Projects Archive

Working with scholars, students, writers, artists, filmmakers, performers, and creative members of our community, UMMA’s project-based collaborations create new ways of engaging with our collections and exhibitions. 

Projects Archive

Sam Gilliam, The Real Blue, 1998Art and artifacts tell multilayered stories and provide not only information about their creation and beauty but also our history and collective conscience. So, when the U-M School of Social Work (SSW) approached UMMA to collaborate on interpreting works in their noted art collection which feature themes of social justice, we were eager to work together. The SSW had determined that the best way to share this project with current and future students, alumni, and the public, for the U-M Bicentennial, was to develop an online presence for it. To begin, UMMA staff Ruth Slavin, Deputy Director for Education, and Pamela Reister, Curator for Museum Teaching and Learning, visited the school for a tour and discussion. Professor Larry Gant guided the UMMA representatives and SSW Communications and Public Relations Manager Lisa Raycraft, through the halls to examine key works of art. Recent Stamps School of Art and Design graduate, Niki Williams, was also part of the project team.

Professor Gant, who holds appointments at both SSW and the Stamps School of Art and Design, shared his perspectives on work such as Sam Gilliam’s The Real Blue, a four-piece installation commissioned for the School of Social Work’s lower level and a centerpiece of its original art collection. Gant pointed out that the four, richly multicolored, sculptural elements of this site-specific piece animate the unpredictable spaces of the room in unexpected ways, encouraging consideration of intersectionality and inspiration. As Gant described, “social justice is not always a grand ambition. It is more often what we do every day, how we engage with others, practice empathy, face questions of equity.”

As project lead for UMMA, Reister was excited to delve deeper into the SSW collection. “It was a compelling opportunity to engage viewers in art relating to human rights, the environment, global justice and all the ambiguous, contradictory and sometimes inhumane aspects of human nature.” Reister was particularly intrigued by the artist Hung Liu, a Chinese born, American artist and activist. Born in 1948, Liu was witness to a time of radical change in China whose upheaval directly affected her family. After immigrating to the U.S with her son, she studied with artists Allan Kaprow, Eleanor and David Anton at UC San Diego, along with fellow students Lorna Simpson, Hall Fisher, and Jeffrey Kelly—whom she later married. In her art, Liu has found ways to address her personal and broader issues of history including that of immigration, and women and labor.

Hung Liu, Women Working: Loom, 1999Through collaborations around conferences and teaching over the last several years, UMMA educators have joined forces with SSW on a few projects. Working with a group of Social Work faculty, Slavin and David Choberka, Mellon Manager of Academic Outreach and Teaching, developed an annual workshop for new MSW cohorts designed to explore social justice, empathy, equity, and inclusion. In this workshop, Choberka, Slavin, and Reister introduce students to historic and contemporary works, exploring disciplinary concepts and their own points of view through the medium of art. Raycraft said, “Collaborations like these make the University of Michigan truly a public gem.”

If you would like to explore the social justice collection, it is found within the SSW website here.

The UMMA Student Engagement Council (SEC) provides a window onto every aspect of museum work for the students who participate. They design and implement public programs, meet curators, and are key contributors to social media.

One of the most popular projects is creating their own installation each year. This annual project was initially inspired by an online exhibition commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center and responding to its message and mission.

Since 2014, SEC members have curated analog installations for the study cases in the education wing of the Museum. In order to organize this show they work together to select a theme and art that supports it, write and edit labels, and discuss—sometimes with great spirit—how the works should be arranged.

This year, the initial selection of prints celebrated an array of identities in American culture – the differences and similarities that are captured by art in the UMMA collection. As SEC members eliminated some initial choices because of size and conservation restrictions, students confronted with the reality of working with material objects. Curating digital images is easy: all the art is the same size and durability. Curating physical objects means understanding space limitations and conservation concerns.

SEC students meet UMMA staff members during the year. As they worked on the installation they met Amy Passiak, Mellon Academic Outreach Collections Assistant, who proposed some new objects for display. These, in turn, required students to rethink their theme. Talin Tahajian laid out the route to the title for this years installation. “‘The Mirrored Image’ could get us to the tight and compelling visual conversation about issues of identity, the 'self,' and intro-/extro-spection that we'd been searching for the whole time.”

After identifying a compelling focus for the installation, students had to write labels. SEC member Janavi Goldblum described the label writing process in the 2016/17 undergraduate History of Art journal Hel[icon]. “The label writer must become a wordsmith, must leave the viewer with something to think about [and aim for] insightful and poetic.”

The 2017/18 SEC show was on display February 15 - March 4, 2018. It demonstrated that SEC students contribute to UMMA in creative and imaginative ways that in turn have a substantive impact on the visitor experience.

In celebration of U-M's bicentennial year, UMMA collaborated with other campus colleagues and collections on UpstART 200: A U-M Bicentennial Project of Student and Alumni Reflection and Making. This project, organized by the North campus-based ArtsEngine program, draws on UMMA and other extraordinary campus collections to invite students to create their own work in relationship to the history of creativity and making at the University by making available objects from U-M collections.  

In the spring and summer of 2016, over 20 post-doctoral fellows, current graduate and undergraduate students worked at UMMA in teams guided by UMMA curators, educators, and registrars, to research, document and photograph over 5,000 collections objects thanks to IMLS funding. For objects rarely on view, this project is an opportunity to examine and study directly from these works of art The Modern and Contemporary team, led by Museum Curator for Teaching and Learning, Pamela Reister, recently shared some of the team’s discoveries.  In one case, what was previously thought to be (and recorded as) one work of art by 20th Century artist Hans Arp turned out to be a boxed portfolio of twenty-eight separate prints. Research on another graphic work by Elizabeth Catlett, was able to identify all of the portraits contained within one print, and to link them to her earlier works, creating new knowledge about this important 20th Century African-American artist. New information about these works of art will improve collections access by improving data, while also fulfilling UMMA’s mission to mentor and train the next generation of scholars and museum professionals.

Learn More

Exploring Identities is an ongoing participatory project inviting U-M students to explore the ways in which our identities are pictured and crafted through various creative media. We have provided an open forum for everyone to upload their photos and videos that capture images of themselves, others, and/or their creative works that respond to these ideas. We invite you to take full creative freedom in interpreting "identity."

Exploring Identities

Beginning in January 2014, LOVE ART MORE is an ongoing participatory project inviting UM students to explore, animate and broaden their relationship to art and to UMMA. The project presents a series of “prompts” – simple ideas for things to make and do – and everyone is invited to get involved. When an assignment is fulfilled, participants submit their response in text, photograph, video or audio to be included in an ever-expanding online exhibition within UMMA’s website.

LOVE ART MORE is inspired by UMMA’s ongoing efforts to provide UM students with meaningful engagement with the arts, and also in part by Learning To Love You More, a collaborative online art project started in 2002, by artists Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher, that invited people all over the world to respond to creative assignments. Learning To Love You More was also an ever-changing series of exhibitions, screenings and radio broadcasts presented all over the world. One of these presentations will be on display at UMMA from May 3 through July 20, 2014 as part of the exhibition Appropriation / Collaboration: Christian Marclay / Harrell Fletcher & Miranda July.


When UMMA re-opened its doors in March 2009 after a 3-year renovation and expansion project, the DialogTable (2009-2014) was one component of the much larger Interpretive Project undertaken by UMMA to reimagine the way that visitors experience the Museum in the new facility. This larger project was shaped by UMMA's commitment to creating a museum environment profoundly conducive to reflection, teaching, and close looking, while enabling visitors to deepen their experiences through self-directed, layered multimedia interpretation that suggests the complex ways in which works of art can be approached and understood.

Dialog Table

Paths to Renewal, a virtual exhibit to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center at the University of Michigan. Featuring works chosen by UMMA student docents, it is designed to promote the healthy relationship values of respect and communication. We invite you to take a tour through the exhibit and to share your thoughts in the comments boxes below the artworks. We are excited to present this exhibition and hope you enjoy it.

The UMMA Education Department and Student Programming and Advisory Council, in conjunction with the Fluxus and the Essential Questions of Life exhibition at UMMA, invite UM students to host their own performances of Fluxus Event Scores throughout the month of March.

Event Scores involve simple actions, ideas, and objects from everyday life recontexualized as performance. Event Scores are texts that can be seen as proposal pieces or instructions for actions. The idea of the score suggests musicality. Like a musical score, Event Scores can be realized by artists other than the original creator and are open to variation and interpretation.

How to host your own Fluxus happening

In October 2012, UMMA sent out a call for participation to filmmakers, artists, writers, photographers, storytellers, and arts enthusiasts interested in making a movie with the Museum. UMMA invited individuals to create 2-3 minute videos in response to works of art in our collection that would then be made available to the public in our galleries in April 2013 and on the Dialog Table, UMMA's award-winning interactive storytelling and social learning tool.

Together with independent filmmakers Donald Harrison and Sharad Patel, who led the filmmaking workshop, UMMA staff project leaders Lisa Borgsdorf and Ruth Slavin selected thirteen participants through a competitive application process. Those selected range in age from fourteen to fifty-nine and include high school and undergraduate UM students, recent UM graduates, musicians, teachers, and community leaders. Some came to the workshops with no filmmaking or artistic background, others came with quite a bit, and the majority of participants fell somewhere in the middle. To effectively support such a spectrum of experience, Harrison and Patel employed a mentored learning model that balanced group workshop time with individual one-on-one coaching. To do this, they recruited two more experienced artists and filmmakers to serve as mentors, Emilia Javanica and Martin Thoburn. All four created their own movies as well.

Many Voices

During the Fall 2011 semester, the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) hosted the Face of Our Time Student Photography Competition in conjunction with the Face of Our Time exhibition, on view at UMMA November 12, 2011 through February 5, 2012.

This competition offered students the opportunity to have their photograph featured in a digital slide-show on display in the gallery along with the exhibit. The slide-show is comprised of 20 finalists selected by UMMA’s Student Programming and Advisory Council.

The deadline for entries was Tuesday, November 1, 2011. Finalists were announced on this blog on Friday, November 11, 2011.

Face of Our Time Photography Contest

In the fall 2009 semester, the students in Screen Arts and Cultures 401: Experimental Documentary were invited to create their own movies for the DialogTable — an exciting opportunity for student work to impact the visitor experience at the Museum. The assignment, created and developed by Professor Terri Sarris in collaboration with UMMA, yielded eight roughly two-minute documentaries that demonstrate distinctly individual ways of interacting with art.

Each student selected a piece on view at the Museum and “went to the root of the work,” Professor Sarris explained. “[It was wonderful] to give the students the opportunity to study new forms of art and to draw inspiration from a variety of disciplines.”

Screen Arts and Cultures

UMMA’s Student Programming and Advisory Board sponsored a t-shirt design competition to celebrate the reopening of the Museum of Art. The winning design, by John Johnson, class of 2010, A. Alfred Taubman School of Architecture and Urban Planning, is for sale exclusively in the Museum Store.

Congratulations to John, and thanks to all who participated.

Two UM student organizations tied for first place in the attendance contest at the student preview celebration March 24. 109 members of ACCESS came to the Museum and signed in. And F.O.K.U.S. (a multicultural arts organization) brought out 100% of their group's members. Both organizations will receive a cash donation from the Museum.

Forty seven states and 50 countries were represented among the 5,500 students who attended the student preview. Each student who signed in as the first person to represent their state or country received a $50 Zingerman's gift certificate. This is believed to be a record-breaking figure for a museum opening, and a great representation of the global reach and diversity of UM. Not to mention the powerful draw of free Zing...