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Breaking Down Silos, Making Change: 2021 Stamps DEI Team Grants

Break­ing down aca­d­e­mic silos and build­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for inter­dis­ci­pli­nary teams is para­mount to Jane Prophet, Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design’s asso­ciate dean for Research, Cre­ative Work, and Strate­gic Ini­tia­tives. In fact, it was this long-stand­ing com­mit­ment that inspired her to think about ways to unify peo­ple in the school’s com­mu­nity who nor­mally would­n’t be funded to work together. Prophet’s efforts have recently cul­mi­nated in the form of a new grant scheme from the Office of Research: DEI Team Grants for joint fac­ulty, staff and stu­dent research. Designed to sup­port projects devel­oped in reac­tion to a rel­e­vant social issue or proac­tively address a social issue, the fund­ing was dis­trib­uted to four inter­dis­ci­pli­nary teams. 

A very sig­nif­i­cant silo in acad­e­mia is the sep­a­ra­tion in our aca­d­e­mic com­mu­ni­ties between stu­dents, fac­ulty and staff,” Prophet says. Sup­port­ing inter­dis­ci­pli­nary and inter­gen­er­a­tional teams is impor­tant. There is enor­mous poten­tial in bring­ing together peo­ple across age and experience.”

Prophet also shares that inspi­ra­tion for the DEI Team Grants was moti­vated by other fac­tors. She had dis­cov­ered that there were staff mem­bers who had applied for some DEI awards that were avail­able, but they weren’t eli­gi­ble because, by con­tract, they fell into the cat­e­gory of staff. The new grant scheme addresses this by requir­ing that projects must have mem­bers from at least three of five cat­e­gories (under­grad­u­ate stu­dents, grad­u­ate stu­dents, staff, tenure-track­/tenured fac­ulty and lec­ture fac­ulty) in order to be eligible. 

I thought it would be really inter­est­ing to see what would hap­pen if we made some small grants avail­able within Stamps and made it a con­di­tion that to be eli­gi­ble a team has to have mem­bers from at least three cat­e­gories within Stamps,” she says. Also, many peo­ple within these com­mu­ni­ties not only have shared con­cerns, they also have research and cre­ative prac­tices that can bring in more per­spec­tives, skills and diversity.”

Break­ing Borders

The oppor­tu­ni­ties that the team grant gave to Ellie Schmidt (MFA 22) have been invalu­able. She’s a mem­ber of one of the four projects that were funded.

The Solid States: Con­tem­po­rary Print­mak­ing and New Tech­nol­ogy exhi­bi­tion was one of the most pro­fes­sion­ally impor­tant expe­ri­ences I’ve had in the last year,” she says. The project brought me into the world of cura­tion, estab­lished a con­nec­tion with two other Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan artists, and helped expand my art practice.”

A 3D exhibition showing work on a virtual gallery wall.
Works from Solid States Exhi­bi­tion included in DY3CORPIA vir­tual exhibition

It was 2D Media Stu­dio coor­di­na­tor, Nicholas Dowg­willo and Sally Clegg, lec­turer and Stamps alum (MFA 20), who reached out to Schmidt. They invited her to bring her tal­ents to their already exist­ing exhi­bi­tion that spot­lights a diverse group of artist-print­mak­ers inter­ro­gat­ing how new tech­nolo­gies can advance the field.

In short order, the duo become a trio with Schmidt as a curator/​collaborator and artist. The grant allowed their team and 15 spon­sored under­grad­u­ate stu­dents to par­tic­i­pate in the (vir­tual) 2021 IMPACT 11 Inter­na­tional Print­mak­ing Con­fer­ence, as well as a cura­to­r­ial cor­re­spond­ing print publication.

Screen showing 16 Solid State fellows on a Zoom conference call

I knew that the grant could not only expand our project, but also cre­ate an enrich­ing expe­ri­ence for under­grads who could really ben­e­fit from par­tic­i­pat­ing in a pres­ti­gious global con­fer­ence,” Clegg says. In the print­mak­ing world con­fer­ences are very impor­tant for com­mu­nity-build­ing and our stu­dent fel­lows were able to add it to their CVs.”

Pro­fes­sor Endi Poskovic, Stamps DEI Liai­son for Inclu­sive Teach­ing dur­ing 2019 – 2020 and 2020 – 2021 aca­d­e­mic years, applauds the project. Poskovic also hap­pens to teach print­mak­ing and shares that he him­self has had to, unfor­tu­nately, decline recent invi­ta­tions to be a keynote speaker at the same annual con­fer­ence. With this back­ground, he car­ries an insider view of the value of par­tic­i­pat­ing and the impact such ini­tia­tives can have on fos­ter­ing DEI.

Hav­ing a grant that can cre­ate oppor­tu­ni­ties for a bunch of diverse stu­dents to do some­thing like present at a major, peer-reviewed con­fer­ence is truly great,” he says. They get their feet wet and learn how to engage in a larger world and become more inspired to do great things.”

For Schmidt, that was exactly the case.

These oppor­tu­ni­ties are invalu­able to Stamps stu­dents,” she says. The project helped us develop pro­fes­sion­ally, make new con­nec­tions, and learn more than we could inside the walls of school.”

Fos­ter­ing Change and Connection

Today, all four of the funded teams are cel­e­brat­ing their jour­neys. Clegg counts her­self for­tu­nate that she is on a sec­ond project called the Artist Data­base Project. Like the Solid States project, this effort was already under­way when the new grant scheme was announced. Along­side two other project lead­ers —Erin McKenna, lec­turer and Stamps alum (MFA 20) and Stamps alum Rey Jeong (MFA 21) — Clegg con­tin­ues to work dili­gently to cre­ate a pilot for a com­mu­nity-run data­base that cat­a­logues con­tent, such as BIPOC artists and art­work exam­ples, for assign­ment and lec­ture devel­op­ment. Cur­rently, the team is still rolling out the project and adding to the grow­ing data­base. Also in the works is a forum to con­nect both estab­lished and emerg­ing art and design instruc­tors with these resources, and with each other.

Clegg explains that early career instruc­tors in art and design — like her­self — have the desire to improve and con­tribute to their classes through antiracism and decol­o­niz­ing work. How­ever, they face the short­ages of cen­tral­ized resources, time, and peer-based support. 

We rec­og­nized the need to build a prac­ti­cal tool that is ever­green, open source and specif­i­cally sup­ports early career edu­ca­tors in bring­ing more equity and inclu­sion into build­ing their courses right at the begin­ning,” she says. The grant is help­ing us shake things up and break tra­di­tions in ways that lead to bet­ter course con­tent that is richer, and fuller, and also reflects back to our diverse stu­dent body.”

Grow­ing Goals

For Stamps Gallery Direc­tor Sri­moyee Mitra, the grant that her team received for their project Real and Imag­ined: Fab­ric Works and Ani­ma­tions was a vital seed that has been cru­cial toward grow­ing an impor­tant goal.

Wall in gallery with the text: Real and Imagined, in red vinyl

The gallery’s aim has always been to pub­lish with exhi­bi­tions, do tours, work­shops and those types of things,” Mitra says. So the DEI Team grant seemed like a great oppor­tu­nity that we did­n’t want to miss.”

Mitra’s other team mem­bers are gallery assis­tant and stu­dent Abi­gail Seguin (BFA 23) and pro­fes­sors Franc Nunoo-Quarco and Heidi Kumao. Real and Imag­ined fea­tures work by the lat­ter. Still in progress, the idea behind the 64-page illus­trated print and online pub­li­ca­tion is to address the #MeToo move­ment through a fem­i­nist lens. It will com­prise three texts, two by com­mis­sioned writ­ers and one by Mitra. The book design will be mas­ter­minded by Nunoo-Quarco, with Seguin at the helm of admin­is­tra­tive and orga­ni­za­tional sup­port. Thanks to grant fund­ing the team was able to off­set some of the over­all project bud­get includ­ing: writ­ers’ fees, copy edi­tor fee, and ADA costs (to make the pub­li­ca­tion ADA compliant).

Devel­op­ing a pub­li­ca­tion is incred­i­bly valu­able because it brings together all the research that the artist and the cura­tor has done that is linked to the exhi­bi­tion,” Mitra says. Exhibits are ephemeral, they come and then they go, whereas a pub­li­ca­tion, even if it’s in a dig­i­tal space, will last and build the reper­toire of the gallery.”

Mov­ing for­ward, Mitra is look­ing for­ward to launch­ing the project in the spirit of cre­at­ing a plat­form for social change and mean­ing­ful con­ver­sa­tion between peo­ple both inside and out­side of the Stamps community.

Image showing five works hanging on the wall of a gallery.

Com­mu­nity Matters

When MaryAnn Sarosi, a local lawyer and co-author of the 2020 CREW Report, was approached by Truly Ren­der, Stamps direc­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and mar­ket­ing, she left the con­ver­sa­tion both impressed and excited. 

The 2020 Cit­i­zens for Racial Equity Washt­e­naw (CREW) report is a thor­ough cit­i­zen data project that details the racial dis­par­i­ties around charg­ing and sen­tenc­ing in Washt­e­naw County. Rec­og­niz­ing that the 55-page report might feel a lit­tle too hefty for some, Ren­der went to Sarosi with a vision. It was to cre­ate cre­ative work suited for dig­i­tal shar­ing in order to help raise county-wide, gen­eral pub­lic aware­ness of top-line data, themes, and con­tex­tual infor­ma­tion found in the report. 

Sarosi shares that the idea of using art to por­tray infor­ma­tion on such a heavy topic mat­ter was intrigu­ing, and she did­n’t have any idea how it would unfold. As it turned out, Sarosi joined Ren­der as a mem­ber of the Stamps Cre­ative CREW. The fourth project to receive a DEI grant, it unites com­mu­nity equity lead­ers, legal sub­ject mat­ter experts, and cit­i­zen data sci­en­tists with fac­ulty, staff, under­grad­u­ate stu­dents, and recent Stamps alumni. 

Also on the team is Nunoo-Quar­coo (from the Real and Imag­ined project), graphic designer Jack Kor­net (BFA 20), Des­tini T. Riley (BFA 21), Akaash Tumu­luri (BFA 20), Stamps diver­sity and inclu­sion advi­sor Brian Banks, and Andre Grewe, Stamps asso­ciate direc­tor of dig­i­tal initiatives. 

It’s an exam­ple where mem­bers of the uni­ver­sity com­mu­nity are quite enmeshed in the reg­u­lar com­mu­nity here rather than sep­a­rated. They iden­ti­fied where they could be help­ful to their fel­low com­mu­nity mem­bers and then linked arms to make a dif­fer­ence,” Sarosi says.

The impact has been impres­sive. The group has been instru­men­tal in build­ing out ele­ments of the CREW web­site, in par­tic­u­lar the Com­mu­nity Toolkit sec­tion, which includes two ani­ma­tions and a suite of ani­mated data visualizations. 

Data visu­al­iza­tion by Jack Kor­net, 2021

I give all the credit to the Stamps CREW, because we wrote things in words and put things in tables and that’s one way for peo­ple to com­pre­hend things,” Sarosi says. But the Stamps CREW knew that there was another way to bring this infor­ma­tion to life using art and using visualization.”

Video by Des­tini Riley, 2021

The DEI fund­ing will also assist in Stamps Cre­ative CREW’s release of a forth­com­ing six-episode nar­ra­tive pod­cast fea­tur­ing a wide cross-sec­tion of peo­ple in the local com­mu­nity. The county pros­e­cu­tor, the county pub­lic defender, CREW researchers, local equity lead­ers and schol­ars, con­gre­ga­tions, a local tribal judge and incar­cer­ated indi­vid­u­als are just some of the voices that will be heard.

It’s a good feel­ing to be part of some­thing that will hope­fully serve as a roadmap for other orga­ni­za­tions, or other peo­ple, in Michi­gan to iden­tify where there are prob­lems are going on and then fig­ure out how to come together to do some­thing,” says Tumuluri.

The recent grad­u­ate was tapped to act as the pod­cast direc­tor. As such, he was able to inter­view both the coun­ty’s dis­trict attor­ney Eli Savit and his coun­ter­part, chief pub­lic defender Delhi Simp­son, who gave him a full legal run­down of the legal prac­tices that are intri­cate to the prob­lems that the pod­cast will bring aware­ness to. 

I con­sider myself really lucky to be able to work on this project because it’s really changed me in so many ways, and who knows how deep the impact will be for oth­ers,” Tumu­luri says. 

His reflec­tion is in sync with Poskovic’s con­vic­tion that the oppor­tu­ni­ties that DEI grants offer can strengthen both the Stamps ecosys­tem and the com­mu­nity it thrives in.

What’s really impor­tant about Stamps is that we are a close-knit com­mu­nity that works and lives and really tries to act as global cit­i­zens,” Poskovic says. In that con­text we’re com­mit­ted as cul­tural work­ers to the over­all mis­sion of a large Tier 1 research uni­ver­sity in that every one of our mem­bers has an equal oppor­tu­nity to pros­per within the uni­ver­sity and the com­mu­nity at large.” 

Learn more about DEI Team Grants at Stamps. Appli­ca­tions for the 2022 cycle are due on Jan­u­ary 282022.

Story by Jaishree Drepaul.