OVPR, Arts Initiative award funding to seven teams


The Arts Research: Incubation & Acceleration grant program has awarded its second round of funding to seven arts-based research projects, led by teams representing nine schools across the University of Michigan campuses in Ann Arbor and Dearborn.

The ARIA program, a collaborative venture by the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Arts Initiative, awarded more than $300,000 in April to support innovative projects that emphasize the pursuit of new methodologies and interactions that can reshape the role art plays in academic inquiry and social discourse.

  • Visit the ARIA website for information about the next round of applications.

“As we unveil the second round of ARIA grantees, the partnership between OVPR and the Arts Initiative continues to champion boundary-pushing research and creative practice that advances the arts in meaningful and transformative ways,” said Geoffrey Thün, associate vice president for research-social sciences, humanities and the arts.

Selected from a competitive pool of 26 entries, the projects tackle a broad spectrum of issues, from human impacts on the environment to accessibility for the visually impaired. The projects seek to connect with a wide range of groups, including the local U-M community and international audiences, blending disciplines such as music, sculpture, animation, film and engineering.

“The collaborative spirit of this program not only strengthens our research community, but also amplifies the role of the arts as a catalyst for innovation at the University of Michigan,” said Mark Clague, interim executive director of the Arts Initiative.

About $290,000 was awarded in January to seven projects in the inaugural round of the five-year initiative. The call for the third funding cycle is set to open in June, with applications due in the fall.

“The second round of project submissions demonstrates a caliber equal to the first, showcasing the extensive talent within U-M’s arts research enterprise,” said Clare Croft, director of arts research/creative practice.

“This consistency and range in innovative submissions underscores the University of Michigan faculty’s collective dedication to exploring the arts as a crucial means of investigation. These projects hold the power to push artistic boundaries and imagine new modes of storytelling and engagement.”

The latest round of selected ARIA projects are:

Untitled Clifftop Documentary

Principal investigator: Adam Sekuler, assistant professor of humanities, College of Arts, Sciences and Letters, UM-Dearborn

Goal: This feature-length film captures the essence of the Appalachian String Band Music Festival, better known as Clifftop, in West Virginia. It spotlights the vibrant community and immersive musical experience of old-time musicians gathered in camaraderie and intimate, nature-infused jam sessions.

Talking Pupils

Principal investigator: Julie Zhu, assistant professor and postdoctor scholar of musicology, School of Music, Theatre & Dance

Goal: This innovative virtual reality opera, designed to be accessible for the visually-impaired, is based on a 17th-century story focusing on blindness and spiritual awakening. The project integrates specialized acoustics, spatial sound design and haptic feedback to create an immersive experience that simulates visual impairment and emphasizes self-awareness.

Impossible Conversations

Principal investigator: Y. David Chung, professor of art and design, Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design

Goal: This project features two video installations/documentaries exploring restorative justice through the stories of survivors and perpetrators of violence who engage in deep dialogue, aiming to chart a path toward reconciliation. The films showcase the challenging, yet transformative potential of creating connections and understanding in the wake of conflict and atrocity.

Khamseen: Islamic Art History Online

Principal investigator: Christiane Gruber, professor of Islamic art, LSA

Goal: This open-access digital platform showcases multimedia presentations on Islamic art history, featuring contributions from international scholars. The innovative online exhibitions overcome the limits of physical galleries, connecting artworks, academia and cultural heritage through nuanced and interdisciplinary digital curation.

Using Arts-Based Storytelling Methods to Build Efficacy and Advance Transgender and Gender Diverse Justice

Principal investigators: Leonardo Kattari, assistant professor of health and human services, College of Education, Health and Human Services, UM-Dearborn; and M. Candace Christensen, associate professor of social work, School of Social Work

Goal: This project aims to empower transgender and gender diverse individuals through a virtual workshop that enhances advocacy and civic engagement using storytelling and arts, culminating in a repository of participant stories to promote transgender and gender diverse justice, evaluated through both quantitative and qualitative methods.

Nyami Nyami-Water Never Lies

Principal investigators: Michael Gould, professor of music, percussion, School of Music, Theatre & Dance, professor in the Residential College and director of the Center for World Performance Studies, LSA; and Aline Cotel, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, College of Engineering, and associate professor of Program in the Environment, LSA and School for Environment and Sustainability

Goal: This art project is a multimedia installation that combines sculpture and technology to explore the ecological and cultural consequences of the Kariba Dam on the Zambezi River, incorporating the river deity Nyami Nyami as a symbol of nature’s resistance against human intervention.

Inhabiting Light

Principal investigators: Catie Newell, associate professor of architecture, A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning; and Upali Nanda, clinical associate professor of architecture, Taubman College

Goal: This project is an art installation at the Nichols Arboretum, designed as a reflective space for those experiencing grief. Constructed from prismatic cast glass, it will offer both privacy and interaction with nature, facilitating introspection and healing.


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