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First recording of lost James P. Johnson blues opera ‘De Organizer,’ libretto by Langston Hughes

Paired with Johnson’s previously unreleased first opera, ‘The Dreamy Kid,’ premiere recording

After only one verified complete performance at Carnegie Hall in May 1941, “De Organizer,” the opera by James P. Johnson and Langston Hughes, vanished. 

The opera was thought to be totally lost until 1997 when the late James Dapogny, a professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance, uncovered an unusual manuscript in the university’s Bentley Historical Library. 

Eva Jessye, chorus master—famously of the Gershwins’ “Porgy and Bess”—and U-M lecturer, donated her collection to the university, beginning U-M’s African American Music Collection at SMTD, and establishing the Eva Jessye Collection at Bentley. Within her collection, Dapogny uncovered a preserved partial vocal score of “De Organizer.”

With the support of Barry Glover Sr., Johnson’s grandson and head of the James P. Johnson Foundation for Music and the Arts, Dapogny worked to restore the full opera, and in 2002 the U-M University Symphony Orchestra completed two unstaged concert performances conducted by U-M professor of music and director of university orchestras, Kenneth Kiesler; the first performance of the work in more than a half century.

In this opera, African American sharecroppers consider creating a union under the vision of “The Organizer,” while facing pressure and intimidation from “The Overseer” not to unionize; ultimately the sharecroppers overpower “The Overseer” and the union is established.

“When Jim Dapogny visited Barry Glover, looking for a score or manuscript containing the orchestral parts of De Organizer, he found a second one-act opera,” Kiesler said. “It’s called ‘The Dreamy Kid,’ based on a preexisting play by Eugene O’Neill. On the cover, Johnson scrawled ‘would make a great evening with De Organizer.'”

In “The Dreamy Kid,” a grandmother on her deathbed is visited by her grandson Dreamy, who, unbeknownst to her, is running from the law after killing a white man. Dreamy sings that the white man “was de one lookin’ for trouble” and that the white man boasted to others that he would “get” Dreamy. Dreamy then learns that the police know where he is, but his grandmother’s plea for him to stay with her through her final hours convinces him to remain by her side and await the approaching police rather than try to escape.

U-M’s University Opera Theatre, the USO and University Productions realized Johnson’s vision by producing a double bill of fully staged, costumed performances of both operas, which included the first-ever performances of “The Dreamy Kid,” in March 2006. Two months later, the cast of U-M students and USO, with Kiesler conducting, recorded the operas in Hill Auditorium on U-M’s campus.

The first full recording of these important works will be released Sept. 8 by Naxos Records. The recording, conducted by Kiesler, features principal singers Darnell Ishmel, Monique Spells, Kenneth Kellogg, Elizabeth Gray, Lori Celeste Hicks, Rabihah Davis Dunn, Olivia Duval, Emery Stephens, Lonel Woods and Branden C.S. Hood, and the USO.

“Had the singers—students at the time—brought only their vocal prowess to the table, it would have been impressive enough, but they also made real these characters and their stories,” Kiesler said.

The aim of this recording and the future publication of the printed music is to make these historic pieces available to the public while shining a light on the operatic compositions of Johnson. The project is part of the ongoing commitment of U-M SMTD to bring attention to underrepresented composers and their work. 

In 2020, carrying this commitment further, Kiesler and SMTD launched Michigan Orchestra Repertoire for Equity to commission, premiere and record 10 works by underrepresented composers over 10 years, which will include an upcoming performance of Nkeiru Okoye’s “When the Caged Bird Sings” in February 2024.

Johnson, perhaps best known for composing “Charleston”—the accompanying dance of which defined an era—served as mentor to Fats Waller and was a known influence on pianists Count Basie, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk. “De Organizer” may have been lost, but over the years it has not been forgotten.

Kiesler—the only conductor who has seen the score of “De Organizer” since 1941—also questions whether the original score was lost, or intentionally made to disappear. 

The content, particularly for its time in Jim Crow era America, was controversial, with its debut and only performance at a workers’ union convention making a powerful statement.

“‘De Organizer’ was premiered at Carnegie Hall during a convention of the Ladies Garment Workers’ Union,” Kiesler said. “We have inherited the understanding that the only printed music, the music used for the premiere, was lost and never found after the premiere.

“Perhaps it was simply boxed up with other conference paraphernalia and lost. But I wonder how this could have happened, and whether it was lost inadvertently or intentionally. It was not unheard of for some music by Black composers to be put aside or to go unpublished.” 

With the original music still lost, Kiesler has gone so far as to ponder whether the release of this recording might prompt someone to come forward with the music originally used at the premiere. Only time will tell.

Hip-hop as a new universal language

ANN ARBOR—Deidre D.S.SENSE Smith has found that, like music itself, hip-hop is becoming a universal language. 

“People from all walks of life have the need and desire to be understood. Even if you don’t comprehend or understand a particular language, we all understand a rhythm in a speech pattern or a song,” said the Detroit singer/songwriter, emcee and first-time University of Michigan faculty member. 

Through her music performance course “Ideas With a Beat: Hip-hop Songwriting,” the Kresge Fellow of Live Performance Art aims to create a safe space for anyone who wants to expand their pallet artistically or is “just curious” about the medium. 

Practicing creative writing through the genre of hip-hop and the discipline of rap in coursework is unseen and unheard of at this level of academia, especially in the Midwest, according to Smith. But it is vital as “an art form rooted in linguistics. There is power in words and in the way you can manipulate words to bring forth a certain emotion and understanding.”

The key principles of hip-hop are love, peace, unity and having fun. And from these principles a foundation of community is built, one in which you contribute what you can to the greater, most beautiful whole. 

“I hope to add on to those traditional components and have my participants actually develop their own ethics and morals that sprout from those principles,” she said. “I don’t think the foundations of hip-hop are made to create parameters or keep you constricted, but they are the roots of what can push you to branch out and develop a better understanding of yourself and the world around you.

“Whether you become a rose garden, an evergreen or an orange tree, whatever beautiful thing springs from it, the roots are those elements of hip-hop.”

Through the application of these elements to their everyday lives, students are encouraged to bring lessons learned in class home to their own communities, contributing to the global society. 

One component of Smith’s course that demonstrates this idea is her “inclusion cipher,” which emphasizes the importance of being present and offering your contributions, however big or small you feel them to be, to a continuum of energy. Whether you contribute an entire verse or just a handclap, you are changing this cipher in the same way we impact our global society through our individual actions. The inclusion cipher creates a shared, unified experience representing every person involved.

There will be writing prompts provided each week, and the course will culminate in a live performance of an original piece by each student. 

“We have to be confident enough to speak up—however shaky your voice might be, step to the mic and tell us who you are through song,” Smith said. 

Creating access to this underrepresented form of artistic expression academically is part of U-M’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in course offerings.

“Ideas With A Beat: Hip-hop Songwriting” (MUSPERF 200) is open to all majors.

The University Musical Society Announces 2022/23 Season

A season opener with Trevor Noah. The Berlin Philharmonic and a lineup of international ensembles. A week-long residency with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The return of the UMS curated series and the No Safety Net renegade festival. And so much more to discover…


Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah

On Friday, September 16, Trevor Noah opens UMS’s 144th season with a bang, bringing his “Back to Abnormal” tour to Hill Auditorium.

Following his widely-viewed virtual talk with U-M students in 2020, the host of Comedy Central’s Emmy and Peabody Award-winning The Daily Show comes to Ann Arbor for his first live UMS stand-up set.


Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis returns to Ann Arbor for a week-long residency that will include two public concerts, a School Day Performance for K-12 students, connections with students at the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance — and a halftime appearance with the Michigan Marching Band!

On Friday, October 14, the ensemble will be joined by the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra and Choirs, as well as the UMS Choral Union, for Marsalis’s epic blues suite, All Rise (Symphony No. 1).

And on Sunday, October 16, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis returns in its big band format for an afternoon of jazz.


Berliner Philharmoniker with Chief Conductor Kirill Petrenko

Berliner Philharmoniker with Chief Conductor Kirill Petrenko

UMS is thrilled to bring back our curated Choral Union Series! The 11 concert series will feature six orchestras, including two different programs with the Berliner Philharmoniker.


Emerson String Quartet; Photo Credit: Jurgen Frank

Emerson String Quartet; Photo Credit: Jurgen Frank

The Chamber Arts series returns to Rackham Auditorium with a mix of UMS favorites and exciting new projects.


École des Sables of Senegal; Photo Credit: Maarten Vanden Abeele

École des Sables of Senegal; Photo Credit: Maarten Vanden Abeele

UMS’s dance series will take place in three beloved venues across Southeast Michigan: the Power Center, the Detroit Opera House, and Hill Auditorium.


Cécile McLorin Salvant

Cécile McLorin Salvant

In five wide-ranging performances, this season’s Jazz Series features performers at the forefront of the genre.


Are we not drawn onward to new erA, Ontroerend Goed; Photo Credit: Mirjam Devriendt

Are we not drawn onward to new erA, Ontroerend Goed; Photo Credit: Mirjam Devriendt

The festival launches with the Belgian theater company Ontroerend Goed with a uniquely palindromic work about the environment — a piece that uses creative stagecraft to give hope that we can undo some of the damage that has already been done.

Details on the remaining productions and artists, along with a robust set of contextual activities, will be announced in Fall 2022.


Including the great Mexican ranchera singer Aida Cuevas (Friday, November 4); the annual performances of Handel’s Messiah (Saturday-Sunday, December 3-4); and a double bill of Béla Fleck’s My Bluegrass Heart and Punch Brothers (Friday, December 16).

One Night, Two World Premieres at U-M

In one night at Hill Auditorium, the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD) will host the world premieres of two notable new U-M commissions, both written by Black American composers. Tethered Voices, composed by SMTD alum James Lee III (BM ’99, piano; MM ’01, piano and composition; DMA ’05, composition), will be performed by the University Symphony Orchestra (USO) and a narrator. Damien Geter’s The Justice Symphony will be performed by the USO as well as the University Choir, Chamber Choir, Orpheus Singers, and soloist Goitsemang Lehobye, an SMTD doctoral candidate in voice. The evening will conclude with the USO performing Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2. The concert takes place at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor on Wednesday, April 6, at 8 pm, with free admission (no tickets required) and will also be available to view via livestream.

Tethered Voices

James Lee III

James Lee III

Lee’s Tethered Voices is the first work commissioned as part of the Michigan Orchestra Repertoire for Equity (MORE) project, created with the intention of diversifying the orchestral repertoire. Established in 2020 by Grammy-nominated conductor Kenneth Kiesler, director of university orchestras and professor of conducting, MORE will commission one new orchestral work each year for ten years. These works will be premiered and recorded at U-M, serving to expand the classical orchestral repertoire and bring important contemporary artistic voices to the fore. Kiesler’s hope is that MORE will help catalyze changes throughout the world of music education and performance. “I see our role as educating our students to be citizens, beyond being musicians and through being musicians,” Kiesler said. “I would like them to realize that they can be ambassadors or disciples for the arts beyond a very narrow repertoire, honoring tradition while also advancing that tradition by amplifying new voices.”

The composition Tethered Voices began with a new poem written by conductor and poet Kalena Bovell. “I wanted to commission works that would speak to the times we’re living in,” Kiesler noted. “Kalena Bovell sent me her poem, called ‘Tethered Voices,’ which she wrote in the aftermath of the George Floyd tragedy. It’s powerful. It spoke to me, and it immediately sparked the idea that a setting of ‘Tethered Voices’ for narrator or speaker with orchestra would be extraordinary.” When Kiesler asked Bovell if her poem could be incorporated into a new composition, she readily agreed. “I never thought the poem I wrote after the death of George Floyd would reach anyone beyond the circle of friends and family it was shared with,” she shared. “It is such an honor to be a part of the MORE project because of its importance and the impact that it will undoubtedly have on music education and conversations surrounding difficult topics.”

Kenneth Kiesler

Kenneth Kiesler

Kiesler immediately thought of Lee as the composer for this new work. “I had been impressed by other music he had sent me, so I called and asked him to write the piece,” he stated. Lee was similarly struck by Bovell’s poem, describing it as “compelling, quite stunning.” He recognized that there was a burgeoning interest in addressing “this kind of subject matter through art,” and he wanted his work to contribute to and further heighten that interest.

Lee hopes that his composition, combined with Bovell’s words, will inspire listeners to look deep within themselves and ask searching questions. And, he stated, if they recognize that they share some of the discriminatory attitudes decried in the poem, he hopes they will ask themselves “how might they change their mindset to really respect and love someone just because they are a human being, a child of Adam.” Bovell expressed her aim in writing her poem: “My hope in writing ‘Tethered Voices’ was to give people a first-hand perspective of what it meant to walk in Black Skin and to hopefully start conversations to change the narrative around microaggressions people of color deal with regularly.”

Lee’s compositions address a variety of topics, often inspired by biblical literature or history. He has recently been exploring connections between the history of African Americans and Native Americans. His goal as a composer is to create works that go far beyond entertainment. “I really like writing music that I feel can reach down to the inner soul of the individual who’s listening,” he shared, “so they can really be touched by it.” He described receiving an email recently after a work of his was performed by the St. Louis Symphony. The email was sent by an audience member who had been attending orchestra concerts for 38 years but had never before been moved to contact a composer. “They told me they were really moved by the music,” he recalled. “I really want my music to speak and say something to the listener.”

Lee’s works have been performed by major symphony orchestras throughout the United States. He is especially looking forward to having Tethered Voices premiere at U-M. “I always have great feelings for Ann Arbor, for the University of Michigan,” he stated. “I had great experiences there. I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now, if it were not for my training there in the composition program. I’m very grateful to be able to come back.”

The Justice Symphony

Eugene Rogers

Eugene Rogers

In 2019, while thinking about future choral orchestral works to be performed at Michigan, Eugene Rogers knew one thing for certain: he wanted to continue his work of championing the expression of BIPOC experiences in choral works. He admired the work of Damien Geter, a rising star among classical composers whose work, Rogers stated, “uses the music of African Americans – whether they be civil rights songs, gospel, jazz, or spirituals – and then puts them in a classical context.” So Rogers, director of choral activities and associate professor of choral conducting (as well as a U-M alum), reached out to Geter to discuss working together.

Geter told Rogers he’d been thinking about writing a symphonic and choral work incorporating anthems from the civil rights movement, a work he planned to name The Justice Symphony. Rogers loved the idea. The work ultimately came to fruition as a joint commission from the SMTD Brehm Choral Commissioning Fund and the Washington Chorus, of which Rogers is the artistic director. The Brehm fund, established in 2017 by William (BS ’50, MS ’52) and Delores Brehm, supports the commissioning of new choral works from established composers to be premiered by SMTD choirs.

Damien Geter

Damien Geter

A three-movement work, The Justice Symphony features several traditional songs and hymns that gave voice to the hopes and struggles of Black Americans during the civil rights movement, amplifying their message and inspiring millions. Geter’s work features familiar songs made new by his distinctive approach. “They’re written in ways that you haven’t heard before,” he noted. “The melody is pretty much the same, but everything that’s happening around the melody is different.” Rogers spoke of the significance of The Justice Symphony in terms of the training of students performing the work. “It is very important for our students to be able to sing and perform in many different styles,” he noted. “A work like this in the academy gives students more exposure to disparate styles, which are now becoming a part of the repertoire that they will be expected to play and perform in some settings in the professional world.” In addition, Rogers views the commission and performance of The Justice Symphony as an important expression of the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion. “The themes of this work deal not just with African American freedom and equality, but the freedom of humanity,” he noted. “It is about any person who is experiencing injustice.”

The first movement focuses on “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,” which existed as a spiritual (with the refrain “keep your hand on the plow, hold on”) long before the civil rights era; the spiritual’s lyrics were modified by a woman named Alice Wine, and during the 1960s the song became an unofficial anthem, sung at protests throughout the South.
The second movement features the hymn “Precious Lord,” which has special meaning for Geter. “I picked that piece for two reasons; one was personal, because it was my mom’s favorite hymn. And it was also the favorite hymn of Martin Luther King Jr., which Mahalia Jackson sang at his funeral.” That song, written by Thomas A. Dorsey and a standard in the Black church community, bears significant historical importance, Rogers noted: “That is considered the first gospel piece ever written in America.”

The third movement contains a number of songs important to the civil rights movement. The movement begins with “We Shall Overcome,” though Geter made a notable change to the lyrics. “This whole idea of we shall overcome someday doesn’t sound hopeful to me,” he shared. “So I’ve changed someday to now. We shall overcome now.” It concludes with “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song often referred to as the Black national anthem. “There’s a lot of history included in all of those songs in terms of their place in our country,” commented Rogers. “We think about the Selma march, we think about the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Many of these songs were sung during that era, when African Americans were really trying to find their equal place in this country. It’s American history.”

Geter’s hope is that The Justice Symphony will leave audiences inspired not just by the historical relevance of the civil rights–era songs, but by the significance they still have in contemporary society. He pointed out that the songs he incorporated into the symphony “have been around since folks were enslaved, and they were used and retooled during the civil rights movement to fit the message, to forward that cause.” He went on to say, “this music is the backbone of this nation. If you talk to anybody who lived through the civil rights movement, they will talk about how music was one of the most important aspects of the movement. And it still is.”
Geter has written music in a variety of styles, and his compositions range from intimate chamber music and vocal works to full-scale orchestral works and operas. Much of his work is focused on social justice, and all of it is intended to further his personal mission: “bringing Black music into the concert hall, in whatever capacity and whatever genre.” He commented that “classical music is not just white guys from Europe writing symphonies. So often, I don’t see myself represented in that way in an art that I love so much and have loved my entire life. And so, this is my opportunity to give back.”

Geter’s path to becoming a composer took several twists and turns. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Old Dominion University, studying trumpet and music education. His master’s degree, from Indiana State University, is in conducting. He is a professional vocalist, performing with the Metropolitan Opera and major orchestras. And all along, he has composed music. “My background is kind of weird,” he stated. “It’s not one straight trajectory. It’s kind of all over the place, but I think that really has fueled the artist that I am today.”

Originally planned for 2021, the premiere was delayed by the COVID pandemic and ultimately rescheduled for April 2022. Geter is especially pleased for his work to premiere at U-M, given that many of his teachers – including Dennis Zeisler and Frank Ward – and colleagues are Michigan alumni. He also cited his admiration for two internationally acclaimed Black opera singers who have taught at U-M: George Shirley, the Joseph Edgar Maddy Distinguished University Emeritus Professor of Voice, and the late Shirley Verrett, who was the James Earl Jones Distinguished Professor of Voice. “I’m so excited to hear the piece live for the first time,” shared Geter. “I can’t wait.”

The arts add fresh perspective to social impact design discussion at “Size Up” event

ANN ARBOR—Equal parts scholarly gathering and collaborative happening, “Size Up: Changing Paradigms in Social Impact Design” aims to spark hybrid, flexible and engaging conversations through a series of workshops led by Detroit-based artists and activists. The event, 3-9 p.m. Thursday, March 31, at the University of Michigan Art & Architecture Building, stands as a prototype for what the blended future of academic happenings could look like. The symposium makes it possible to engage locally while still tapping into global expertise, and creates multiple layers of equity and access by ensuring that scholarship is not siloed from the communities they seek to impact, organizers say.

Faculty from the U-M Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning will be moderating panel discussions to invite reflection and input from design and public sector experts. The event is free and open to the public.

Germane to the mission of “Size Up” is its participatory framework which encourages attendees to question expertise; it asks students and faculty to learn from each other, equalizing the production and source of knowledge. Short workshops are held after each speaker’s presentation providing a platform to “hash out the ideas live” and collectively digest their hypothetical impact.

“It’s a way for us to first equalize the playing field between the international experts and our Detroit-based experts to make sense of what is considered in a scholarly manner and understand how it really impacts communities and how we work and live,” said Anya Sirota, associate dean for academic initiatives at Taubman. “We treat everyone equally in their expertise. I think that’s very important for us from a DEI framework.  Scholarship is not disengaged from local actors. We’re in it together.”

Social impact design bridges many disciplines, attracting those seeking to address humanitarian issues and to make a positive impact in the world. For this reason, the Taubman College has also made great efforts to actively infuse the arts and the value of building and supporting culture into the discussion. Bringing in musicians from Detroit, including My Detroit Players, DJ Los, and Emily Rogers, the 2022 Wallenberg Symposium emphasizes diversity, equity and inclusion, while helping to debunk the idea that entertainment arts and scholarship are separate, Sirota said. 

In the process, the event showcases work that equitably addresses social problems, especially in places where design is traditionally unavailable or inaccessible. 

“All of this is not about how DEI is aspirational. It’s actually living the concepts by introducing radical horizontality in terms of who produces new knowledge,” she said. 

“For me, this is a DEI framework lived and not projected. I think we’re going to work very hard to start living by this ethos and these concepts. Rather than planning for the future, I think we’re going to start now.”

Sirota and Jose Sanchez, a Detroit-based architect, game designer and theorist, are moderators for the event, which is also sponsored by U-M Public Design Corps.

Speakers: Global leaders in social impact design

The Collectif Etc. (Maxence Bohn) is a nonprofit organization based in France that collaborates with local communities to address the use of public spaces.

Chokwe Antar Lumumba is the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi. 

Niklas Maak is the arts editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and an architecture theoretician working in Berlin.

Mitsuhiro Sakakibara is a Kyoto-based architectural and urban researcher. 

Tatjana Schneider is a professor for history and theory of architecture and the city at the Technical University Braunschweig, Germany. 


Facilitators: Detroit-based artists and activists

Sherrine Azab is the co-director of the Detroit-based theater ensemble A Host of People

Jake Hooker is a writer, director, projection designer, scholar and educator. He teaches in the U-M Department of Theatre.

Billy Mark is an interdisciplinary artist who lives and works in Detroit.

 Gina Reichert is an artist, architect and community developer who founded Power House Productions.

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist and multimedia artist. 


Music: Live performance 

My Detroit Players features bassist Emily Rogers, a producer who works as a songwriter, musician, dancer, choreographer, event curator, musical director, host and DJ. Other members include: JRGotTheHiTS (drums), Shaphan Maestro Williams (keys),  Duminie Deporres (guitar), DJ Los (turntables), Zac Land (trombone) and Nick Speed (vocals and music production center).

The symposium continues the tradition of honoring the humanitarian work of Raoul Wallenberg, a Taubman College alumnus distinguished for his courageous actions in German-occupied Hungary during World War II. 

More information: Jacob Comerci

A Rare Opportunity: SMTD Musical Theatre Students Undertake Extensive Preparation for Roles in UMS’ Production of Fiddler on the Roof

Musical theatre students in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD) have countless opportunities to learn from world-class scholars and practitioners: in courses taught by faculty, in masterclasses conducted by industry professionals, in visits from alumni working on Broadway. An upcoming production offers a group of musical theatre students an entirely different educational opportunity: the chance to perform alongside Broadway actors, in a production led by a professional creative team—including Broadway director Sarna Lapine and music director Andy Einhorn—and accompanied by major orchestras. The University Musical Society (UMS) is producing lightly staged concert performances of Fiddler on the Roof in Hill Auditorium, February 19-20, starring Broadway performers Chuck Cooper (Tevye) and Loretta Ables Sayre (Golde), along with 14 musical theatre students. An additional six students serve as understudies for the production. The Ann Arbor performances will feature the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra and will be the first live performances of John Williams’ orchestral arrangement of the movie score. The Williams score had not been preserved in written form in the 50 years since the film’s premiere and had to be reconstructed. Two weeks after the Ann Arbor performances, the production will head to Philadelphia, where it will be performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

“I think that this show speaks to everybody. And the idea of how we’re born into traditions and how we push forward as a society, so when we see the struggles of this one particular family it’s really an extension of everyone,” Music Director and Conductor Andy Einhorn said. 

  • This week, Broadway professionals worked alongside @umichmusicaltheatre students in their production of “Fiddler on the Roof in Concert,” debuting in Hill Auditorium on Feb. 19.
  • This week, Broadway professionals worked alongside @umichmusicaltheatre students in their production of “Fiddler on the Roof in Concert,” debuting in Hill Auditorium on Feb. 19.
  • This week, Broadway professionals worked alongside @umichmusicaltheatre students in their production of “Fiddler on the Roof in Concert,” debuting in Hill Auditorium on Feb. 19.
  • This week, Broadway professionals worked alongside @umichmusicaltheatre students in their production of “Fiddler on the Roof in Concert,” debuting in Hill Auditorium on Feb. 19.
  • This week, Broadway professionals worked alongside @umichmusicaltheatre students in their production of “Fiddler on the Roof in Concert,” debuting in Hill Auditorium on Feb. 19.
  • This week, Broadway professionals worked alongside @umichmusicaltheatre students in their production of “Fiddler on the Roof in Concert,” debuting in Hill Auditorium on Feb. 19.
  • This week, Broadway professionals worked alongside @umichmusicaltheatre students in their production of “Fiddler on the Roof in Concert,” debuting in Hill Auditorium on Feb. 19.
The beloved stage musical and film – based on the Yiddish-language stories of Sholem Aleichem – explores the tension between tradition and evolving norms in Anatevka, a poor Jewish shtetl (village), in early 20th-century Russia. Tevye the dairyman extols the traditions that govern Anatevka, dreams of a more comfortable existence, and seeks to arrange favorable marriages for his daughters. His daughters, on the other hand, long to depart from tradition, and the shtetl faces imminent threats to its existence from pogroms, the deadly anti-Semitic massacres that displaced scores of Jewish communities in Czarist Russia. Seeking to raise awareness of the relevance of Fiddler on the Roof to contemporary events, including a rise in anti-Semitism and global migration crises, UMS partnered with several University of Michigan departments – the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies, the Center for Russian and East European Studies, the Copernicus Center for Polish Studies, and the Center for European Studies – to present programs for the public in conjunction with the performance. Michael McElroy, chair of the Department of Musical Theatre and the Arthur E. and Martha S. Hearron Endowed Professor of Musical Theatre, says that examining Fiddler’s context was a vital component of the experience for the students in the production. “We’re looking at all these traditional musicals through a new lens. How do we explore our history—which is steeped with a lot of baggage—and find the things about traditional musical theatre that are worth celebrating,” he said. Keenly aware of students’ concerns about telling the stories of communities they aren’t a part of, McElroy wanted to take the steps necessary to help his students feel more comfortable in their roles. It’s a question, he noted, of “how we as artists step into other spaces that don't necessarily represent our own lived experience.” He acknowledged that all artists do that, but, he asked, “if we're saying yes, that's what we're going to do as a community, then what is our responsibility?” The answer, McElroy determined, was to learn and understand – about Jewish traditions, about Yiddish language and culture, and about the lives of Jews in Eastern European shtetls. Before the roles in Fiddler had even been cast, he gathered all of the musical theatre students to meet with Rabbi Lisa Stella, director of religious life and education at U-M Hillel, Rabbi Josh Whinston of Congregation Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor. Students also met with Christi-Anne Castro, interim director of diversity, equity, and inclusion for SMTD. “I was really honored to be asked to talk to them,” Stella says, “and I think it showed sensitivity on the part of everyone involved.” McElroy began the process by asking whether the Jewish students in the department and the rabbis felt it was appropriate for, as McElroy states, “a diverse group of artists to tell a story that is steeped in Jewish culture and tradition, like Fiddler on the Roof.” The answer was a resounding yes.

The characters of ‘Fiddler’ come to life this weekend with the help of costume designer Beth Goldenberg.

Once the roles were cast, McElroy scheduled for the students a series of sessions with U-M professors and other educators, inviting them to meet with the students and address a wide range of topics. One of the guests was Mira Sussman, a Jewish educator and the resettlement resource development manager for Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County. Along with Stella, Sussman spoke with the students about Jewish identity and history, explaining that “Judaism is not just an ethnicity or a religion, but it is also a way of life and a culture.” And while there are abundant examples of persecution throughout Jewish history, Sussman emphasized the joyfulness of her Jewish identity, noting “that trauma and discrimination is not the totality of our lived experience.” The session concluded with the teaching of the hora, the traditional circle dance that is a feature of many Jewish weddings and bar and bat mitzvah celebrations. Levinson told the students that the era depicted in Fiddler was a time of significant transition in Eastern Europe; many people were embracing revolutionary ideologies, he noted, and “rejecting tradition and rejecting religion and rejecting hierarchies of all kinds.” At the same time, Levinson asked the students to think about the fact that Fiddler reflects not just the era depicted in the musical, but the era in which it was written. He encouraged them to consider the musical, written in the early 1960s, as “an expression of postwar American Jewish culture.” Levinson pointed out that the themes explored in Fiddler – “conflicts between tradition and modernity, conflicts about gender, about the role of individual decision, love, [and] yearning in relation to the needs of the community” – resonate with people of many cultures worldwide.

In support of the performance, you can find a collection of Polish posters of Fiddler on the Roof from the last four decades on display through March 18 at Weiser Hall (Gallery Space, 5th Floor).

In another session, Stella gathered with the students to discuss Shabbat, sharing relevant passages from the Torah. “I wanted to ground them a little bit in the context of what the Jewish Sabbath is,” she says, “and how significant it is in the framework of Jewish life.” Stella also gave the students a sense of how Eastern European Jews in the time of Fiddler would have celebrated Shabbat. And finally, she shared with them her own Shabbat traditions, setting up a table with a tablecloth, her grandmother’s candlesticks, and a kiddush cup, the special receptacle for the wine that accompanies the blessing for Shabbat. Mikhail Krutikov, chair of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures and the Preston R. Tisch Professor of Judaic Studies, met with the students via Zoom and painted a picture of life in the shtetl, sharing images, describing the marketplace, and explaining that Jews and Christians coexisted in these villages and surrounding areas. "Understanding the historical context adds depth and complexity to the performance and helps actors create more nuanced and multilayered characters,” Krutikov says. The process involved in preparing for this production of Fiddler was not without its challenges. But this work is essential, says McElroy. “How do we earn that right, to step into an experience that is not our own? By doing the work and bringing your empathy, bringing your humanity, and honoring [that story] through telling it in the fullest possible way,” he says.

New York native drums up performance, teaching career

Drums have always been a part of Ian Antonio’s life.

He’s been around them so long, he cannot pinpoint when he first started playing.

“It’s probably pre-conscious memory,” said Antonio, assistant professor of music in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. “The instruments and sticks were just laying around the house. It’s just one of the things we did at home.”

Both his parents are retired public school music educators, and his father is a percussionist so Antonio would watch him give private lessons. Those early years of exposure led to a lifetime of playing, performing and teaching those same instruments that were lying around the house.

Antonio grew up in Albany, New York, and started playing in his elementary school band in third grade. He was blessed with a teacher who, despite being stern and “old school,” was a percussionist himself and helped nurture a love for the instruments.

His future was clear from a young age.

“Percussion has always been central in my life,” he said. “My best friends in high school were percussionists in the youth orchestra and percussion ensemble and band program. So it was something I never really thought twice about.

Ian Antonio.

“When people ask you what you want to do later in life, I never had anything else to say.”

Antonio said Albany is home to a strong community of percussionists, many of whom, like Antonio, studied with the legendary teacher Richard Albagli. One of those was the principal timpanist in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra with whom Antonio studied while attending the Manhattan School of Music.

“It was kind of in the water, I think,” he said.

He thought for a time he would pursue an orchestral career. But while studying percussion ensemble and contemporary ensemble as an undergraduate, he found his calling.

While at the Manhattan School of Music, Antonio joined Wet Ink Ensemble, which formed when he first started at the school. His first concert with the ensemble was in 1999, and he still performs with the group a dozen or so times a year. The New York Times named it “Best Ensemble” of 2018.

“It’s evolved over the years,” Antonio said of Wet Ink, for which he serves as co-director. “It started as a sort of loose collective, but for the past dozen or so years, the group has operated as a tight-knit ensemble of composers and performers.

“We work in a sort of band-like fashion, making small tweaks, suggesting sounds and techniques, finally arriving at the premiere. Sometimes authorship is a bit fuzzy because everyone is contributing to the result.”

One of Antonio’s most memorable performances occurred in 2016 with Josh Modney, the Wet Ink violinist, when they played at the Park Avenue Armory in New York.

“It involved a hundred live sheep on stage,” he said. “They had to get trucked in every day from a farm in Pennsylvania. They wandered out from a foggy nook in the back of the stage.”

Antonio is also a member of Talujon, a group of percussionists all with New York roots or ties. It is less active than Wet Ink, which is not exactly a bad thing for a musician who has performed on four continents but is now a father of two young daughters.

“The days of three months on the road in a van are sadly and not sadly behind me,” he said. “I miss playing in a different town each night, but I don’t miss sleeping on floors for weeks on end.”

While he has been performing for over two decades, he’s only recently joined the ranks of teaching. He spent five years teaching at the State University of New York at Purchase before coming to U-M before the 2020-21 school year.

Teaching has provided its own rewards — much like the ones his parents reaped when he was younger.

“Percussion is such a giant family of instruments,” he said. “Anything you strike, shake or scrape, and pretty much anything else other people don’t want to do. That’s one thing I talk to my students about. I think of percussion as a comprehensive approach to music making rather than only acquiring specific skills for specific instruments. It’s approaching instruments, objects, and situations with a musical mindset.”

While his daughters have not yet taken up drumming like their father did as a child, his 2 ½-year-old is intrigued by one instrument in particular.

“She’s been saying she really wants to play a marching bass drum. We live in Ypsilanti and the Eastern Michigan marching band marched through our neighborhood this past fall,” he said. “She’s been all about the marching bass drum since then.”


What memorable moment in the workplace stands out?

The first time I entered the balcony at Hill Auditorium to hear the School of Music, Theatre & Dance’s large ensembles perform really stands out. The talent of the students and the incredible acoustics and awe-inspiring design of Hill combined to make an unforgettable moment.

What can’t you live without?


Name your favorite spot on campus.

There is a small, forested area outside my office window, between the new Dance Building and the south side of the Music Building. Several tall trees in the grove reflect the seasonal changes and are super responsive to the wind and sunlight. I could stare out that window for a long time.

What inspires you?

I’m lucky to be surrounded by inspiring people at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance every day. The students constantly amaze me with new ideas and fresh approaches and my faculty colleagues are simply the best.

What are you currently reading?

Every week is a race to not get behind on my New Yorker subscription. They can pile up fast!

Who had the greatest influence on your career path?

It’s tough to name just one person, because I’ve had the great fortune of working with and learning from so many incredible people. One crucial influence on my musical journey was Claire Heldrich, who was director of Manhattan School of Music’s Percussion Ensemble and Contemporary Ensemble in my early undergraduate years. The attention to detail she brought to her work every day was jaw-dropping, and her dedication to the music of today inspired me to consider reorienting my musical path as well.

Career quandary: Engineering or opera?

Nature or nurture?

Sebastian Catana, BSE ’95, is one of those rare creatures equally adept at the arts and sciences.

Immersed in opera since conception, Sebastian was the only child of a pair of renowned performers in Romania. As his mother tells it, the mathematical genius was born to pursue music. It’s in his nature.

“When I was pregnant, I kept singing until my 28th week, so actually Sebastian was on stage with me,” says his mother Emilia Catana. “In our house, all we listened to was opera.”

Sebastian Catana, BSE ’95, holding the iconic Rigoletto’s hat in his hands.

The boy saw his first opera performance when he was 4 years old. His mother was on stage.

“He was so impressed,” she says. “I think at that moment, in his mind, he wanted to be an opera singer.”

In 1990, the widowed Emilia looked to the U.S. after the fall of the Berlin Wall. She moved with her son to Dearborn, Mich., just as Romania’s iron-fisted dictator Nicolae Ceausescu lost power.

A gift for math

Catana spoke very little English when he enrolled at Dearborn High School (DHS). He often stood to reply when teachers addressed him, amusing his American classmates. Everything changed when a teacher, Gordon L. Bremenkampf, BS ’63/MA ’67, discovered his keen aptitude for math. It became their shared language.

“It didn’t take long for me to realize what a jewel he was,” Bremenkampf says. “He was undoubtedly the finest student I had encountered in my 39 years at DHS. He was brilliant, motivated, disciplined, and mature.”

Bremenkampf, who also taught at Henry Ford College (HFC), felt compelled to nurture Catana’s unlimited potential. He helped enroll the high school student in calculus courses at the college.

“I gained an ever-increasing appreciation for not only his academic prowess but his personal qualities,” says the mentor. “Sebastian was friendly, outgoing, and modest. I took him on several outings to Ann Arbor that summer, touring the campus, visiting the engineering facilities, and wandering through the bookstores. He belonged at U-M after completing high school; we both knew that.”

Getting into U-M

One Saturday in 1991, Bremenkampf and Catana met with the international admissions and recruiting coordinator at U-M. Romanian authorities had refused repeated requests from DHS for Catana’s school records in retribution for the family fleeing the country. The admissions team assured him they would evaluate his academic performance at DHS, HFC, and on the SAT. Bremenkampf was confident Catana would be accepted.

Gordon L. Bremenkampf, BS ’63/ MA ’67, (left) helped Catana enroll at U-M.

“As an alum myself, one of my obvious motivations in taking Sebastian to the Office of Admissions was to recruit a gifted student and, therefore, enhance the University’s reputation for excellence,” he says.

Catana scored 780 (out of 800) on the math portion of the SAT. U-M admitted him under two conditions: He had to pass the TOEFL test of English proficiency, and the administration would monitor his academic performance throughout his freshman year.

“My education at U-M was an exciting, challenging, and transformative full four years of my life, during which I learned so much about the world and myself,” Catana says. “I remember a world-class faculty and student body, an amazing diversity of people and ideas on a beautiful and welcoming campus.”

He completed a five-year program at U-M in four, graduating magna cum laude with his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. He subsequently earned his master’s degree in chemical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Bremenkampf’s nurturing had worked.

A passion for opera

While pursuing his doctorate in chemical engineering at Carnegie Mellon, Catana met Claudia Pinza, founder of the Ezio Pinza Council for American Singers (EPCASO) in Pittsburgh. Named after Pinza’s late father, a prominent actor and opera singer, EPCASO sponsors opera training programs in Italy. Catana enrolled in Pinza’s voice performance class at nearby Duquesne University. Pinza was so impressed by the talented baritone that she invited him to tour and perform in Europe. In 1999, Catana earned his performer’s degree/artist diploma from Duquesne.

Suddenly the multi-talented artist was at a career crossroads. His doctorate was nearly complete. But the stage also beckoned. In the end, he made his professional opera debut in 2001, singing in Les Huguentos at New York City’s Carnegie Hall.

Catana performed several roles with the Baltimore Opera Company for the 2001-02 season and the Seattle Opera for the 2002-03 season. From there, he appeared in a special concert with the National Symphony Orchestra in Mexico.

Sebastian Catana, BSE ’95.

The Met

In 2003, the artist made his debut at the New York Metropolitan Opera, better known as the Met, one of the most prestigious operatic venues in the world. He played the role of Schaunard in La Boheme.

“The Met was fantastic,” says Catana. “You work with the best singers, conductors, and directors – I can’t even begin to express it.”

His mother attended the debut, along with Bremenkampf, Pinza, and Dr. John L. Anderson, former dean of the Carnegie Mellon College of Engineering.

“One of my greatest joys was to see Sebastian sing the role of Schaunard in La Boheme,” says Bremenkampf, who was seated in the director’s box. “I can’t quite describe what it was like to see him come on stage [at the Met] and fill that 4,000-seat auditorium with his beautiful voice.”

The two remain close to this day.

“Gordon Bremenkampf has been my teacher, my friend, my mentor, my counselor – everything,” Catana says. “He is a fantastic man who has had a huge influence on my career. He helped me get into college. He believed in me, and it is truly a blessing to have him in my life.”

Putting in the work

Catana spent nearly five years at the Met. Some of his roles included Fiorello in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Marullo in Rigoletto, Morales in Carmen, and Valentin in Faust. He has toured opera houses throughout Europe and Israel for the past decade and currently is playing Tonio in Pagliacci. The production, directed by Cristian Taraborrelli, is at the Teatro Carlo Felice di Genova in Genoa, Italy.

Rigoletto Sebastian Catana, BSE 95, pleading with the courtiers

“Tonio is one of the greatest roles in baritone repertoire,” says Catana, who is performing the role for the first time. “It’s a difficult part to sing; it’s a difficult part to act. It takes a lot out of you. If you do it too early, you might harm your voice.”

No regrets

Catana as the eponymous character in Nabucco.

These days, Catana is based in Pittsburgh, living a life far different than a chemical engineer. He rehearses 6-8 hours daily, sometimes longer. He favors the operas by Giuseppe Verdi, including Aida, Otello, Falstaff, Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, and La Traviata. He has won awards and accolades from the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation Voice Competition, the Giulio Gari Foundation International Voice Competition, and the Loren L. Zachary Society National Vocal Competition.

“I always enjoyed the intellectual challenge of engineering and appreciate the education I received at U-M, but I’m much more passionate about what I do now,” says Catana.

At first, Bremenkampf was disappointed that Catana quit engineering, especially given his command of mathematics and physics.

“Yes, I initially thought he was making a mistake,” his mentor says now. “That was one of many examples in my life where I was wrong, as evidenced by his tremendous success on the stage.”

U-M alumna delivers ‘out of this world’ performance at U-M Museum of Natural History

ANN ARBOR—Stirring music and astronomical images come together in a powerful new piano performance by University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance alumna Melissa Coppola (DMA ’21, MM ’16). “Lights in the Sky,” which premiered as a short film in July 2021 at the Stamps Auditorium as part of her doctoral thesis, is a multimedia concert inspired by the cosmos.  “My idea for this concert came in the summer of 2019 when I was inspired by a visit to the U-M Museum of Natural History—while I was there, I decided to check out a planetarium show,” said Coppola in an intro to the performance, which is now posted on YouTube. “I was so inspired by the peaceful experience of curiously gazing up into space, and as a musician, I couldn’t help but think of what kind of music might accompany the experience.” In March 2020, after COVID-19 forced her to cancel the onsite concert scheduled in the planetarium and dome theater at UMMNH, Coppola began to work with the Duderstadt Center’s video studio team, where she was able to realize the program as a virtual concert. ‘Launching’ the Duderstadt Center video studio’s new Steinway grand piano into outer space, the performance features musical selections by Urmas Sisask, György Ligeti, Claude Debussy, Missy Mazzoli and George Crumb. While playing, Coppola is surrounded by stunning visuals generated from U-M’s planetarium, NASA and the European Southern Observatory in Garching, Germany. 
  • Melissa Coppola’s doctoral thesis “Lights in Sky”, a multimedia concert inspired by the cosmos, premiered in July 2021 at the U-M Stamps Auditorium.
  • Melissa Coppola’s doctoral thesis “Lights in Sky”, a multimedia concert inspired by the cosmos, premiered in July 2021 at the U-M Stamps Auditorium.
  • Melissa Coppola’s doctoral thesis “Lights in Sky”, a multimedia concert inspired by the cosmos, premiered in July 2021 at the U-M Stamps Auditorium.
  • Melissa Coppola’s doctoral thesis “Lights in Sky”, a multimedia concert inspired by the cosmos, premiered in July 2021 at the U-M Stamps Auditorium.
  • Melissa Coppola’s doctoral thesis “Lights in Sky”, a multimedia concert inspired by the cosmos, premiered in July 2021 at the U-M Stamps Auditorium.
  • Melissa Coppola’s doctoral thesis “Lights in Sky”, a multimedia concert inspired by the cosmos, premiered in July 2021 at the U-M Stamps Auditorium.
Coppola says she originally came to U-M for graduate school because of SMTD's renowned programs and the opportunity to play in halls like Hill Auditorium.  Since then, she says her experience has been both awesome and challenging. “The halls are amazing, and the many performance opportunities have helped me grow immensely—being a part of such large, multidisciplinary productions has been absolutely transformative,” she said.

Fall 2021 Penny Stamps Speaker Series line-up announced

A new season of the Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series will connect audiences to new media experiences with respected leaders and innovators from a broad spectrum of creative fields in partnership with Detroit Public Television and PBS Books.

While the Stamps Speaker Series plans to bring back the in-per­son the­atri­cal expe­ri­ence soon, this sea­son will con­tinue to present a vir­tual series that audiences beyond Ann Arbor will be able to experience each Thursday night from the comfort of home.

“Through the dig­i­tal frame, the Penny Stamps Speaker Series con­tinues to meet artists where they are, while also look­ing to pro­vide the local audi­ence with many in-per­son oppor­tu­ni­ties to expe­ri­ence the work of the guests first hand through gallery exhibitions,” said Chrisstina Hamilton, director of the Penny Stamps Speaker Series at the University of Michigan Stamps School of Art & Design.

The fall 2021 lineup includes 11 speaker series events including renowned trans­me­dia artist Stephanie Dink­ins, New York based artist, writer and scholar Coco Fusco and award win­ning Ghana­ian-British archi­tect Sir David Adjaye. Hamilton also said that they plan to offer access to never-before-released events from the Penny Stamps Speaker Series archive.

All speaker series events will be webcast on Thursdays at 8 p.m at the U-M Stamps Website, at and on the Penny Stamps Series Facebook page. Audiences can also tune in to watch talks and join the conversation on the Penny Stamps Series Facebook page. Pending speaker permission, most events will be archived in the Past Lectures/Videos section.

Fall 2021 Penny Stamps Speaker Series Events


September 16, 2021 

Stephanie Dink­ins cre­ates plat­forms for dia­logue about arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence as it inter­sects race, gen­der, aging, and our future histories.

Through her work, Dink­ins has become a cen­tral fig­ure nation­ally and inter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized for expos­ing bias and inequity within arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence sys­tems. Weav­ing together art pro­duc­tion and exhi­bi­tion, com­­mu­nity-based work­shops and pub­lic speak­ing all with the inten­tion of encour­ag­ing action towards mak­ing arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence sys­tems more inclu­sive, acces­si­ble and transparent.

In her Stamps talk, Dink­ins will dis­cuss her new and inter­ac­tive instal­la­tions and work­shops that build on her con­cept of Afro-now-ism and how her work devel­ops a dia­logue with the audi­ence on the hier­ar­chies embed­ded within machine learn­ing and AI archi­tec­ture and one’s indi­vid­ual agency in trans­form­ing the algo­rithms within it.

The first sur­vey of renowned trans­me­dia artist Stephanie Dink­ins’ work is on view at Stamps Gallery (201 S. Divi­sion St.) through Octo­ber 23, 2021. 

In part­ner­ship with the Stamps Gallery.


September 23, 2021

Andrea Zit­tel​’s sculp­tures and instal­la­tions trans­form every­thing nec­es­sary for life — eat­ing, sleep­ing, bathing, and social­iz­ing — into art­ful exper­i­ments in liv­ing. Blur­ring the lines between life and art, Zit­tel’s projects extend to her own home and wardrobe. Wear­ing a sin­gle out­fit every day for an entire sea­son, and con­stantly remod­el­ing her home to suit chang­ing demands and inter­ests, Zit­tel con­tin­u­ally rein­vents her rela­tion­ship to her domes­tic and social envi­ron­ment. Influ­enced by Mod­ernist design and archi­tec­ture from the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury, the artist’s one-woman mock orga­ni­za­tion, A – Z Admin­is­tra­tive Ser­vices, devel­ops fur­ni­ture, homes, and vehi­cles for con­tem­po­rary con­sumers with a sim­i­lar sim­plic­ity and atten­tion to order. Seek­ing to attain a sense of free­dom through struc­ture, Zit­tel is more inter­ested in reveal­ing the human need for order than in pre­scrib­ing a sin­gle uni­fy­ing design prin­ci­ple or style.

Zittel’s most recent body of work con­sists of cre­at­ing struc­tural fur­ni­ture pieces in pla­nar con­fig­u­ra­tions. These pieces make use of flat sur­faces and right angles in min­i­mal shapes and with a lim­ited color palette. Her fur­ni­ture pieces often fea­ture many of her other works, such as weav­ings and wool tapes­tries which give warmth to the harsh­ness of steel and aluminum.

Note: This is a spe­cial archival release of con­tent that has never before been shared online.

With sup­port from the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan Museum of Art (UMMA), Insti­tute for the Human­i­ties, and Detroit Cre­ative Cor­ri­dor Cen­ter (DC3).


September 30, 2021

Detroit artist Rashaun Rucker explores black male iden­tity through Amer­i­can ornithol­ogy. In his hybrid por­traits, he com­bines the images of black men with the anatom­i­cal fea­tures of rock pigeons, both cast aside and con­di­tioned, unable to free them­selves from their imposed fates or surroundings.

Rashaun Rucker was born in Win­ston-Salem, NC, and is a prod­uct of North Car­olina Cen­tral Uni­ver­sity and Mary­grove Col­lege. He makes pho­tographs, prints and draw­ings and has won more than 40 national and state awards for his work. In 2008 Rucker became the first African Amer­i­can to be named Michi­gan Press Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year. He also won a national Emmy Award in 2008 for doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­phy on the pit bull cul­ture in Detroit. Rucker was a May­nard Fel­low at Har­vard in 2009 and a Hearst vis­it­ing pro­fes­sional in the jour­nal­ism depart­ment at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2013. In 2014 Rucker was awarded an artist res­i­dency at the Red Bull House of Art. In 2016 Rucker was hon­ored as a Mod­ern Man by Black Enter­prise mag­a­zine. In 2017 Rucker cre­ated the orig­i­nal art­work for the crit­i­cally acclaimed Detroit Free Press doc­u­men­tary 12 and Clair­mount. His work was recently fea­tured in HBO’s cel­e­brated series Ran­dom Acts of Fly­ness and Native Son. In 2019 Rucker was awarded the Red Bull Arts Detroit micro grant and was named a Kresge Arts Fel­low for his draw­ing prac­tice. Rucker’s work is rep­re­sented in numer­ous pub­lic and pri­vate collections. 

Rashaun Rucker’s work is on view at the Insti­tute for the Human­i­ties (Suite 1111, 202 S. Thayer St.) from Sep­tem­ber 13th through Octo­ber 15, 2021.

In part­ner­ship with the Insti­tute for the Humanities.


October 7, 2021Author of Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama, Fun Home: A Fam­ily Tragi­comic and the comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For, graphic nov­el­ist Ali­son Bechdel is pre­oc­cu­pied with the over­lap of the polit­i­cal and the per­sonal spheres.

Her 2012 mem­oir Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama delved into not just her rela­tion­ship with her own mother, but the the­o­ries of the 20th cen­tury British psy­cho­an­a­lyst Don­ald Winnicott.

In 2006 she pub­lished Fun Home: A Fam­ily Tragi­comic. Time mag­a­zine named it the Best Book of 2006. It was adapted into a musi­cal and it opened on Broad­way at the Cir­cle in the Square The­ater on April 19, 2015, and won five Tony Awards, includ­ing ​“Best Musical.”

Her most recent book, The Secret to Super­hu­man Strength (May 2021), con­tin­ues her inves­ti­ga­tion of the rela­tion­ship between inside and out­side, in this case the out­side where she skis, bikes, hikes, and wan­ders in pur­suit of fit­ness and, inci­den­tally, self-transcendence.

The recip­i­ent of a Guggen­heim Fel­low­ship, Bechdel has drawn comics for Slate, McSweeney’s, The New York Times Book Review, and Granta.

This event is a spe­cial lim­ited archival release of con­tent never before shared online. This talk will be avail­able for a lim­ited period, from Thurs­day, Octo­ber 7‑Thursday, Octo­ber 28 (three weeks).

In part­ner­ship with the Insti­tute for the Humanities.


October 14, 2021

New York based artist, writer and scholar Coco Fusco presents a vir­tual talk enti­tled The Rights to Have Rights. In this talk Fusco will present research on Cuban artists con­fronting the state, and work deal­ing with repressed his­to­ries of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary era in Cuba. This talk will be fol­lowed by a Q&A mod­er­ated by U‑M Pro­fes­sor Larry La Foun­tain-Stokes (Amer­i­can Cul­ture, Latino/​a Stud­ies, Romance Lan­guages and Lit­er­a­tures, and Wom­en’s and Gen­der Studies).

Coco Fusco is an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary artist and writer. She is a recip­i­ent of a 2021 Amer­i­can Acad­emy of Arts and Let­ters Arts Award, a 2021 Lat­inx Artist Fel­low­ship, a 2018 Rabkin Prize for Art Crit­i­cism, a 2016 Green­field Prize, a 2014 Cin­tas Fel­low­ship, a 2013 Guggen­heim Fel­low­ship, a 2013 Abso­lut Art Writ­ing Award, a 2013 Ful­bright Fel­low­ship, a 2012 US Artists Fel­low­ship and a 2003 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts. Fus­co’s per­for­mances and videos have been pre­sented in the 56th Venice Bien­nale, Frieze Spe­cial Projects, Basel Unlim­ited, two Whit­ney Bien­ni­als (2008 and 1993), and sev­eral other inter­na­tional exhi­bi­tions. Her works are in the per­ma­nent col­lec­tions of the Museum of Mod­ern Art, The Walker Art Cen­ter, the Cen­tre Pom­pi­dou, the Impe­r­ial War Museum, and the Museum of Con­tem­po­rary Art of Barcelona. She is rep­re­sented by Alexan­der Gray Asso­ciates in New York. She is a Pro­fes­sor of Art at Cooper Union.

Fusco is the author of Dan­ger­ous Moves: Per­for­mance and Pol­i­tics in Cuba (2015). She is also the author of Eng­lish is Bro­ken Here: Notes on Cul­tural Fusion in the Amer­i­cas (1995); The Bod­ies that Were Not Ours and Other Writ­ings (2001); and A Field Guide for Female Inter­roga­tors (2008). She is the edi­tor of Cor­pus Delecti: Per­for­mance Art of the Amer­i­cas (1999) and Only Skin Deep: Chang­ing Visions of the Amer­i­can Self (2003). She con­tributes reg­u­larly to The New York Review of Books and numer­ous art publications.

Note: This event will be streamed live. It will not be recorded or avail­able after its orig­i­nal air­date and time of 10/14 at 6 pm. 

Pre­sented with sup­port from Cen­ter for World Per­for­mance Stud­ies, Arts Ini­tia­tive, and UMMA.


October 21, 2021

Ocean Body is a multi-screen film and music instal­la­tion directed and designed by Mark DeChi­azza and col­lab­o­ra­tively cre­ated with com­poser — vocal­ists Helga Davis and Shara Nova who embody a sculp­ture built for two by Annica Cup­petelli, artist and Lec­turer II at the Stamps School of Art & Design.

Ocean Body exam­ines the decade-long close friend­ship between Davis and Nova and seeks a nec­es­sary bridge for the divi­sion that exists not only in our soci­ety, but in ourselves.

Shara Nova​is the founder of the cham­ber pop band My Bright­est Dia­mond. She has com­posed works for yMu­sic, Brook­lyn Youth Cho­rus, Young New York­ers’ Cho­rus, Brook­lyn Rider, Nadia Sirota and Room­ful of Teeth, among oth­ers. Her orches­tra­tions have been per­formed by the North Car­olina Sym­phony, Indi­anapo­lis Sym­phony, Amer­i­can Com­posers Orches­tra and the BBC Con­cert orches­tra. Her baroque cham­ber opera You Us We All pre­miered in the US at BAM Next Wave Fes­ti­val in in 2015. Nova is a Kresge Fel­low, Knights Grant recip­i­ent, and a United States Artists fellow.

Helga Davis​is a vocal­ist and per­for­mance artist with feet planted on the most pres­ti­gious inter­na­tional stages and with firm roots in her local com­mu­nity. Davis was prin­ci­pal actor in the 25th-anniver­sary inter­na­tional revival of Robert Wil­son and Philip Glass’s sem­i­nal opera Ein­stein on the Beach. She is artist in res­i­dence at National Saw­dust and Joe’s Pub, host of the epony­mous pod­cast HELGA on WQXR, win­ner of the 2019 Green­field Prize in com­po­si­tion, a 2019 Alpert Award final­ist, and the 2018 – 21 vis­it­ing cura­tor for the per­form­ing arts at the Isabella Stew­art Gard­ner Museum.

Mark DeChiazza​is a direc­tor whose mul­ti­fac­eted prac­tice encom­passes film­mak­ing, chore­og­ra­phy, scenic and media design, and instal­la­tion. His work has been pre­sented in national and inter­na­tional venues includ­ing Brook­lyn Acad­emy of Music, Lin­coln Cen­ter, John F. Kennedy Cen­ter of the Arts, Guthrie The­ater, Sin­ga­pore Inter­na­tional Fes­ti­val of Arts, Les Sub­sis­tances, Chicago’s Museum of Con­tem­po­rary Art, and many more. He first col­lab­o­rated with Shara Nova in 2019, when they co-cre­ated the mas­sive out­door music-per­for­mance work Look Around, cel­e­brat­ing Cincin­nati Sym­phony Orchestra’s 125th anniver­sary sea­son, fea­tur­ing over 600 per­form­ers from over 30 local groups.

Ocean Body is on view at the Wasser­man Projects gallery in Detroit (3434 Rus­sell St.) from Sep­tem­ber 25, 2021.

In part­ner­ship with Wasser­man Projects.


October 28, 2021Stu­dio Moross is a cre­ative design stu­dio focus­ing on art direc­tion, brand­ing, print, and mov­ing image set up by graphic artist and art direc­tor Aries Moross. 

Aries Moross is a graphic designer, illus­tra­tor, and art direc­tor based in Lon­don, and is rec­og­nized for their typo­graphic illus­tra­tions. Moross has been pro­filed in Dazed & Con­fused, Vice, and Cre­ative Review, who selected them for a Cre­ative Future award in 2007.

Aries Moross set up Stu­dio Moross in 2012, fueled by their desire to build a mul­ti­fac­eted team and approach a broader scope of projects. This sense of col­lab­o­ra­tion runs strongly through­out the Stu­dio today and spe­cial­ist part­ners are often invited onto projects, pro­vid­ing addi­tional exper­tise as needed.

Stu­dio Moross’ skillset is exten­sive, with work that includes live show direc­tion, broad­cast design, and fes­ti­val cam­paign direc­tion. The team unde­ni­ably finds them­selves at home work­ing with music tal­ent, with cre­ative direc­tion for artists such as Kylie, Dis­clo­sure, Sam Smith, The Blessed Madonna, and Jade Bird. Yet, the Stu­dio is widely known for the color and energy they bring to every project, whether through brand­ing, illus­tra­tion or motion design. Pre­vi­ous clients include MTV, Spo­tify, VH1, Nike, Warner, and the BFI.

Based in Stock­well, South Lon­don, Stu­dio Moross firmly believes in sup­port­ing the com­mu­nity in which it is sit­u­ated. Over the years the Stu­dio has con­tin­ued to offer work expe­ri­ence to local schools and pro­vides pro bono design ser­vices to South Lon­don based orga­ni­za­tions like Art 4 Space and The Advo­cacy Academy.


November 4, 2021

How to make free­dom and play­ful­ness – tra­di­tion­ally granted to artists – acces­si­ble to a wider audi­ence? And, how to design sit­u­a­tions or objects that stim­u­late activ­ity and par­tic­i­pa­tion, that could lead to a trans­for­ma­tion in a viewer or a social con­text? Dur­ing this talk, Ams­ter­dam-based designer Tereza Ruller (stu­dio The Rod­ina) tries to answer these ques­tions. She iden­ti­fies per­for­ma­tive com­po­nents in graphic design processes and results. With exam­ples of her recent projects, Ruller pro­poses the term ​“per­for­ma­tive design” for a prac­tice that incor­po­rates graphic design, play­ful­ness, bod­ies, action, and event­ness (under­stand­ing this as a unique time and space). Per­for­mance becomes an alter­na­tive mode of value pro­duc­tion and a space for cri­tique and imag­i­na­tion.

The Rod­ina (Tereza and Vit Ruller) is a post-crit­i­cal design stu­dio with an exper­i­men­tal prac­tice drenched in strate­gies of per­for­mance art, play and sub­ver­sion. The Rod­ina invents ways in which expe­ri­ence, knowl­edge and rela­tions are pro­duced and pre­served. In their work, Tereza and Vit often explore the spa­tial and inter­ac­tive pos­si­bil­i­ties of vir­tual envi­ron­ments as a space for new thoughts and aes­thet­ics that come for­ward from between cul­ture and tech­nol­ogy. The stu­dio works mostly for cul­tural clients such as Har­vard GSD (USA), Sonic Acts Foun­da­tion (NL), and Hyundai Card Library Seoul (KR).

In part­ner­ship with Taub­man Col­lege of Archi­tec­ture and Urban Planning.


November 11, 2021

Shizu Sal­damando is an LA based Japanese/​Latinx Amer­i­can mixed media artist whose por­traits give vis­i­bil­ity to urban youth, part of sub­cul­tures and coun­ter­cul­tures. She has explored por­trai­ture for two decades, cap­tur­ing images of real peo­ple, her friends from the punk scenes in San Francisco’s Mis­sion Dis­trict, and those in the cre­ative com­mu­nity in LA. Pri­mar­ily con­cerned with por­trai­ture and draw­ings, she exper­i­ments with a broad range of sur­faces and mate­ri­als from wood pan­els to bed sheets. Saldamando’s prac­tice employs tat­too­ing, video, paint­ing and draw­ing on can­vas, wood, paper, and cloth, and func­tions as homage to peers and loved ones. Her mother’s fam­ily is Japan­ese Amer­i­can and sur­vivors of the Japan­ese Amer­i­can Intern­ment camps. Her father is a Chi­cano from Nogales, AZ.

Shizu Saldamando’s work is on view at the Insti­tute for the Human­i­ties (Suite 1111, 202 S. Thayer St.) from Novem­ber 2nd through Decem­ber 10th, 2021.

In part­ner­ship with the Insti­tute for the Humanities.


November 18, 2021

The debate about resti­tu­tion and the ethics of West­ern muse­ums’ own­ing African art­works col­lected dur­ing the era of col­o­niza­tion has never been more in the pub­lic eye. Most well-known, per­haps, are the ​“Benin bronzes,” artis­tic and royal heir­looms made since the 13th cen­tury by highly spe­cial­ized met­al­work­ers in the King­dom of Benin (now south­ern Nige­ria). In 1897, British forces sacked the cap­i­tal of this pros­per­ous king­dom. They tore sculp­tures and plaques from the palace walls, and took them back to Europe, where the looted trea­sures were sold to muse­ums and pri­vate col­lec­tors. The royal court of Benin, Niger­ian offi­cials, and high-pro­file schol­ars such as Pro­fes­sor Chika Okeke-Agulu (Prince­ton) have been demand­ing their return for decades. Increas­ingly, muse­ums based in the Global North have been lis­ten­ing to these calls for repa­tri­a­tion, and some have pledged to return works from their col­lec­tions. To pro­vide a new home for the repa­tri­ated works, plans for a new Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA), are cur­rently in devel­op­ment with world renowned archi­tect Sir David Adjaye lead­ing the build­ing design project.

On the occa­sion of Wish You Were Here: African Art & Resti­tu­tion, a pub­lic inves­ti­ga­tion into our own col­lec­tion at the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan Museum of Art (UMMA), Sir David Adjaye and Pro­fes­sor Chika Okeke-Agulu will dis­cuss their cur­rent and recent projects that address how works of art may re-enter the soci­eties they were torn away from. Laura De Becker, Interim Chief Cura­tor and the Hel­mut and Can­dis Stern Cura­tor of African Art at UMMA, will intro­duce the event.

Wish You Were Here: African Art & Resti­tu­tion is on view at the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan Museum of Art (525 S. State St.) through July 3, 2022.

In part­ner­ship with UMMA with sup­port from Taub­man Col­lege of Archi­tec­ture and Urban Planning