New, expanded roles announced for Arts Initiative leadership


Provost Laurie McCauley has appointed an interim leader of the U-M Arts Initiative and expanded a vice provost’s role to oversee the initiative, two developments that reflect the university’s increasingly robust commitment to arts engagement on campus and beyond.

Mark Clague, a longtime professor of music in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, began serving as interim executive director of the Arts Initiative on Sept. 1.  

Vice Provost Sara Blair recently took on a broader role that includes provost’s office oversight of the initiative and a new, expanded title: vice provost for academic and faculty affairs & arts and humanities. Blair will provide strategic leadership at the university level for the Arts Initiative and other key program offerings and initiatives in the arts and humanities.

The Arts Initiative is a universitywide effort launched in late 2019 to make the arts central to U-M’s identity and mission. Its purpose is to illuminate and expand human connections, inspire collaborative creativity, and build a more just and equitable world through the arts.

Following an initial $2 million, three-year startup phase, U-M announced earlier this year that $20 million would be committed to the initiative over the next five years.

Clague is the initiative’s first executive director. He has a deep arts background, serving as SMTD’s associate dean for collaborations and partnerships, and editor-in-chief of the George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition. He previously was SMTD’s director of research and associate dean of academic and student affairs, and was the founding director of the school’s student entrepreneurship program.

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“For me, the fundamental role of the Arts Initiative at the University of Michigan is to recognize and catalyze the creativity that resides in every activity of our campus,” he said. “We need the arts, maybe now more than ever. The arts bring us together as a community, they spark conversation, center controversy, and help us exercise the courage necessary to confront today’s big challenges.”

Clague’s scholarship focuses on music-making in the United States and the question of how music forges and shapes social relationships. He is known for innovative work on arts pedagogy that has transformed curricula on campus and beyond.  

An inaugural recipient of the National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar fellowship, Clague has extensive experience with public-facing arts projects, including collaborations with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Library of Congress and Los Angeles Grammy Museum.

His work often intersects social justice issues, such as through the Singing Justice Collaboratory with a dozen U-M colleagues, and research on music by Black composers from Alton Augustus Adams and Joseph Bologne to Wynton Marsalis and Stevie Wonder.

His publications include the acclaimed 2022 book, “O Say Can You Hear: A Cultural Biography of the Star-Spangled Banner,” and the critical edition of George Gershwin’s symphonic poem “An American in Paris.”

Along with being part of SMTD’s Department of Musicology, Clague holds affiliate appointments in the departments of American Culture and African and Afro-American Studies in LSA, and in SMTD’s Department of Entrepreneurship and Leadership. 

Clague said it’s “both super exciting and deeply humbling” to serve as the Arts Initiative’s interim and initial executive director.

He said McCauley, President Santa J. Ono and the initiative’s advisory and executive committees, staff members and collaborators have already put many innovative ideas into practice. 

“My task will be to amplify their joyful triumphs, ideas and visions of possibility,” he said. “The University of Michigan is a special place and is uniquely poised for this transformation, and we have the tools and talents to make the arts a signature feature of the campus and our public mission.”

This fall the university will conduct a search for the ongoing executive director, beginning with gathering input from the arts community. Details regarding a search advisory committee and timeline will be shared in the coming weeks.

Blair’s expanded responsibilities and title began July 1. In addition to her role as vice provost for academic and faculty affairs & arts and humanities, she is the Patricia S. Yaeger Collegiate Professor of English and professor of English language and literature in LSA.

Blair was heavily engaged in the development of the Arts Initiative and has been a strong advocate for arts and humanities scholarship, programming and inclusion in campuswide programs.

“We will benefit from her support and oversight in the development of cross-cutting projects across campus, and of new synergies across arts and humanities and other disciplines,” McCauley said. “More broadly, we aim to elevate Michigan’s excellence in scholarship, creative expression, teaching and engagement in these areas.”

Blair has collaborated throughout her career with curators at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the International Center of Photography and the Addison Gallery of American Art. She has served as consultant-adviser to photographic projects and exhibitions, and curated exhibitions at U-M’s Institute for the Humanities and the Middlebury Art Museum. Her work has been supported by National Endowment for the Humanities, American Council for Learned Societies and Michigan Humanities fellowships.

In addition, she has led the development of several cross-campus funding programs and projects, including The Humanities Collaboratory. 

“I am delighted for the opportunity to provide leadership and stewardship for the project of embedding the humanities and arts more deeply across the whole range of the university’s mission, on our campus and in our engagements with our stakeholders and communities,” Blair said.  

“Humanities and arts as fields of knowledge production and engagement have distinctive ways of challenging us, promoting understanding of the histories that shape our world and of possibilities for its transformation. That capacity has never been more vital or relevant. Research, teaching and engagement that promote it across every kind of attention to human experience will be critical to our collective future.” 

Several projects and programs have been launched since the Arts Initiative debuted in late 2019, including the Culture Corps, Creators on Campus and an increase in support for arts research.

The $20 million funding commitment that officials announced for the initiative earlier this year will be used for new programs and projects to engage university audiences, bring more artists to campus, and support and amplify the arts across the state and region.


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