period of exploration to determine long-term goals as the initiative enters its second year.

“The projects approved for the Arts Initiative’s Startup Phase recognize the critical role that artists and designers play in our research university setting and our world,” said Guna Nadarajan, dean of the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design and a member of the Arts Initiative Working Group. “All of them reflect a strong commitment to social justice and community impact as well as connections and synergies with multiple disciplines in the university.”

Set to be developed and supported over the next one to two years, the projects will examine themes surrounding diversity within arts organizations and museums careers, commentary and reflection upon the plight of refugees, and the complex political and social histories that are represented through public art in Michigan.

Michigan Monuments

In the past year, municipalities and institutions have begun to grapple with the stories told through their public art, acknowledging the stories that have been left out of shared histories.

The Michigan Monuments Project will examine how history is made and remade through public art, leveraging public artistic practice as a catalyst for imagining a more just future for the state. The project will be co-conceived and developed in partnership with the U-M Museum of Art and the Philadelphia-based art and history studio Monument Lab.

The first phase of this effort will launch this fall and will focus on building a critical depth of knowledge around the urgent issues related to public art — who and what is commemorated in public spaces — as well as develop relationships across U-M’s campuses and with regional partners.

Culture Corps

Culture Corps will convene a cohort of undergraduate students who will take a mini course together and then be placed in paid internships at arts and culture organizations in Southeast Michigan.

Its goals are to encourage and expose students interested in arts and humanities majors to career pathways, to introduce and launch students’ arts and culture careers, and to support a breadth of Southeast Michigan art and culture organizations with a consistent group of paid students.

The U-M Humanities Collaboratory’s Equity Initiative is supporting a research phase of Culture Corps over the summer to determine best practices for relationships with internship hosts, including the types of structures that promote quality experiences for students. The project also will explore the historic trajectories that have shaped arts institutions’ values, which affect their ability to attract a diverse staff.

“Fiddler on the Roof”

The University Musical Society, School of Music, Theatre & Dance, LSA, Grand Rapids Symphony and The Philadelphia Orchestra will join forces to present the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” in a new model of partnership and production that brings together performative and scholarly elements.

Created at U-M with SMTD students performing alongside Broadway stars and the professional musicians of the Grand Rapids Symphony, the semi-staged theatrical concert will then tour with The Philadelphia Orchestra’s subscription series in March 2022.

Contextual programs developed by U-M scholars and UMS’ education and community engagement teams will connect the themes of the musical — tradition, immigration and the global refugee crisis, and anti-Semitism — with academic programs to amplify student learning experiences.

Plans for related campus engagement programs also are in early stages and may include panels, symposia, public artist interviews and pop-up mini performances around campus. The model may serve as a pilot for future national and international tours.

“This project allows for a broad arts collaboration that also reaches into humanities disciplines,” said Peggy McCracken, director of the Institute for the Humanities and a member of the Arts Initiative Working Group. “It demonstrates the arts’ potential to invigorate conversations about emigration and belonging, and about the past and its legacy for the present.” 

Mapping the arts at U-M

The Arts Initiative also has partnered with the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities, a national organization housed at U-M, on a project to map the considerable arts assets of the university. It seeks to gather the data necessary to understand and demonstrate the depth and breadth of the arts at the university.

This will help to create a model instrument and protocol to quantify the arts landscape across higher education to enable deeper research of arts impacts. According to the working group, the project goals are to clarify the value of the arts, as well as the unique set of skills students who engage with the arts acquire, and how those skills benefit their lives, careers and communities.

“According to one of our recent surveys 74 percent of U-M freshmen felt they were not as involved in the arts as they wanted to be, but 88 percent feel the overall climate encourages the arts,” said Maryrose Flanigan, executive director of a2ru who is heading up the project.

“In the first phase of this project we are looking for the data points to help us address the gap and strategize how to achieve the president’s goal for every student to have arts and creativity as part of their Michigan experience,” she said.

“In later phases of the project, we hope to address larger questions of the impact of the arts experiences, such as: What is the relationship between arts participation and creativity, critical thinking, and innovation? How do the arts improve well-being, equitable practices and civic engagement?”

Yo-Yo Ma in residence

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This new set of projects is part of Mapping Without Boundaries, a recently launched artist residency in which international performing artist Yo-Yo Ma joined a newly-formed steering committee of six U-M students and three Michigan-based artists from Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn — representing all three campuses. It will be charged with developing new variations of “maps” expressing what the U-M community has experienced in the past year.

The project — which also includes Nour Ballout, a Detroit-based interdisciplinary visual artist and curator; Tunde Olaniran, a Flint-based musician and performer; and Avery Williamson, an Ann Arbor-based interdisciplinary artist — will take shape this summer and will launch in the fall.

The next chance the university and greater community can engage with the Arts Initiative will be at a virtual event at 4 p.m. June 24, when it joins the U-M Detroit Center and a2ru to present a public forum titled Arts and the Public Good: The Resilience of Creativity and Community in Detroit. The event focuses on the visual arts. An Aug. 3 event in the same series features the performing arts.

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