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UMMA and the U-M Arts Initiative Announce a New Partnership with Monument Lab to Explore Cultural and Social Impact of Historic Structures on the University's Campus

Tuesday, April 12
Image of Faculty Memorial Hall at the University of Michigan Museum of Art

The University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) and the U-M Arts Initiative announced a partnership today with renowned nonprofit public art and history studio Monument Lab that will examine the role of historic structures at the University of Michigan in upholding social and cultural systems and narratives. The initiative, which will include new research, community engagement, and the development of a newly commissioned art installation, will be led by Dr. Paul Farber, director and co-founder of Monument Lab, and Ozi Uduma, UMMA’s Assistant Curator of Global Contemporary Art, both graduates of U-M. In conjunction with this partnership, Dr. Farber will also serve as the Arts Initiative’s first-ever Curator-in-Residence.

The partnership between UMMA and Monument Lab supports critical dialogues about the responsibilities of public institutions as cultural history makers and stewards, and is part of UMMA’s ongoing efforts to challenge its own history and approaches in order to create an institution more reflective of its community and honest in its explorations of art, culture, and society.

“We are thrilled to be working with Monument Lab and Dr. Farber to bring a project of this scale and importance to UMMA and the University of Michigan,” said Christina Olsen, UMMA’s Director. “Interrogating our past and being honest about our history is the only way we can make sure our Museum is truly able to make good on its promise to build a more just future. This initiative will serve as a source of great collective dialogue for years to come, and we hope to support new models of engagement between cultural institutions and the public.”

Farber and Uduma will lead a team whose research focuses in particular on the history of UMMA’s Alumni Memorial Hall, which opened in 1910. The neo-classical building was initially built to commemorate U-M students and staff who served in the Mexican American, Civil, and Spanish-American Wars. It later became home to the university's art collections, and eventually the home of a new university art museum (UMMA). It is now one of UMMA's two campus buildings. The history and multi-purpose nature of Alumni Memorial Hall provides a platform through which to explore Michigan’s history and the ways in which it continues to reverberate in contemporary culture. As part of their work, Farber and Uduma will actively engage with the public, both the U-M community and residents of the region, to expand understanding of how societal structures are shaped and upheld through the design and development of buildings, communal spaces, and monuments.

The project will culminate in the creation of a newly commissioned art installation. The artist selection is currently in progress and will be announced at a later date. Together, UMMA, Monument Lab, and the commissioned artist, as well as the broader public, will explore how Alumni Memorial Hall has commemorated the past and what role it can play in the future.

“With UMMA, we are building on the work Monument Lab has done in cities across the country and beyond,” said Farber, who co-founded Monument Lab as he was finishing his PhD in American Culture (’13) at U-M, to facilitate critical conversations around monumentality, public art, and collective memory. “To return to the U-M campus as Curator-in-Residence, and have the opportunity to co-curate a major project with fellow alum Ozi Uduma, is a profound honor. It is also a call to action: to engage the power of public art and history to shape visions, grasp challenges, and render possibilities for transformation.”

“The darker stories and histories of our structures and monuments can often be covered up by their facades,” said UMMA’s Ozi Uduma. “What we’re trying to do in partnership with Monument Lab is reveal and unsettle these histories. It’s our duty as a free, public museum to tell more complex and more honest stories about the choices made by artists or by builders or by university administrations because those choices often have direct impacts on our communities. To move forward, we must unpack this past.”

Farber and the team at Monument Lab were the inaugural grantees of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s “Monuments Project,” a $250 Million initiative to “transform the way our country’s histories are told in public spaces,” including Monument Lab’s landmark National Monument Audit and the opening of research field offices throughout the United States as part of this year’s major Re:Generation national initiative.

In addition to UMMA’s partnership with Monument Lab, Farber's tenure as Curator-in Residence will include working with the U-M Arts Initiative to explore the role of public art and experience on the University’s campus. The Curator-in-Residence is a pilot for an ongoing role on campus, which aims to integrate current thinking about public art in the U-M curriculum, catalyze the capacity of public art to weave together various campus communities around relevant topical issues, and showcase the opportunity to leverage art as a bridge between U-M and the SE Michigan community.

The Curator-in-Residence will lead a two-year residency for U-M faculty and staff from across the University focused on public art and social engagement, sponsored by the Arts Initiative. The focus of the residency will include attention to the intersections of artistic, public, curricular, and civically engaged projects – especially those that also approach narrative change, policy influence, and justice frameworks. Up to five residents will be selected by the Arts Initiative and participate in six sessions from Fall 2022–Fall 2023, including research trips across the region and to Monument Lab’s HQ in Philadelphia.

The Curator-in-Residence will also contribute to a course for U-M students using a project-based model with a U-M faculty Kristin Hass from the Department of American Culture, leveraging networks of artists and community partners from the commission work as course context for students.