Interactive audio-visual installation highlights Schultz’s healing after alleged assault by SMTD professor

Wednesday, April 17, 2019 - 9:47pm

University students have created an interactive audio-visual installation to bring attention to opera singer Samuel Schultz’s healing in the SMTD Soderquist Atrium Wednesday morning.

University students have created an interactive audio-visual installation to bring attention to opera singer Samuel Schultz’s healing in the SMTD Soderquist Atrium Wednesday morning. Buy this photo
Courtesy of Sammy Sussman

An interactive audio-visual installation aiming to bring attention to opera singer Samuel Schultz’s healing after an alleged assault by School of Music, Theatre & Dance professor David Daniels was unveiled in the SMTD Soderquist Atrium this morning. The installation is comprised of three interactive string elements and two speakers playing recordings of Schultz sharing his side of the story and a rolling counter projection estimating Daniels’s pay by the University of Michigan since he was placed on administrative leave in August 2018.

Schultz’s allegations of rape against Daniels and his husband Scott Walters in 2010 broke in a New York Daily News article published in August 2018. Daniels was placed on leave from the University later that month, shortly after the allegations became public.

Further reporting by The Daily uncovered multiple attempts by Daniels to solicit sex from University students on Grindr, a dating app for gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. The Daily also found evidence the University was made aware of sexual misconduct allegations by University students against Daniels in March 2018, though they awarded him tenure in May.

In an email to The Daily, University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen wrote that Daniels is on paid leave.

“David Daniels remains on paid leave,” Broekhuizen wrote. “How long a U-M employee stays on paid leave is determined by the individual situation in each case and when facts may develop that have an impact on an employment decision.”

The installation has been approved to remain up until April 25. Titled “Pulling Strings,” it features speaker boxes with strings dangling from them. The speakers play many overlapping recordings of Samuel Schultz reading his statement on the alleged rape, which is published on Schultz’s website. When one pulls on the strings, the other recordings fade away until only a single voice is left.

In an interview with The Daily, Music, Theatre & Dance senior Fisher Diede, the creator of the installation, explained how the interactive aspect highlights the abuse of power by large institutions through the metaphor “pulling strings.”

“The title of the piece, ‘Pulling Strings,’ plays off the metaphor of pulling strings in positions of power and that is represented in the piece through hanging strings that the user is invited to pull on,” Diede said. “The way pulling strings affects the audio is directly playing on a metaphor that when certain strings are pulled certain voices are quieted or eliminated.”

In front of the speakers and above the entrance to McIntosh Theatre, a projection updates Daniels’ salary since being placed on paid leave. The figure has reached over $114,000 as of the date of publication. Diede said the figure was calculated based on how much Daniels made in 2018.

Although Diede expressed understanding of the classification of his piece as a protest, he stated the main purpose of the installation was to emphasize Schultz’s strength and healing, as well as create a space for discussion.

“It’s less so focused on (Schultz’s) allegations and more so focused on his healing,” Diede said. “I think the whole intent of this piece is to share a story from a voice that has been hushed quite a bit already and I think while I don’t disagree with the idea of this being a protest piece I don’t want that to undermine the story because that’s why this installation was created: to share that story.”

In an interview with The Daily, Schultz explained he did not know Diede before he reached out to Schultz about the project. According to Schultz, the installation was entirely Diede’s idea — Schultz’s only involvement in the project was recording an already released statement.

Schultz said he hopes his recovery process shows that survivors can find hope after assault, as assault does not have to become one’s identity.

“One of the things that I’ve had to find in my life is how to think of myself as more than someone who was gravely abused,” Schultz said. “And in finding meaning, in finding hope, in seeking kindness and empathy as guiding forces in my life, I have been on a journey of recovery that has allowed me to find beauty in life. What I hope from my statement, what I hope people takeaway is that there is an alternative to anger and bitterness as the lifelong choice in reacting to difficult circumstances.”

Reflecting on the installation’s theme of the abuse of power, Schultz expressed the importance of institutions recognizing individual dignity.

“Leaders of institutions have an obligation to understand reputation and making money pale in comparison to an individual’s worth in terms of the dignity of the human soul,” Schultz said. “When institutions fail to recognize the dignity of those who are not in positions of power, they do a great disservice to the world at large.”

Music, Theatre & Dance Dean David Gier declined to comment on the installation, explaining he does not know the specifics of this class project. Gier redirected The Daily to Michael Gurevich, associate professor and chair of performing arts technology, for comment.

Gurevich confirmed the installation is Diede’s final project for his interactive media design course. In an email to The Daily, Gurevich said he is proud of Fisher for tackling relevant student issues.

“Interactive art installations act as mirrors, so I suppose these pieces are inevitable reflections of the climate these students are living in,” Gurevich wrote. “With ‘Pulling Strings,’ not only has Fisher brilliantly addressed the themes we address in the class and designed an elegant interactive system, he has also done an incredible amount of careful and diligent background work on the ethical and social considerations involved in creating a piece in a public space that addresses such a thorny topic. I’m proud of him for doing so.”

According to Diede, the installation was conceived in February as a project for class, though it ultimately expanded beyond the scope of the class. Diede explained he went through standard bureaucratic channels to clear his installation with Music, Theatre & Dance administration. In his design, Diede said he intentionally tried to make sure there would be no reason for the installation to be taken down or denied other than its subject matter.

Diede explained that he pitched his project as a piece highlighting the power of large institutions and the sometimes unjust iterations of that power without mentioning it would be about Schultz and Daniels explicitly. Diede explained that while the piece was initially approved, it was suddenly placed on hold Tuesday evening when administrators learned it involved Schultz’s allegations against Daniels. However, it was reapproved within three or four hours of it being placed on hold, Diede said.

Diede said he has received support for the project from several faculty members and students. However, he emphasized the pressure — from the music industry, the administration or legal proceedings — that many stakeholders feel not to speak publicly about allegations against Daniels.

“Recognizing the unique position that I’m in — having proximity to the subject matter but not feeling threatened by a career in the performance industry or feeling hushed from legal proceedings — I’m here to share Sam Schultz’s story and bring to light some issues that have been ignored and hushed by the administration,” Diede said.

After the piece was installed, many students, staff and faculty stopped to interact with it throughout the day.

Music, Theatre and Dance sophomore Samantha Kao said the installation is the first of its kind she’s seen. She believes it will help create dialogue around similar issues on campus.

“This is the most direct exhibit of an ongoing issue in the school that I’ve seen here in my two years here,” Kao said. “I don’t think I’ve seen any artwork or any people really talking about issues that are going on around the school in this way and it's a little surprising but it's what we need here. This exhibit is helping to change the silence around these issues.”

Reflecting on the projection of Daniels’s estimated salary, Music, Theatre & Dance freshman Michael Mishler voiced frustration with the University’s response to allegations against Daniels.

“It just makes me so angry, because Daniels should’ve just been fired outright,” Mishler said. “He shouldn’t continue to be paid, especially when he’s not doing anything and he’s not at the school, so there’s no reason for him to be paid to begin with even if he wasn’t a rapist. I think the school itself needs to do something because the students are well aware of what is going on but the administration itself that needs to take notice of something like this.”

Diede emphasized his desire to highlight Schultz’s process of healing, explaining that the piece is meant to show support for all survivors of assault.

“This piece is focused on healing,” Diede said. “It’s for any survivors who are spoken or unspoken in the University ... to let them know that we support them even though the administration might not be so transparently doing so.”

Rachel Cunningham and Elizabeth Lawrence contributed reporting to this story.

Correction: This article has been updated to correct "Deide" to "Diede," the number of speakers in the art installation from two to three, and the date of the administration's temporary hold of the exhibit from Monday to Tuesday.