Heather Raffo leads Student Creative Fellowship with fall residency


Playwright and actor Heather Raffo, a University of Michigan alumna and groundbreaking voice in American theater, will lead the university’s Arts and Resistance Fall 2023 Student Creative Fellowship as artist-in-residence.

Creative Fellows work in the areas of performance, social engagement practices, visual art and image-making, and digital installation among others — the fellowship is inclusive of medium, concept and approach.

A photo of Heather Raffo
Heather Raffo

The cohort this fall includes 31 undergraduate and graduate students, with areas of study including engineering, social work, music, education, business, art and design, and others. Students from UM-Flint also have joined the program this year. 

“The range of students from across the university participating in this fellowship shows we need more spaces where anyone can join and meet others through self-expression. The Arts Initiative is working on making this possible for more of our campuses and community at large,” said Alison Rivett, the Arts Initiative’s associate managing director.

This year’s Student Creative Fellowship invites students to develop creative ideas and projects inspired by the 2023-24 Arts & Resistance theme semester. Student fellows from across the university will work with Raffo, as lead artist facilitator, on interdisciplinary artistic projects with their student peers and arts mentors.

Having helped forge a new genre of Arab American theater, Raffo has spent her career writing and embodying stories of Iraq, from the lives and dreams of Iraqi women in her seminal 2003 work “9 Parts of Desire” and subsequent PBS film in 2023, to the suicidal ideation of an Iraq war veteran in the 2012 PBS opera “Fallujah,” to the restless longings of an Iraqi refugee architect in 2018’s “Noura.”

A multi-award-winning writer and actor, she’s toured nationally and internationally, from The Kennedy Center to The Aspen Ideas Festival and from London’s House of Commons to the U.S. Islamic World Forum.

Her latest and most ambitious work in scale and scope, “The Migration Play Cycle,” is a new theatrical platform following migration and the global economy.

Raffo said she is excited about the artist-in-residency with the Arts Initiative, and is eager to connect with thought partners across U-M’s campus. Originally from Michigan, Raffo currently lives and works in New York.

“So often when we think of arts and resistance we think of protest, changing or taking down the systems that are oppressing,” Raffo said. “And this cohort seems very attuned to the needs of building up community with acts of personal resistance such as caring for yourself or caring for your community.

“I think what the university is doing with the entirety of the Arts Initiative is groundbreaking and transformative.”

A photo of student artists at a kickoff event
Members of the Arts and Resistance Fall 2023 Student Creative Fellowship work at a Sept. 16 kickoff event. (Photo by Audrey Banks)

This Student Creative Fellows will develop ideas related to the Arts & Resistance theme and will present their creative interpretations in a final showcase.

The Arts Initiative annually offers this fellowship for undergraduate or graduate students from any school or college as a way for them to engage in hands-on art making, though their curricula may not have space for art-making. Fellows receive a $500 stipend, and access to funds for project materials.

“The interdisciplinary aspect of the Arts Initiative and this fellowship, open to undergraduate and graduate artists, but also open to students who are in the school of engineering or school of education who are looking for a creative outlet is entirely different and transformative in and of itself,” Raffo said.

The Arts Initiative welcomes collaborations with students, faculty and staff whose arts research or creative practice may overlap with Raffo’s work to catalyze discovery through interdisciplinary partnerships. Those interested in working with Raffo this fall should contact artsinitiative@umich.edu.


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