Campus arts initiative to ‘unleash imagination and creativity’


A comprehensive presidential arts initiative designed to “unleash imagination and creativity” at the University of Michigan was announced Oct. 3 by President Mark Schlissel.

A working group of arts leaders on campus will collaborate with all parts of the university in creating the initiative. Schlissel said a two-year startup phase will produce a roadmap through creative and inclusive engagement with the community, especially with students. 

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“Our strengths and opportunities are clear — U-M is a leader in arts research, creation, education and presentation,” Schlissel said in announcing the initiative at his annual Leadership Breakfast. “But there is also a deep desire to help this component of our excellence permeate further across all of U-M.

“As this initiative matures in the years ahead, we will have the opportunity to create new dimensions of U-M’s excellence through the arts — ones that are perhaps unknown to us today.”

Underscoring the importance of the arts — including their power to foster creativity, create fuller and smarter humans, and advance humanity — Schlissel also emphasized the transdisciplinary collaborations and individuals who are creating valuable intersections between the arts and other parts of the university’s academic portfolio.

He cited work ranging from Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design associate professor Anne Mondro’s creation of arts programs for community members living with dementia, to several faculty collaborating to secure Centers for Disease Control and state support to present “Painless,” a musical addressing the opioid crisis, at schools around Michigan.

First steps in shaping the initiative will include gathering ideas through broad community engagement and launching a series of pilot and demonstration projects.

“This will be a dynamic period of experimenting with new projects,” Schlissel said. “How can we incorporate art and art making into the Michigan experiences of all our students? How can we bring the world’s most compelling artists to campus for deep engagement and collaboration with us?

“How can the arts help to open new ways of understanding and solving problems in different disciplines? And yes, how can the arts bring us together around profound questions like ‘what is love?'”

The working group for the new arts initiative includes leaders from across the university. Members are: 

  • Tom Baird, vice president for development.
  • Liz Barry, special counsel to the president.
  • Anne Curzan, dean of LSA.
  • Maryrose Flanigan, executive director of the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities. 
  • David Gier, dean of SMTD.
  • Jonathan Massey, dean of the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.
  • Gunalan Nadarajan, dean of the Stamps School.
  • Christina Olsen, director of the U-M Museum of Art. 
  • Matthew VanBesien, president of the University Musical Society.


  1. Allen Samuels
    on October 4, 2019 at 8:42 am

    Timing is (almost) everything. I am delighted to learn of the latest emphasis on the arts and their role in and outside of the university. All of the initiatives described by President Schlessel invite and encourage the kind of cross disciplinary collaboration and experimentation that many of us were trying to create years ago. It seems that these are the times when our plans and dreams and work around the arts are being appreciated and seen as central to teaching, learning and life. Go blue and all of the other colors!

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