Top U-M arts & culture stories of 2018
It’s been quite a year for the arts at the University of Michigan. We mourned the loss of a passionate arts advocate. We heard music for the first time since prisoners at Auschwitz arranged and performed it during WWII. We welcomed a new dean, had a serious discussion about what the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess means in present day, and celebrated the shattering of a glass ceiling by one of our own in the art world. Here’s a quick look back at our top stories of 2018.
The University Musical Society (UMS) and the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance presented a test performance of a new critical edition of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess alongside a symposium that addressed the complex issues surrounding themes of race and its place in American history. The University Symphony Orchestra performance took place in Feb. 2018, and provided audience members and performers alike the chance to experience the newly edited score, restoring material often cut in past productions.
Remembering Penny W. Stamps
Penny W. Stamps — a U-M alumna, fierce advocate for the arts, community leader, philanthropist, design professional and former teacher — passed away on Dec. 13. The namesake of U-M’s Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design and Distinguished Speaker Series, she will be missed by many at Michigan.
Literature vs. traffic
The U-M Institute for the Humanities recently presented a one-night-only installation by Luzinterruptus, an anonymous art collective from Spain, who “paved” Ann Arbor’s Liberty Street with more than 10,000 illuminated books.
Hundreds gathered to view “Literature vs. Traffic,” which was part of the institute’s 2018-19 theme “Humanities and Environments.” The installation took eight days to create, bringing together more than 80 community volunteers who assisted the artists in preparing the books and lights in the Ruthven Museums Building. Check out local coverage via the Michigan Daily and MLive.
#MeToo in the art world
In the midst of a powerful international movement aimed at bringing awareness to sexual harassment and assault, U-M Stamps School of Art & Design associate professor Irina Aristarkhova penned an article for The Conversation that was picked up by national news outlets and shared thousands of times.
She enters the conversation from the perspective of the art world, arguing that genius should not excuse sexual assault, and that the value of human beings should always trump the value of art.
Jonathan Demme’s archive finds home at U-M
The collection comprises materials related to Demme’s 40-year-long career that was punctuated by films like “Silence of the Lambs,” “Philadelphia,” “Stop Making Sense,” “Something Wild” and “Beloved,” among many others. The donation from the Demme family was announced Aug. 3 at the Traverse City Film Festival. Read more in IndieWire.
The Michigan Wings
Just ahead of the U-M’s 2018 spring commencement on April 28, a new interactive maize and blue mural was added to downtown Ann Arbor’s vibrant cityscape. The mural was painted by Kelsey Montague, an artist known internationally for her murals that invite audience participation. It was commissioned in partnership with U-M Social, the U-M Arts & Culture Initiative, Destination Ann Arbor and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.
Get your wings on the corner of E. William and Maynard next time you’re downtown.
Music from Auschwitz
U-M music theory professor Patricia Hall worked with students to bring a rare music manuscript from the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum collection to life for the first time since WWII. Ironically titled “The Most Beautiful Time of Life” (Die Schönste Zeit des Lebens), the piece is a light foxtrot based on a song by Franz Grothe, a popular German film composer that was arranged and performed by prisoners in the Auschwitz I men’s orchestra. The story was featured in the Associated Press, The Smithsonian, NPR’s Weekend Edition, CBC Radio, Le Monde, and many others.
Stamps dean tackles arts integration
Guna Nadarajan, U-M Stamps School of Art & Design dean, served on a 22-person expert committee organized by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine tasked with researching the effect of integrating the humanities and arts into STEMM fields in higher education.
Their report provided “promising evidence that a variety of positive learning outcomes are associated with some integrative approaches.”
A nod from Darren Criss
U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance alumnus Darren Criss received a 2018 Emmy Award as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his role as Andrew Cunanan in The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. During his first Primetime acceptance speech win, he gave a shout out to his maize and blue roots, and it had wolverines everywhere fired up.
SMTD alumni and faculty fared particularly well at the 2018 Grammy Awards as well.
First woman to lead National Gallery of Art
The National Gallery of Art in Washington recently selected Kaywin Feldman of the Minneapolis Institute of Art as its new director, the first woman to hold the job in the museum’s 77-year history. Feldman, who received her bachelor’s degree in classical archaeology from U-M, will be the National Gallery’s fifth director. She starts March 11. “I do believe it is indicative of a sea change, nationally and internationally,” Feldman said in an interview with the Washington Post. “The trustees early on articulated their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. It’s something I care about.”
The 100th anniversary of WWI
In honor of 100th anniversary of the Armistice that brought the fighting in France to an end on Nov. 11, 1918, the William L. Clements Library presented “‘Over There’ With the American Expeditionary Forces in France During the Great War,” an exhibition that featured collections preserved at U-M and highlights the firsthand accounts of American soldiers serving in the First World War in 1917-18.
The Bentley Historical Library also helped to tell a story featured in the Wall Street Journal about the one time the Americans fell to the Russians in a battle at the end of WWI. Photos and information from documents in the Bentley were featured throughout.
A new dean at SMTD
David A. Gier, former professor and director of the University of Iowa School of Music, was appointed dean of the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance on July 19. An accomplished musician and an award-winning teacher, Gier also received his Bachelor of Music degree, with high distinction, from U-M in 1983. His appointment runs through Sept. 30, 2023.
Country music + politics
Nadine Hubbs, U-M professor of women’s studies and music, and author of author of “Rednecks, Queers and Country Music,” was one of our top arts experts this year. She commented on everything from Taylor Swift’s first political endorsement and the polarization of country music, to the significance of specific songs by Helen Reddy and Gloria Gaynor.
A first time for Romeo and Juliet
Breaking with its longtime tradition of producing Shakespeare’s comedies, Shakespeare in the Arb this year presented the Bard’s beloved “Romeo and Juliet” for the first time as part of its 18th season.
Transitioning “Romeo and Juliet” from its traditional urban backdrop to the Arb’s natural scenery presented some challenges, but audiences enjoyed the imaginative balcony scene and the famed sword fights.
Artist creates border-crossing robot
Ten years ago, artist Chico MacMurtrie came up with the idea to create a large-scale robotic artwork that would invite people to rethink the notion of borders in a globalized world. His artistic vision was realized at U-M this year, where he is worked with a team of 16 students to plan, build and launch a 40-foot robotic sculpture that “poetically explored the notion of borders and boundary conditions.” MacMurtrie, who tested the robot at the U-M Museum of Art before giving a Distinguished Stamps Speaker Series Lecture on Feb. 16, hopes to launch the robot on the U.S.-Mexico at some point in the future.