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U-M students call for performance artist Tim Miller interdisciplinary residency


Tim Miller, performance artist

ANN ARBOR—Internationally acclaimed performance artist Tim Miller will be in residence at the University of Michigan the week of September 12 due to great demand from BFA in interarts performance students. 

Interarts performance is a unique interdisciplinary undergraduate degree jointly offered by the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design and the departments of Theatre & Drama and Dance and Performing Arts Technology at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. 

Miller is known for using performance-making techniques to foster civic dialogue and build community around questions of bodily autonomy and sexual and racial identity. After learning about his work in a previous interarts course, students identified Miller as an artist they collectively thought could make the largest impact on their education experience—with an added eagerness to explore ideas of bodily autonomy in this particular moment of cultural significance.

“He said so many things that I’ve thought myself but never said aloud, and he made his audience engage with him in ways that we are almost taught not to do,” said interarts performance major Elle Schwiderson after learning about Miller’s work. “Overall, for me, it was seeing a queer artist be so strong and passionate about their queerness, and how there is so much pain and love and joy and tenderness and anger that we are taught to hold in our bodies that we aren’t ‘allowed to’ let out.”

Interarts performance professor Holly Hughes heard her students and sprung to action. Part of what Hughes loves the most about this interdisciplinary course work is that students can “create their own curriculum from the performing arts and the visual arts, and combine it to make something new.” 

Even though it is common for artists to work between these disciplines, it is rare for universities to provide this blended experience at the undergraduate level, she said.

“I had brought him in a long time ago for a talk at Michigan and thought: ‘Maybe I can put together a residency where he can actually work with classes and help students develop their work,'” said Hughes, a longtime friend and admirer of Miller’s.

That she did. 

Students will create original works inspired by Miller’s own that take on the most challenging social issues of our time. The artist will guide students through the exploration of turning their own experiences and insights into compelling performance art and catalysts for conversation and change.

“What I like to do with this class is just expose them to a lot of people who are finding different ways to combine their interests in performing and visual arts,” Hughes said. “We have this highly regarded musical theater program, for example, which might mean students have agents right out of college. With interarts on the other hand, there is not as direct of a career path, but there are so many possibilities. Through these residencies, I want students to be inspired by the different people that are out there developing their own paths.”

Miller has taught performance at NYU and UCLA, and performed at Yale, Columbia, Cornell and dozens of other universities across the country. He has received numerous grants from the National Endowment for the Arts in his career, including a 1990 NEA Solo Performer Fellowship that was overturned under political pressure from the Bush White House because of the gay themes of Miller’s work. 

Miller and three other artists successfully sued the federal government with the help of the ACLU for violation of their First Amendment rights and won a settlement where the government paid them the amount of the defunded grants and all court costs. Though the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1998 to overturn part of Miller’s case and determined that “standards of decency” are constitutional criterion for federal funding of the arts, Miller vows “to continue fighting for freedom of expression for fierce diverse voices.”

The U-M residency will culminate in a “performance and lecture and rant” with Miller and a short work created by interarts students at 6 p.m. Sept. 16 at the Dance Building’s Studio 3 of the Dance Building on North Campus. Miller will address how live performance can embolden communities, challenge injustice and connect people with one another. 

Presented by Stamps, EXCEL Lab, Roman J. Witt Residency, Arts at Michigan and the Center for World Performance Studies, the event is free and open to the public.

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