Town hall on the integration of arts, humanities and STEMM focuses on collaboration and innovation

Wednesday, May 29, 2019 - 7:31pm

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Alec Cohen/Daily

On Tuesday morning, about 70 people gathered in the Michigan League for “Branches from the Same Tree: A U-M Town Hall on the Integration of Arts, Humanities, and STEMM.” The event focused on discussing how to best work towards a more integrative environment between the different academic communities on campus.

The campus-wide town hall was hosted by the University of Michigan President’s Office, Provost’s Office, ArtsEngine and Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities in partnership with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Rebecca Cunningham, associate vice president for research and health sciences, opened the event by introducing the challenges integration can help tackle. Tom Rudin, director of the board on higher education and workforce at the National Academies for Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, held a demonstration where attendees had Monopoly money representing University funding. Participants put the mock money into a basket of their choice representing possible funding recipients. Most of the attendees put their mock money in baskets about increasing interdisciplinary collaboration, setting the tone for an event focused on innovative ways to integrate the arts and humanities with STEMM.

When the floor opened for questions, many people voiced opinions on different aspects of the exercise. Some expressed time and space are resources just as valuable as money.

Marvin Parnes, interim executive director of the alliance for the arts in research universities, brought up a point about integration that became a main theme over the duration of the event. 

“What we’re challenging about the University is also what is highly respected, which is deep disciplinary knowledge, deep expertise, lifelong commitment to building that knowledge and training others in our areas of expertise,” Parnes said. “It makes me wonder if we don’t need to develop this area as more of a discipline; that we need to have some dedicated faculty research where this becomes something that people study and develop.”

A panel titled “Addressing Academic Silos — Revisiting Modes of Knowledge” followed the opening. Earl Lewis, LSA center for social solutions director, spoke first about evaluating integrative efforts in broader society.

“We are at a reflection point, where somehow we need to figure out how to connect deep, vertical knowledge with new horizontal structures and apparatuses that allow us move forward both vertically and horizontally,” Lewis said.

 Jane Prophet, Art & Design associate dean, spoke about the structural problems around access to art and the loss of the ability to think of creative and broad solutions.

“Some of the things we’re losing in engineering and medicine is the ability to blue-sky think, where there may not be a goal, and if there is a goal, it may not be near term,” Prophet said. “In my own research, some of the most productive and positive collaborative research that I’ve undertaken with colleagues from the sciences, we’ve just been funded to have conversations.”

Parnes moderated the final panel titled “Arts Integration and the University Community.” Christina Olsen, Director of the University of Michigan Museum of Art, spoke about the importance of integrating the museum with other sections of campus, especially in the context of creating things.

“One of the things that I would articulate, or put words to, is the very profound power that making things has for people,” Olsen said. “When you make things, you understand that most of the world is made … and you begin to have conversations about remaking.”

Scott Heister, Michigan STEM Region 2 director, came to the event to see the University's position on arts integration, as he said the University’s actions tend to affect what happens in K-12 system where he works.

“One of my fears is that we lose that art for art’s sake, that we take a lens of looking at art as a tool for something rather than for itself,” Heister said. “Where the University goes, the K-12 systems will follow, it’s just understanding where they’re at and making sure that we can help craft the language that ensures arts remain or grow in the K-12 systems.”

Art & Design junior Bre Boersma attended the event as a member of the Living Arts learning community. Boersma said she found the faculty asked questions that dealt with issues students are currently facing.

“A lot of the questions that are being asked here are a lot of the questions that students are asking within their own clubs,” Boersma said. “I’m a part of the Industrial Design Society and we’re having the same discussion of, ‘Do we just offer it to Art & Design students or do we open up to IOE and Mechanical Engineering and what does that look like?’”

Jing Liu, managing director of the Michigan Institute for Data Science, has been working with the School of Music, Theatre & Dance to promote data science in the arts. She came to the event to connect with other arts organizations on campus.

“There is a lot of potential here for people who value the arts,” Liu said. “That motivates us to keep going, to keep doing what we have been doing and expanding and engaging more people.”