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U-M Student Life Sustainability Announces Artist-in-Residence Dawn Weleski, launching “transgressive learning” café

The University of Michigan Student Life Sustainability Office will host Upstate New York-based multi-disciplinary artist Dawn Weleski as part of the “Noon at Night,” a collaborative project offering radical hospitality through participatory performances, student campus tours, and a community café. This initiative, supported by U-M Student Life Sustainability Cultural Organizers and various on- and off-campus partners, will culminate in a two-day event taking place on April 12-13, 2024.

The “Noon at Night” café will serve as a classroom connected to transgressive learners worldwide, opening each weekend when the clock strikes noon in partner locations. Through participatory performances referencing student-led protests and struggles, attendees can embark on hour-long campus tours retracing significant sites of student organizing and resistance. These tours will culminate at Palmer Commons, where the Noon at Night Café will be nestled, serving a curated menu of archived recipes from UM’s history, corresponding to the movement time periods shared on the tours. Each evening will feature a teach-in showcasing current student-led movement work.

Dawn Weleski is an internationally renowned artist based in New York. Weleski activates and broadcasts the stories of individuals and groups in experimental public performances, where conversation is her process and people her medium. Weleski’s public artwork has earned her international attention, most notably for Conflict Kitchen with Jon Rubin (2010–2017), a Pittsburgh restaurant that only served cuisines from countries with which the United States is in conflict and her multi-city operatic productions on public transit, Bus Stop Opera (2008–2010). 

Weleski’s most recent work, “Refuse Refuse: Radio,” is a speculative fiction radio theater series that dramatizes current and impending climate catastrophe throughout rural New York State. Broadcast from a mutual aid ambulance, Refuse Refuse will record and transmit survival skill workshops and a participatory climate collapse drama and is supported by a 2024 Anonymous Was a Woman Environmental Art Grant, a 2024 New York State Council on the Arts Grant, and the Harpo Foundation. Waleski regularly exhibits and produces public projects around the world, and most recently exhibited at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum 2022-23. Weleski holds a BFA in Visual Art with a concentration in Contextual Practice from Carnegie Mellon University and a MFA in Art Practice from Stanford University.

With funding from the U-M Arts Initiative Projects in Partnership fund and Student Life Sustainability, Weleski and the Noon at Night team will reactivate the defunct Palmer Commons and Kitchen for this two-day gathering (April 12–13, 2024). The café will serve as a living archive of student-led movement work locally and abroad, mocking up a potential future educational lab and community space.

“We are excited to bring Dawn in to work with our Cultural Organizing team, whose work focuses on the strategic use of art and culture to envision and build a better world,” said Alex Bryan, Director of Student Life Sustainability, “Noon at Night builds off of UM’s robust set of opportunities for students to use our campus-as-lab in and outside of the classroom, pushing us to imagine campus not only as a lab, but also as a studio and living archive of student-led advocacy towards a more sustainable and just institution.”

The inaugural core collaborative project team for Noon at Night includes U-M undergraduate students and doctoral candidates across fifteen disciplines, united by the question, “What has your stomach in a knot?” Through workshops and events, they have fostered spaces for wellness, critically assessed diversity and inclusion initiatives, and developed creative strategies for adaptation amidst climate emergencies.

Noon at Night highlights the vibrant history of student protest and faculty action on campus to remind us of both the university’s proud tradition of creating engaged community advocates and its core educational mission to develop the ‘leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future’,” notes Mark Clague, Interim Executive Director of the Arts Initiative. “Not only are the arts a vehicle through which unheard voices can rise and shout, but I’m simply excited to eat some great food and meet some great people, all brought together by radical hospitality!”

Noon at Night will continue as an itinerant classroom and cafe through the end of Winter 2024 and is seeking partners to co-host public events in the 2024-25 academic year. Please contact with your interest. 

Visit or follow @noonatnightcafe for menu, tour registration, teach-in schedule, and more information.

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Arts Initiative Announces 2024 Creative Careers Residents

The University of Michigan Arts Initiative has announced three master’s degree-level residents for its Creative Careers Residency, a transitional program providing support for full-time, self-directed creative practice in architecture and urban planning, art and design, performing arts, intermedia arts or creative writing.

Upon graduation, many practitioners lose their networks of support necessary to develop significant work, posing a significant barrier to the transition from degree to sustained work. Maintaining a creative practice takes focus and time, and taking on a full-time job often leaves little of both.

The Creative Careers Residency seeks to reduce these barriers by providing the time, structure and funding support to transition from academia to post-graduate endeavors. Residents receive a $40,000 work stipend, health insurance, among other benefits.

The goals of the program are to:

The Arts Initiative is leading the way in this kind of institutional support for graduates in the arts. The Creative Careers Residency enables student-artists to create a significant project that will bridge the gap to the next art-making opportunity.

The 2023-24 Creative Careers Residents are:

Project Descriptions 

Mural project offers arts access to science students

Another unique partnership with the Arts Initiative brings the arts into the Neuroscience Graduate Program. A group of 14 neuroscience students participated in a printmaking workshop last summer with Ann Arbor artist Sajeev Visweswaran, and requested another opportunity for art-making this year.

A unique collaboration between students, faculty and local artists is bringing a vibrant mural related to the field of nuclear engineering to the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus this spring.

The interdisciplinary mural project was sparked by U-M faculty and graduate students in the sciences seeking creative, hands-on art-making outlets beyond their research.

Recognizing an increasing demand from the U-M scientific community to incorporate artistic elements into its work, the U-M Arts Initiative identified an unmet need for greater cross-disciplinary collaboration and access to arts resources within science, technology, engineering and math fields on campus.

Through this mural project and a cross-departmental partnership with the College of Engineering’s Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences, the Arts Initiative is co-creating unconventional arts opportunities for STEM students.

“Our core mission in the Arts Initiative is to activate, energize and inspire creativity across the whole campus ecosystem, not only where the arts might be typically found … but in areas of campus where the arts bring new modes of thinking and creative problem-solving skills to enhance research and learning,” said Mark Clague, interim executive director of the Arts Initiative.

“We are especially excited to connect the arts with health care, science, technology, engineering and other disciplines to help the whole campus be more creative, expressive and joyous.”

Todd Allen, the Glenn F. and Gladys H. Knoll Department Chair of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences, met with the Arts Initiative staff about incorporating art into his curriculum. That vision became a reality this semester as his “Intro to Nuclear Engineering” course tasked students to contribute to a mural facilitated by Michigan-based artists Josh Rainer and Devin Wright.

“This mural, showcasing the rich history of NERS, stands as a daily reminder for our students, aiding me in achieving both objectives,” said Allen, who also is the Chihiro Kikuchi Collegiate Professor of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences and professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences.

The Arts Initiative matched NERS with Rainer and Wright, who applied for the project as a duo, and they worked with students to develop imagery that visually represents their scientific work. The resulting mural will be installed in the tunnel connecting the department’s two main buildings on North Campus.

In May, local artist Katie Hammond will facilitate an image-making workshop for the neuroscience graduate students, connecting participants to both personal and professional “Heroes and Icons.” Their work will then be displayed at the annual departmental conference this spring.

“I think the arts are part of the very fabric of our way of knowing and communicating what we know about ourselves, our science and the world around us,” said Keith Duncan, associate professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery and of molecular and integrative physiology, and associate director of the Neuroscience Graduate Program.

“Our neuroscience students are musicians and graphic artists, crafters and writers, dancers and actors. To us, programs like the Arts Initiative help our students exercise these muscles and bring their whole selves to their academic lives.”

Other recent art-making partnerships with the Arts Initiative have included a printmaking workshop with the School of Dentistry, crochet and embroidery workshops with the “Gifts of Art” program at Michigan Medicine, a poetry workshop with the Marsal Family School of Education, and a colored-glass creation workshop in partnership with the School of Kinesiology’s diversity, equity and inclusion program.

The Arts Initiative also supports units through funding to develop their own arts programs. The new Arts Initiative Project Support grant program increases arts access and activity across campus and in the region. To learn more or to apply for future funding, check out Arts Initiative Funding Support.

Arts Initiative set to launch campuswide artist residency

A new campuswide artist residency, the U-M Artist-in-Residence Award, will launch next year, and the Arts Initiative is looking for nominations of artists who can make a big impact on campus and the community.

Beginning in fall 2024 and biennially thereafter, the Arts Initiative will award one distinguished external artist a yearlong academic residency with strong public components.

The selected artist will have access to U-M resources and will create new work or further develop in-progress work that advances the missions of the Arts Initiative and U-M’s Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses.

The U-M Artist-in-Residence Award seeks to provide a uniquely valuable experience for an artist to create, grow and impact the world. This program will grow the artist’s interests and engage all three U-M campuses and the region in matters related to artmaking, the impact of art on culture, justice, community building or contemporary issues facing society.

The Arts Initiative hopes this program influences the university’s approach to supporting artists, students and faculty in the future, builds relationships across academic disciplines and creates campuswide demonstrations that illuminate the power of the arts.

“We’re excited to bring an artist to campus who can inspire our whole community — faculty, staff, and especially our students — to think of themselves as artists, who can make creativity a central tool for their research, learning and day-to-day life,” said Mark Clague, the Arts Initiative’s interim executive director. “Seeing possibility is what makes us human and our humanity is more essential than ever.”

The program will create pathways for students to learn from a professional artist and will bring to bear the university ’s vast resources in support of artists’ creativity.

Any U-M faculty or staff member can nominate an external candidate. Self-nominations will not be accepted. Artists of any discipline are eligible.

A review panel will select three potential awardees ranked by preference. The Arts Initiative will formally invite external nominees in order of preference.

Prior to inviting an artist, the Arts Initiative team will work with appropriate units related to the artist’s discipline and interests to confirm each unit’s level of partnership and participation.

One artist will be selected for the award announced in winter 2024.

The Arts Initiative seeks nominations for an artist who:

Student art exhibition ‘Respond/Resist/Rethink’ coming to all three U-M campuses

The arts play a central role in shaping both cultural and political narratives, and artists have often been at the forefront of social change by offering alternate ways of seeing and thinking.

A new partnership across the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses will feature the compelling work created by U-M students this fall in conjunction with the Arts & Resistance theme semester.

“Respond/Resist/Rethink” tells the stories of oppression, free speech, societal expectations of beauty, and marginalized people through photographs, paintings, videos, posters and more. The exhibition showcases artwork’s potential to change hearts and minds in modern society.

“This exhibition is really a unique opportunity to showcase artwork by dozens of student artists from all three U-M campuses. We’re excited to provide a platform for students to reflect on their individual and shared experiences, and to collectively envision a better future. It should be a very powerful exhibition,” said Joe Levickas, program director for student engagement at the Arts Initiative.

The 2023 exhibition runs Nov. 3-Dec. 9, will include a variety of artistic media and will be displayed in four galleries across the U-M system: the Stamps Gallery and Duderstadt Center Gallery on the Ann Arbor campus, Riverbank Arts at UM-Flint and Stamelos Gallery Center at UM-Dearborn.

“Black Illumination,” by Jordyn Hardy
“Black Illumination,” by Jordyn Hardy.

“We are thrilled and honored to be participating in ‘Respond/Resist/Rethink’ this year, and we have found this inaugural collaboration between all three U-M campuses to be invaluable for both students and staff in numerous ways,” said Laura Cotton, art curator for the Stamelos Gallery Center. “The displayed student works at our venue range in themes from human rights to climate justice to the importance of hope within our daily lives.”

“Respond/Resist/Rethink” has been shown to U-M communities for three years. However, this year’s show premieres 82 new works and is the first time that the exhibition is being shown as part of the theme semester.

“Respond/Resist/Rethink” is an exhibition by U-M students for students. Each art space will feature underrepresented stories and artists’ attempts to tell their own stories from their own perspective.

U‑M students were invited to submit artwork through an open call, and works for the exhibit were chosen by an expert jury of professional arts staff.

“Embrace Humanity, Eradicate Homelessness,” by Regina Marie Arriola
“Embrace Humanity, Eradicate Homelessness,” by Regina Marie Arriola.

These works include paintings such as “Embrace Humanity, Eradicate Homelessness” by Regina Marie Arriola, which tells the story of a man experiencing homelessness, selling newspapers to earn a couple of dollars in order to survive the rest of the day.

Another piece of art that will be on display is “The Dream Isn’t Dead, The Dream Was Never Here” by Charlie Reynolds. It discusses white supremacy and the dangers marginalized people face in America. The exhibition tells various stories of social injustices and aspirations for a more equitable community in the spaces that students inhabit.

“Stamps Gallery initiated ‘Respond/Resist/Rethink’ at the Stamps School in 2020 to hold space for students’ voices and ideas for building a more just and equitable community through art and design,” said Srimoyee Mitra, director of the Stamps Gallery.

“Transferring The Nine Commentaries On The Communist Party In China,” by Nancy Yang

“It is a pleasure and honor to expand the reach of the exhibition to students across U-M campuses and disciplines in conjunction with the Arts & Resistance theme semester. It promises to be a vital showcase of the power of art and creativity to inspire positive social change at U-M and beyond.”

Nalani Duarte, graduate student and Flint art curator, said students across all three U-M campuses will showcase their artistic interpretations of what the exhibition’s title means to them on a personal level.

“My experience working with this exhibition really opened my eyes to how diverse the backgrounds, lifestyles, and experiences are from all of the U-M students across the state,” Duarte said.

“I believe that this diversity in itself acts as an ‘alternate model and way of thinking’ by bringing attention to subject matters and social issues that are important to an individual that not everyone may have experienced in their life.” 

Each gallery will host special events on separate dates, providing guests the opportunity to meet the student artists and view artwork communally. All events are free and open to the public.

The exhibition is funded by the U-M Arts Initiative.

Proposals sought for new arts research funding program

The University of Michigan has launched Arts Research: Incubation & Acceleration, a new grant program to fuel arts-based research.

ARIA seeks to support projects centered in the arts that ask creative questions and move toward new ideas and knowledges, invite new forms of collaboration and interaction both within and beyond the arts, and that imagine new approaches to problems and ideas in the arts and society.


The result of a new partnership between the Office for the Vice President for Research and the U-M Arts Initiative, ARIA has been developed by Clare Croft, the university’s inaugural director of arts research / creative practice. The program is funded equally by both sponsors.

“ARIA is an incredibly powerful program that will support faculty-led research across our schools and campuses, allowing faculty from a wide variety of disciplines to deepen and elevate their important work,” said Croft, who also is an associate professor of American culture and of women’s and gender studies in LSA, and associate professor of music in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

Approximately 15-20 grants will be awarded in the 2023-24 academic year. Faculty applying for individual projects are eligible for up to $25,000, and research teams are eligible for up to $50,000. Projects will be funded for up to two years. Funding can support projects in pilot or incubation stages or those entering new stages of development and dissemination.

“We hope that ARIA will inspire a new level of ambitious arts research at the University of Michigan,” said Mark Clague, interim executive director of the Arts Initiative. “Our goal is both to fuel the extraordinary in creative practice, while propelling the arts into new realms of research, where artists and artistic thinking have not traditionally been found. ARIA should be a game changer.”

Proposals for the program’s first round of funding are due by 5 p.m. Dec. 11, and selections will be announced in January 2024. U-M research faculty across all three campuses are eligible to apply.

Applications are particularly encouraged from interdisciplinary research teams structured to provide mutual benefit to those in the arts and in other research sectors, and from individuals working in creative practice to imagine new horizons of artistic possibility.

“As a university community, we cannot effectively address problems and advance ideas in the arts and society by working within traditional silos alone,” said Geoffrey Thün, associate vice president for research-social sciences, humanities and the arts.

“To generate new knowledge and spur positive change, we have to embrace integration and collaborate across disciplines. The ARIA program was designed to center, elevate and expand arts research and creative practice in its many forms across our three campuses.”

University creates new position to oversee public art collection

The University of Michigan has created a new cross-campus position, curator of art in public spaces, to oversee the display, acquisition and overall curation strategy of U-M’s public art collection.

In addition, the U-M Museum of Art and the Arts Initiative have announced that Jennifer Carty has been hired to fill that position effective Oct. 23.

In coordination with the Office of the President, Carty will serve as a creative, collaborative arts leader for the campus, managing which works of art will be exhibited both permanently and temporarily on U-M’s campuses. She will work with artists on new commission projects, and will play a key role in coordinating cross-campus collaborations related to public art.

The curator will work closely with the President’s Advisory Committee on Public Art, which strives to enrich the university’s visual environment by positioning works of public art of the highest caliber by a broad diversity of artists across campus.

Reporting jointly to UMMA Director Christina Olsen and Mark Clague, interim executive director of the Arts Initiative, the curator of art in public spaces will lead efforts to develop compelling, complex and engaging projects that will speak to relevant topics in the world today and place art and ideas at the center of campus life.

“Jenny is amazing, and in her new role as our inaugural curator of art in public spaces she will bring a visibility and coherence to public art across campus for the first time,” Olsen said.

“Her combination of experience on campuses across the country and knowledge and relationships with artists puts U-M in a great position to embed globally important art and ideas into campus conversations in meaningful ways.”

Carty is a 2010 graduate of LSA, and comes with a breadth and depth of experience activating campuses and communities with public art programs. Her most recent role was associate curator of modern and contemporary art at the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art. She also has worked at the Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University and Michigan State University’s Broad Art Museum.

“I am thrilled to be joining the teams at UMMA and the Arts Initiative to build upon the exhilarating momentum surrounding the arts on campus,” Carty said. “Public art has the unique capacity to give voice to the identity of its place, to ignite creative and critical thought, and galvanize communities.

“At the University of Michigan, a leading public university dedicated to creating a culture of diversity, belonging and accessibility, the potential for public art is unmatched. As an alum, I am delighted to be returning to campus and honored for the opportunity to take on this exciting new role.”

The curator of art in public spaces will work closely with a wide array of cross-campus partners, including the President’s Advisory Committee on Public Art, UMMA, the Arts Initiative and the Inclusive History Project, sharing responsibility for managing, documenting, tracking and reporting on the collections, as well as advising units looking to commission or place public art.

As U-M aspires to possess a cohesive public art collection of national significance by a broad diversity of artists, Carty’s appointment is a milestone.

 “Ours is truly an art-infused campus, and the museums and concert venues where you’d expect to find it are only a beginning. Outdoor sculpture and other public art challenges us to find beauty and creativity in everything we do,” Clague said.

“Having the first-ever curator of art in public spaces on campus will bring a new intentionality to the role art plays to inspire research and learning, helping us to connect with more diverse ideas and to see the world with fresh eyes focused on possibility.”

The politics of drag for LGBTQ+ History Month: U-M expert offers insights

University of Michigan professor Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, author of “Translocas: The Politics of Puerto Rican Drag and Trans Performance,” is available to discuss drag as an art form and the politics of drag for LGBTQ+ History Month. 

He will moderate a panel discussion about drag as resistance with “RuPaul’s Drag Race” star Monet X Change and other local drag queens at Ann Arbor’s Necto Oct. 12. The panel is organized by the U-M Arts Initiative and U-M Museum of Art as part of the Arts & Resistance theme semester.

La Fountain-Stokes, who performs drag locally, is a professor of American culture, Spanish, Latina/o studies, and women’s and gender studies. He talks below about drag in society and his 20 years of research in the field.

Performing drag

I taught a first year seminar at U-M through the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts entitled ‘Drag in America,'” he said. “So for me, drag is something I write about, it’s something I teach, and it’s something I perform. I’ve performed as Lola von Miramar since 2010. 

It has been really interesting as a person who is primarily a scholar—my salary from the University of Michigan comes from being a professor, not an artist—but as a person who writes about drag, it was really meaningful and useful to perform in drag, to be able to write from an insider, outsider perspective.

Politics of drag

Drag, in addition to being a form of entertainment, in addition to being a subcultural expression very linked frequently to LGBT cultures, in addition to being an art form and something that is fun and that people like to do, is also a type of resistance and there are politics linked to drag performance whether it is done by cisgender people or transgender people.

Drag is a term that is related to political struggles, it is related to artistic expression, and it is also a type of employment. Rather recently, several states and politicians wanted to ban drag or say drag was dangerous to society and should not be allowed in proximity to schools or churches or to young people. It was a type of political censorship as much as artistic and work censorship. I think it really helped a lot of people clarify the politics involved.

For example, when Tennessee, then Texas, then Florida and other states, tried to ban drag, it became much clearer for people how drag has become a touchpoint in culture wars, in wars about LGBT rights, in discussions about transgender rights and self-expression.

Is drag always making a political statement?

No. It is not a statement no matter what, because anyone can do drag, regardless of their background or their identity. The politics of drag are open—they vary enormously. People bring different commitments and agendas and interests to their drag performance. 

So what is absolutely true is that some people see drag as a profoundly political act. For example, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, in California and now globally—they explicitly see drag as a way to challenge the hypocrisy, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia of the Catholic church and American society. You have artists like Taylor Mac, who has won major awards across the U.S., he is a Macarthur genius grant awardee, and he sees his drag performance as a way to make an intervention about politics, gender, sexuality. 

But it is never not an art form. Any art form can be used to convey and discuss political messages, or not. It’s really a personal choice. Sometimes there are politics associated with the reception, so maybe I think that I am not a political artist, but then immediately when someone tries to ban what I do, it becomes a political performance. Not because of my intention, but because of the resistance to the art form.

Why speak up now?

(In April), there was a growing awareness of the challenges that drag performers face, and how there is this effort to demonize drag performance as something that is inappropriate and dangerous and undesirable. That is why we were so vehement and committed to talking about the social role of drag, its importance and its value as an art form, a type of political expression, as a free speech issue, as a labor issue and as an LGBT issue.

Little Amal, symbol of human rights, heads to U-M

ANN ARBOR—Little Amal, a 12-foot puppet of a 10-year-old Syrian refugee child, will be making her way onto the University of Michigan campus as part of a 6,000-mile walk across the U.S. this week.

“This extraordinary event gives us an opportunity to think about how to engage meaningfully and ethically with experiences of disenfranchisement and displacement,” said Sara Blair, vice provost for academic and faculty affairs, and arts and humanities.

The Sept. 23 visit is produced by A2SF in partnership with the Arts Initiative, U-M Museum of Art, the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and the Ann Arbor District Library. The afternoon walk begins at 3:30 p.m. on the south side of N. University at Thayer Street. The evening walk begins at 7 p.m. at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market in Kerrytown. The events are open to the public.

“A2SF is thrilled to join the U-M Arts Initiative and our partners in welcoming Little Amal, an international symbol of human rights, to Ann Arbor,” said Mike Michelon, executive director of Ann Arbor Summer Festival (A2SF).

Amal Walks Across America began in Boston Sept. 7 and ends in San Diego Nov. 5. Stops include Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Dearborn, Flint and Chicago. Over nine weeks, Amal will be welcomed by 1,500-plus artists at more than 100 artistic events across 37 towns and cities. 

The project was created by the British production companies The Walk Productions and Good Chance in collaboration with the South African Handspring Puppet Company.

Little Amal’s visit is just one of a range of programs offered as part of the Arts and Resistance theme semester sponsored by the U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, U-M Museum of Art and U-M Arts Initiative. As part of a fall course called “Virtual Realities, Actual Worlds,” students will engage Amal Walks America to consider creative immersive experiences and their social and aesthetic impact.

The city of Ann Arbor awarded a Mayoral Proclamation from Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor earlier this month.

Cannupa Hanska Luger ‘GIFTS’ U-M campus with public art installation

Part of ongoing campuswide initiative to challenge university history, reexamine what gets memorialized

The University of Michigan Museum of Art has a new face. 

Across the facade of Alumni Memorial Hall—a neoclassical building that opened in 1910 to commemorate U-M students and staff who served in the Mexican-American, Civil, and Spanish-American wars, and home to UMMA—is the experimental installation, “GIFT,” commissioned by artist Cannupa Hanska Luger. 

“GIFT” is a reference to the 1817 Treaty of Fort Meigs, which states that Ottawa, Chippewa and Potawatomi tribes gifted land that was later sold to establish U-M’s endowments and help create its Ann Arbor campus.

To explore the meaning of gifting within both the contexts of colonialism and Indigenous communities, Luger painted the word “GIFT” in white porcelain clay slip on the columns of the building. In the days following, Luger and a team of collaborators will continue to paint around the letters, covering the entire historic facade with a layer of white clay and eventually covering the letters themselves.

Born on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, Luger is an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes of Fort Berthold. According to a statement from his website, Luger creates “monumental installations, sculpture and performance to communicate urgent stories about 21st Century Indigeneity (by combining) critical cultural analysis with dedication and respect for the diverse materials, environments and communities he engages, while provoking diverse audiences to engage with Indigenous peoples and values apart from the lens of colonial social structuring,” 

Luger said the stone of Alumni Memorial Hall is sandstone from Ohio that was quarried and extracted, and rebuilt into a Greek and Romanesque story in Michigan. 

“The architecture itself embeds a history into the campus that was never here,” he said. “It is a monument to civilization and thought and enlightenment; but it is also an imposition and an extraction from the very land that we’re standing on. With ‘GIFT,’ I want to do the same thing, present an imposition drawn from an extraction. 

“Using Kaolin, a white clay from North America, I’m going to resurface the exterior of the Museum, presenting it as white as I think it is. And then in cooperation and relationship with the environment, the weather will remove that thin exterior and re-expose the indigenous stone of the land.”

Through this commission, UMMA opens the door for the campus community to consider the monuments they have inherited and imagine what possible new structures are needed to commemorate histories that have been invisible or underrepresented. 

This is a key example of programming around the U-M theme semester, Arts & Resistance—a cross-campus partnership between UMMA, U-M Arts Initiative and the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts—which reflects on how creativity and making can arise out of oppression and destruction.

Symbolism of “GIFT”

With “GIFT,” Luger activates weather and time as co-conspirators, challenging perceptions of permanence in memory, history and even physical structures. The installation embraces the meaning of “gifting” within Indigenous communities, where it signifies the giver’s success, abundance and ability to offer something of value. 

In this way, “GIFT” prompts critical thinking about cultural perspectives and encourages more nuanced thinking about historic storytelling and mythmaking. 

UMMA is also implicated in this essential process, as museums stand as stewards of cultural history and heritage. The use of the white clay slip and its slow dissolution signifies an invitation to dismantle the existing white-centric structures that guide many museum practices. 

You’re welcome

“GIFT” is but one part of “Cannupa Hanska Luger: You’re Welcome,” Luger’s three-part project that examines the history of the land on which U-M sits and its relationship to broader dialogues about land sovereignty, colonialism, memorialization and the cultural perspectives of and implications for Indigenous communities. 

Ozi Uduma, Cannupa Hanska Luger and Paul Farber, co-curators of "You're Welcome"
Ozi Uduma, Cannupa Hanska Luger and Paul Farber, co-curators of “You’re Welcome”

The in-gallery exhibition of “You’re Welcome” creates a dynamic interplay between several of the artist’s sculptural installations and works selected from UMMA’s expansive collection. 

The project also includes the Monument Lab: Public Classroom, which offers a space for dialogue and further contemplation of key themes within “You’re Welcome,” especially the central curatorial question: “How do we remember on this campus?” 

“As we work together with our communities on creating relevant and meaningful artistic experiences, we necessarily need to examine how museums both produce and disseminate shared cultural history—both as it was once told and also as it is being retold today,” said UMMA Director Christina Olsen. “Our collaboration with Cannupa Hanska Luger allows us to reshape the narrative of a building central to our museum and to our campus to reflect a broader, more nuanced and more accurate history that embraces different perspectives and lifts up diverse cultural experiences.” 

“GIFT” was commissioned by UMMA with support from the U-M Arts Initiative. “Cannupa Hanska Luger: You’re Welcome” is curated by Ozi Uduma, UMMA’s assistant curator of global contemporary art​​, and Paul Farber, director and co-founder of Monument Lab and curator-in-residence for the Arts Initiative. It will remain on view through Feb.18, 2024, and is free and open to the public.