Bridging the Divide logo

The arts have a unique way of bringing people together. During the Winter of 2022, the inaugural cohort of Arts Initiative Creative Fellows worked on projects focused on "Bridging the Divide" -- exploring the ways the arts can connect us to one another, encourage collaboration across disciplines, and promote joy and healing.

Twenty-one U-M undergraduate and graduate students served as the 2022 Arts Initiative Creative Fellows. The Fellows represented eight different units from all three U-M campuses.

Artist Karen Finley, Lead Artist for the Fellowship, guides the Fellows through reflective writing and drawing exercise.

Working in teams, the Fellows kicked off "Bridging the Divide" in January 2022. They met with visiting artist Karen Finley, Lead Artist for the Fellowship, who led the students through reflective writing, drawing, and team-building.

Throughout February and March, the Fellows received ongoing mentorship from both Finley and faculty mentors assigned to their team. Projects included a tree performance rethinking human/nature relationships, the construction of a "Sanctuary at the Arb", and the placement of joyful, painted stones throughout campus.

The teams presented their creative projects in a final showcase in April 2022 at the James D. Reader Jr. Urban Environmental Education Center at the Nichols Arboretum.

Meet the Fellows

Sanctuary at the Arb

  • Erin Casler standing by the water wearing a winter coat and knit hat

    Erin Casler is an MBA student at the UM-Dearborn College of Business.

  • Bo Shimmin headshot. Bo is wearing a black shirt and the photo is taken on a black background.

    Bo Shimmin is a master’s student in voice performance at the UM School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

  • Sarah Sturm smiling agains a brick wall backdrop

    Sarah Sturm is an MSW student studying Interpersonal Practice in Integrated Health at UM Ann Arbor.

  • Joseph Krampden smiling and holding a small white dog

    Joey Krampen is a Microbiology and Immunology graduate student at the UM College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

While the Sanctuary at the Arb was in place during April 2022, the goal was to invite all those in the Ann Arbor community who could benefit from the tranquility and calm offered at the Arboretum.

Playing off of the area's natural beauty and history, Sanctuary at the Arb offered visitors a chance to pause, breathe, and focus on feeling connected with themselves and the environment around them. Stations throughout trails in the Arb serve as a guide for visitors through meditation and stretching exercises to improve habits that can boost mental health. The Sanctuary also provided chances for visitors to experience "Augmented Reality" live music at the Arb to enjoy while taking in one of Ann Arbor's most beautiful parks.

As an additional 'thank you' and service to visitors, little libraries temporarily stationed throughout the Arb gave visitors the chance to take home free books, art supplies, tea, seeds, and other tokens of appreciation.

Learn more about the Sanctuary at the Arb project here.

Faculty Mentor: Anthony Kolenic, Director of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum.

Body Gratitude

  • Maxwell Wang standing in front of water and mountains wearing a blue knit hat

    Maxwell Weng is a Computer Science Engineering student at the UM College of Engineering.

  • Yuliia Lane leaning against a wooden railing in the woods and holding a camera

    Yuliia Lane is a Business student at UM-Flint studying International Business & Marketing.

  • Anika Love and Tong Hu playfully posing together at a table in a coffee shop

    Anika Love is Communication and Media Studies student at the UM College of LSA. Tong Hu studies painting and 3D art at the Stamps School of Art & Design.

Thank You My Body

Feed You My Body

Touch My Body

Seen My Body

Above are really the phrases that I need to hear. They come from a very private and tender part of me. To self-love is to put one’s spinning mind on pause and examine the body.  While personal, I also think that this is something many people are also feeling; through language, I hope people can build and rebuild, learn and unlearn the relationships they have with their inner psyche and bodies.

Faculty Mentor: Marisa Olson, Executive Director of the Digital Studies Institute at the University of Michigan.

A Lesson in Longing

  • Michigan O'Brien smiling wearing glasses and a suit with no tie

    Michael O'Brien is an MBA student at the UM Ross School of Business.

  • N'Dea Shelton smiling and making a peace sign with her hand

    N'Dea Shelton is a History student at the UM College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

N'Dea Shelton and Michael O'Brien are interviewing and photographing students from across the University in an effort to make meaningful connections with students they otherwise would not encounter. To photograph subjects, Michael uses a 4x5 view camera, which is a technically cumbersome and slow, film-based process that results in portrait sessions lasting up to two hours. That amount of time affords an interaction that moves beyond the superficial and creates images that speak to the level of familiarity the subject and photographer experienced. In her interviews, N'Dea asks the same subjects to complete statements like, "I'm on a journey toward," "The world would be a better place with," and "One song that describes my place in life is." The answers she collects become raw material for imagistically complicated text-based works that will be exhibited in the same gallery space as the photographs. Together, the photographic works and textual works seek to present a portrait of university life through the subjects with whom N'Dea and Michael have collaborated.

Faculty mentor: Steven Hixson, Artist and lecturer in the Stamps School of Art & Design.

The Traveling Rocks

  • Audrey Banks wearing a Michigan vs. Everybody hat

    Audrey Banks is an Arts & Design student at UM-Flint studying Media & Design and Graphic Design.

  • Lexa Jones wearing glasses and smiling

    Lexa Jones is a student at the UM College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

  • Sophia Newton standing on a beach wearing a winter hat and coat

    Sophia Newton is a Mechanical Engineering student at the UM College of Engineering.

  • A headshot of Wenyi Zhang wearing a sweater and frilly bow tie

    Wenyi Zhang is an Architecture student at UM's Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

  • Shrutija Ranganathan standing in a gallery and wearing a pink sweater

    Shrutija Ranganathan is an Electrical and Computer Engineering student at the UM College of Engineering.

Inspired by the diversity of the University of Michigan community, our project aims to collect a piece of UMich character and share it back. As the snow melts this spring, you will see the UMich Traveling Rocks scattered throughout every campus! The purpose of these stones is to connect strangers through kind words, conversations, memories, and advice.

A QR code on each rock guides its finder to add a message or photo to its journey. We will be compiling these messages on our instagram and website for everyone to see! Finders are encouraged to bring their stone to a favorite place or pass it off to a friend. This way, the rocks will soak up some of the knowledge and personality from a variety of areas as they travel. We hope this living project continues to grow in the delightful community that we all call home, setting our shared messages in stone.

Find out more about the Traveling Rocks here.

Faculty Mentor: Irene Hwang, Lecturer and Assistant Chair of Architecture at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.


The Digital Divide and the Technological Bridge

  • Eaman Ali wearing a hijab and smiling in front of a city skyline

    Eaman Ali studies Art & Design at the Stamps School of Art & Design.

  • Autumn Eno wearing a blue and yellow striped sweater

    Autumn Eno studies Law and Social Justice, with a minor in writing, at the University of Michigan.

  • Constance Burroughs wearing glasses and smiling

    Constance Burroughs is a Journalism and Screen Studies major at UM-Dearborn.

With this project, we are exploring the divides caused by social media. Our team decided to compile submissions on this subject from people throughout the University of Michigan community, written on the front and back of clear phone cases with colored markers. This is intended to illustrate how the good and bad within social media can coexist, and offers a display that merges the two.

We aim to compare the bridges both built and burnt in the Covid-19 Pandemic by the same factor: Social Media. Technology affects us all in different ways, and with the introduction of zoom calls, online classes, and remote socialization, our ideas of community and friendship have changed for both the better and the worse. We want to see how that affected our community here at the University by asking the campus how they felt included via social media or tech, and one way it made learning and socializing difficult.

Faculty Mentor: Melanie Manos, interdisciplinary artist and lecturer in the Stamps School of Art & Design.

Canopy: A Campus Compendium

  • Noelle Dunbar standing smiling in front of a brick wall

    Noelle Dunbar is a student in both the Program in the Environment and the Organizational Studies programs at the UM College of LSA.

  • Katherine Klassa smiling in a bright red shirt in front of hot pink flowers

    Kate Klassa is a Sociology student at the UM College of Literature, Science, and the Arts with a minor in Dance and Performing Arts Management.

  • Jenna John smiling in front of a purple-sided building

    Jenna John is a dual degree student earning a BFA at the Stamps School of Art and Design and a BS in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the UM College of LSA.

  • Cameron Wilson wearing a fur hat and holding a large circular object over the branch of a tree

    Cameron Wilson is a Music Performance/Composition student at the UM School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

This dynamic and publicly engaged six-part walking performance will bring music, dance, and storytelling together in order to celebrate our campus trees and challenge our community to address cultural landscapes in order to rethink human/nature relationships. The performance will begin at Ross with a brief introduction, then progress into a series of four five minute performances on campus trees, and conclude on the Diag with a final performance and zine distribution event.

For the first tree performance, we will walk along the one hundred yard path the Ross Bur Oak was moved across over a five month period 7 years ago. In doing so, we will guide audience members on a journey to explore privilege and displacement simultaneously. Then we will walk to the fence encompassing the university presidential house. Here we will invite the audience to crouch with us beneath the hemlock canopy exploding beyond this fence as we contemplate privatized access and the unknown beyond wooden walls.

Next, we will journey to Tappan Hall to gather with maples around the stump and with the debris of the, since deceased, Tappan Oak. Then, for the last tree, we will gather under the dripping canopy of American Elm. Here we will explore the history and culture surrounding American Elms that brought them to nearly every city street in the eastern United States, how this led to their downfall to dutch elm disease, and to marvel at their unique ecology and technological innovation that fosters their ongoing resilience, even after the loss of 70 million elms.

Finally, we will arrive at the Diag for a final performance that interweaves these tree stories into a multi-species ecology that invites the audience to reimagine the natural and collectively construct symbiotic landscapes beyond crisis.

Canopy: A Campus Compendium will take place Sunday, April 24 at 1pm. The walk will begin on E. University Street between the School of Education and Blau Hall.

Faculty Mentor: Sara Adlerstein-Gonzalez, Associate Research Scientist in the School for Environment and Sustainability.