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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.