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Holly Hughes Honored by CEW+

Headshot of Holly Hughes

Holly Hughes, Professor and Director of the Stamps BFA in Interarts Performance Program and Professor in the Department of Theatre and Drama, is a recipient of the 2023 – 2024 Academic Women’s Caucus Sarah Goddard Power Award from the Center for the Education of Women+ (CEW+). The honor recognizes the significant contributions to the betterment of current challenges faced by women.

Sarah Goddard Power was widely acclaimed as a significant contributor to the advancement of higher education, an advocate for affirmative action and human rights, and a champion of freedom for the international press. As a Regent of the University of Michigan for more than 12 years, Sarah Goddard Power worked tirelessly to advance the position of women and minorities in faculty and administrative roles. In 1984, an Awards Committee was established to select the first recipients of the Academic Women’s Caucus Awards and was renamed in 1988 to honor Regent Power.

Hughes’ colleague, Stamps Professor Heidi Kumao, nominated her for the award. In announcing the selection, the CEW+ acknowledged Hughes for their contributions to feminist and queer performance. You have been a leader in the space for decades, ensuring those who followed behind were mentored, challenged, and supported on their journeys.” 

I am grateful for the support of the Stamps School and the encouragement to do queer/​feminist work, which I don’t take lightly at all,” said Hughes. My students and colleagues inspire me, reinforcing my commitment to advocating these issues, especially in today’s social and political climate.” 

Colleagues across the university applauded the honor and celebrated Hughes’ impact on the university and her courageous and revolutionary approach to performance art. 

The University of Michigan would not be the same without Holly Hughes. Her impact not only affects and contributes to the arts at this university but also echoes into any conversation regarding ongoing feminist calls for action both within and beyond academia,” said Charli Brissey they-them, Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Dance and Assistant Professor at the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance. Hughes is a feminist icon in performance and theatre and has repeatedly proven how artmaking not only reflects current social-political climates but has the power to illuminate injustice and demand real change.”

Student holds up a sign reading "The Woods."
Interarts students, directed by Hughes, met in a courtyard at the Art & Architecture building.

Advocacy and Commitment to the Interarts Program

Hughes, in collaboration with professors in Theatre at the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance, created Interarts, the undergraduate interdisciplinary BFA program. Interarts focuses on helping students develop as artists working across the visual arts, performance art, and theatre and is a one-of-a-kind program in the nation. Her colleagues believe Hughes is a groundbreaking artist and academic who forged a new path for expression at the University of Michigan.

As the Interarts Performance BFA program director, she has not just been doing the job,’” said Malcolm Tulip, Associate Professor of Interarts Performance and the Department of Theatre & Drama. She has done everything she can to create a space for young multi-disciplinary artists to find their voices. She brings rigor to a genre that has been disparaged in past years and, in doing so, enables young artists to find their places in the larger artistic community. Hughes is a role model for the LGBTQIA+ students and professionals who see that artists who are often marginalized have a place and can be successful without compromise.”

Hughes’ ability to challenge the academic status quo was Clare Croft, Director of Arts Research/​Creative Practice, in the Office of the Vice President for Research. 

Artists today are increasingly unlikely to describe themselves as a dancer’ or as actor,’ but instead, many describe themselves as artists,’ identifying ideas they want to explore through artmaking and then setting out to examine those ideas using a collage of techniques and skills: video making to choreography, painting to puppetry,” said Croft. Because Hughes remains so in touch with the world of contemporary artmaking, she could sense the emergence of this mode of working and find a way to bring it into the University — despite academia’s often rigid insistence on disciplinary walls. She imagined the Interarts program at an artistic and pedagogical level, pushed for its implementation at an administrative level, brought together a team of committed faculty from across the University to support the program, and remains the program’s lifeblood.”

Upcoming Project: DRAG THE DIAG

One of Hughes’ upcoming projects is DRAG THE DIAG, a collaboration with Brissey and Halena Kays, Assistant Professor of Theatre and Drama. The team is developing a proposal for a collaborative campus-wide series of pop-up performances that use the arts to raise the visibility of queer people and issues on campus and beyond. Hughes explains how DRAG THE DIAG is important for continuing to raise the profile and importance of LGBTQ+ voices on campus and across the country. 

U‑M boasts the first LGBTQ+ plus student service center in the country and has on faculty some of the founders of queer theory, as well as other faculty like Larry LaFontaine, who are winning awards for scholarship on drag,” said Hughes. However, there are currently no courses for students in the arts that focus on exploring these questions. Queer people and cultural expression have become a flashpoint nationally. Despite some statewide advances, drag events remain targeted.”

Hughes says each pop-up would focus on a different hot-button topic that various groups are also targeting, such as climate change, critical race theory, immigration, reproductive rights, and trans issues. The idea is to show how drag is both a creative expression and a form of political speech, that queer is itself an intersectional identity and is conservation with other important questions of justice,” said Hughes.

Story by Jen Hogan.