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Yo-Yo Ma joins University of Michigan for new residency spanning all three campuses

Project explores past year under pandemic within U-M community through arts

Yo-Yo Ma (left) and Tunde Olaniran on stage during his "Day of Action" in Flint, Michigan in Feb. 2019, organized in partnership with the University of Michigan's University Musical Society. (Eric Bronson | Michigan Photography, E.Bronson/Michigan Photography)

ANN ARBOR – The University of Michigan Arts Initiative, in partnership with the University Musical Society, is launching a new residency with internationally acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

The project will see the collaboration of regional artists and U-M students on all three campuses to map the experiences the school community has undergone this past year.

Ma will join six U-M students and three Michigan-based artists from Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint on a newly formed steering committee that will develop new maps that portray the university experience under a pandemic.

Yo-Yo Ma performs for an Ann Arbor audience at the University of Michigan's Hill Auditorium during a Feb. 2019 visit. (Eric Bronson | Michigan Photography)

The three artists include Detroit-based interdisciplinary visual artist Nour Ballout; Flint-based musician Tunde Olaniran; and Ann Arbor-based interdisciplinary artist Avery Williamson.

Faculty and staff from all three U-M campuses will also make up an advisory council to serve the steering committee as a consultative body.

The residency kicks off on April 15 with a virtual event from 6-7 p.m. that’s free and open to the public. Registration is required in order to attend.

The webinar, titled “Mapping without Boundaries,” will spotlight Ma, U-M President Mark Schlissel and members of the steering committee, who will reflect on the radical way in which the pandemic altered life on campus for students, faculty and staff. Audience participation and performance will also be incorporated into the event.

Avery Williamson is an Ann Arbor-based multidisciplinary artist whose work in weaving, photography and drawing explores the narratives of black women in personal and institutional archives. (Avery Williamson)

“The arts have a unique power to express how we collectively feel as a community and society, and bring us together, especially after a year-long separation and the difficulties and pain of the COVID pandemic,” Christina Olsen, director of the U-M Museum of Art and Arts Initiative co-chair said in a release.

“This is the Arts Initiative’s first major project and we’re thrilled Yo-Yo Ma is partnering with us on it, given his long and deep commitment to working collaboratively and with a strong focus on inclusion and social justice.”

The launch of the Arts Initiative was announced in fall 2019. The project is now completing the first part of its three-year startup phase to identify that best ways to promote arts experiences on each U-M campus.

Nour Ballout (b. 1993, Beirut) is a Detroit-based interdisciplinary artist and curator. After immigrating to the United States at the age of nine they spent their adolescence in Dearborn, Michigan, home to the largest concentration of Arabs outside of the Middle East. Nour’s artistic and curatorial practices are inherently connected, deeply rooted in social practice and community building. Their work explores the concept of home as it manifests within bodies, built environments, and communities. While working in a wide range of creative media, they maintain a primary practice in photography. (Nour Ballout)

“UMS is proud to help launch this partnership between the Arts Initiative, our longtime friend and colleague Yo-Yo Ma, and a very special steering committee comprised of Michigan students and artists,” Matthew VanBesien, UMS president and Arts Initiative working group member said in a statement.

“We believe this project can serve as a new model for the way a major university like Michigan can work collaboratively, centering the arts and engaging a new generation of creative thinkers to explore broad questions and challenges in our world.”

The steering committee will work over the summer to establish the new mapping project that will allow members of the school community to contribute their experiences through a shared platform. The project will launch ahead of the 2021 fall semester.

Culminating in September, Ma’s residency will wrap up with the unveiling of the virtual project marking life under isolation over the past year.

According to a U-M release, student steering committee members include: Audrey Banks, School of Fine Arts, UM-Flint; Alyssa Melani, School of Music, Theatre & Dance, UM-Ann Arbor; Ashwin Prakash, student, College of Engineering, UM-Ann Arbor; Nithya Arun, president, Central Student Government, UM-Ann Arbor; Darena Matti, DEI liaison and Central Student Government, UM-Dearborn; Samantha Uptmor, president, Central Student Government, UM-Flint.


About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.