Last week, Jim Cogswell and Nick Tobier received news that each of their innovative, interdisciplinary project proposals had been “cubed” by U‑M. MCubed is a two-year seed-funding program designed to empower interdisciplinary teams of University of Michigan faculty to pursue new initiatives with major societal impact. Here’s how it works. One faculty proposes a project. If two other faculty from different disciplines also sign on to be a part of the project, the project meets the “MCubed” requirement, and each faculty is awarded up to $20,000, for total funding support of $60,000.
In Jim Cogswell’s case, Gregory Tarlé, an astrophysicist here at U- M, proposed a project about dark energy and approached Jim as a collaborating partner. “I met Gregory when I was installing my mural in the astronomy department lobby back in 2008,” Jim says. “He is incredibly passionate about dark energy, a relatively recent discovery in the world of astrophysics.”
While astrophysicists are currently outputting animated visualizations based on theoretical models of dark energy, Tarle’s idea is to go beyond the visual and to create an “experience” of dark energy that has a physical presence. “As an astrophysicist we see all these beautiful things in the universe – star formations, dark energy. There is a magnificence in this, a grandeur, that is never seen by the average person. I want to share that experience.” Steve Rush, a composer, and Vince Mountain, a set designer, both from School of Music, Theater and Dance will also be working on the project, along with a group of West Coast artists including Donna Sternberg from Donna Sternberg Dancers, Michael Masucci of EZTV and Kate Johnson from Otis College who worked together on a multimedia piece, Quantum Entanglement.
Both Tarle and Cogswell are excited by the collaboration but also mindful that a part of their creative collaboration will be learning each other’s languages. Cogswell knows that “This means I’ve got a lot of physics to learn.” And Tarle understands he will have to “continue the process of teaching physics to these folks. I want them to be able to interpret it.”
While Jim’s project challenges him to move into unfamiliar territory, Nick Tobier proposed a project that builds on his past 5 years working in Detroit. “Building a Bigger Broader Creative Class” examines new ways of working with struggling urban communities. Nick is collaborating with Larry Gant from Social Work and Priscella Lindsay, Chair of the Department of Theatre and Drama in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance to develop socially engaged programs in Detroit. “I’m interested in the difference between gentrification and integration,” says Nick. “This project will begin to explore another model of working in underserved communities — a model that emphasizes collaboration with local people and building sustainable models. It’s not about one-off projects but actually integrating new communities into our notions of ‘the creative class.’” Nick says the project will most likely begin in Detroit because of all the existing relationships that have already been formed. But, the group also has plans to explore integration models in two dwindling northern Michigan towns who are hoping to capitalize on creative economy to slow the population drain.
MCubed project funding continues for two years with monies designated for graduate and student involvement. “The funding model is interesting. It allows us to explore interdisciplinary relationships while provoking us to imagine new ways to foster faculty- student relationships and learning experiences.”