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In Conversation with Tunde Olaniran

Tunde Olaniran

As part of his UMS Digital Artist Residency, Flint-based musician and activist Tunde Olaniran has embarked on a project that features art-making across disciplines, community collaboration and co-creation, emergent technologies, and video animation.

UMS 21st Century Intern Catherine Moore recently sat down with Tunde to talk about his UMS Live Session, upcoming projects, and collaborations with Yo-Yo Ma.

Read the interview below:

Catherine Moore: We are so excited to present your UMS Live Session, streaming now until Monday, May 10. What could viewers expect to see in this session? 

Tunde Olaniran: I wanted to create a performance that captured how I’m feeling right now as a person and an artist. I usually would be doing a lot of dancing and rolling around feverishly on stage – well, I might be doing a little bit of that – but recently I have been feeling very protective. I haven’t ever performed my new single “We Don’t Want to Hear It,” and I had to decide how I wanted to present this song. It’s a chance for me to think about my voice, and use it in a way that is more intentional.

I wanted to create something that didn’t feel like I was just going through the motions. I don’t feel like jumping all over the place right now. We’ll have movement, but we wondered: What would that look like if that movement was slower and more deliberate?

The piece is centered in subliminal space, creating doorways and traveling through them. My friend is a set designer, and our idea for filming this project was to use cinematography similar to surgical cameras. Our idea was to literally dig inside ourselves and find intimate spaces that can feel warm and comforting, but also feel like you’re trapped. It creates this duality of emotions.

With our sound, we’re trying to create something that sounds darker and more intimate.

This performance is in anticipation of a record you’re releasing in the fall and an exhibition at the Cranbrook Museum of Art in 2022. Describe to us what you’re planning. 

The Cranbrook exhibition is a performance-based installation with six Michigan area artists, and this current Live Session being released through UMS is acting as a sort of teaser for this larger project.

The Exhibition is called Made a Universe. I’m making a short film that melds real-life experiences from me growing up as a black artist in Flint with surrealist horror, giving shape to the subtle brutalities of capitalism and exploring how we as humans respond to oppression.

The six-part episodic narrative will take place over a day and a night. The main character takes this journey where he’s swallowed up by a series of different portals that unlock actual superpowers. These portals are reflective of inner demons, and personal experiences. The main character has this series of strange and surreal challenges that leads to a questioning of whether these powers will be used for or against him. The project takes my obsession with superheroes and comics and melds them together.

Each episode will play out in six distinct visual settings created by Michigan artists that work in sculpture, dance, and video art.

Tunde Olaniran by Landon SpeersTunde Olaniran Photographed by Landon Speers


What’s your connection to superpowers and comics? 

I’ve been a casual X-Men fan for a long time. A couple of years ago, I had a conversation before one of my shows where we talked about how the X-Men are queer coded.

I realized, then, that they were less this team of heroes and more this team of freaks who had been ostracized because of something they were born with and could not change. They’re not like Superman or Wonder Woman. They seep acid out of their pores. It’s not attractive – it’s scary. They find their own family and home, and they discover that the very thing that makes them frightening or demonic is what gives them their power.

My favorite thing about the X-Men is that they don’t win all the time. They actually lose a lot.

The past year has transformed the performing arts industry and how artists and audiences approach creating and experiencing art. How has your role or process in creating performance art shifted?

There was a quote that I saw recently that read, “We’re not machines, we’re gardens,” meaning that we have different needs depending on the season and time of day. In planning the UMS Live Session, I had to ask myself what I needed from my own artistry. I realized that I needed to feel totally enveloped in this project. Because this session is referencing the tone of the script for Made a Universe, my work on that project has also changed how we approached the session.

I finished the script for Made a Universe throughout 2020, and of course, living through this pandemic has shifted the tone that I have written with. It’s influenced everything from the way we’ve envisioned filming the short film to the character development of the protagonist. I’ve been home alone by myself for this entire year, so this feeling of isolation and drilling down into the space around you is going to be a theme throughout this entire project.

Tunde Olaniran by Landon SpeersTunde Olaniran Photographed by Landon Speers


You came together with Yo-Yo Ma in 2019 for the Flint Day of Action. How has being from Flint influenced you and your artistry? And what was it like to bring an artist like Yo-Yo to your hometown?

When Yo-Yo was planning to come to Flint for the Day of Action, the residency’s planners asked me to participate with him in some way. I was able to drive him around and give him a tour of the city, giving him a sense of the geography and meanings of the landscape within the city. I think he brought some great folks in the community together.

For me, being from Flint has always made me want to contextualize history as much as I can when I work with other people.

Flint’s history, especially when it comes to the Black working and middle class, is really strong. This history has given me an insistence on bringing a class analysis whenever I’m working on a project – it’s in my DNA. If I wasn’t from Flint, I don’t know if that would be how I would operate. I’ve been raised by people who are focused on ensuring that their history is not erased. I can help continue to create community and contribute to the cultural scene.

Yo-Yo sees all the blessings in his life, and he wants everyone to also have blessings in their lives. Throughout his travels, he has grown to see everyone as being part of one human race, and he wants others to see this, as well. He was a great collaborator for this advocacy.

After the Day of Action, you recorded a song with Yo-Yo. What was the inspiration and process behind that recording?

I hit it off with Yo-Yo and hoped that the Day of Action wouldn’t be the last day we would hang out! Later, I was touring in Boston, and I was asked if I wanted to get in the studio with Yo-Yo, and I was like “Um, Yes?!”

I had two weeks to plan the recording. I remember sending voice memos to my recording engineer, and I asked my producer to come from LA to Boston for the day. He created the session for our recording in the airport – you don’t get Yo-Yo for more than three hours, and I wanted to make the most of the session.

Yo-Yo and I talked on the phone about what we wanted to say with the song. I wanted to make sure that he could speak through my lyrics. In our conversation, he said that as he got older and further into his career, he wanted to be able to bring as many people into his space of connection and love as possible. I was fascinated and inspired by his ideas, and it gave me a great idea about the chord progression and shaping the tone.

I was trying to create a humming chant that felt like a meditation. Yo-Yo played over and over the progression. He played for two hours and we recorded all of it – it was so beautiful. As a vocalist, I had never felt an emotional connection like that to an instrument.

Months later, I puzzle-pieced his recordings together with lyrics that spoke to my conversation with Yo-Yo about how fleeting time is. The song is about reflection, and knowing that you’ve done something worthy of the life that you’ve been able to have.

Yo-Yo Ma and Tunde OlaniranYo-Yo Ma and Tunde Olaniran at the Flint Day of Action, 2019


You and Yo-Yo are very different artists. What was it like to collaborate with an artist who often works in such a different genre? 

I didn’t grow up singing in any sort of tradition – church, choir, anything. Sometimes these opportunities can be a benefit.

When working outside my usual genre, having a collaborator between me and other artists can help translate my ideas to their traditions so that we can best work together. When I was recording with Yo-Yo, our engineer was amazing at working out string arrangements, which was something I would not have been able to do.

When you’re an indie artist, there’s pressure to do and be everything at once. That’s why I like working with specialists, because they’re able to bring ideas that I would have never been able to come up with, and in turn, I’m able to enrich their practice. We are able to learn from each other, and support each other’s artistry. 

Can you describe your artistic process?

The mixtape is a great example of my process. I wanted to do something that was unrelated to the record I’m recording and was fun and for myself.

For me, the mixtape was a way to connect with people after being alone for most of this year. I started hitting up artists that I admired and people that I’ve always wanted to write for. I started having all these collaborative zoom calls with artists.

It’s been a lot of trial and error, and I’ve learned how to be comfortable and get something out of a very sterile format. Designing an artistic process is unique to the person and situation, but safety and comfort are always necessary. “Studio Granny” was my nickname because I’d always bring a bag full of snacks and cough drops and tissues to sessions to make sure that everyone was comfortable in the space that they were working in. People need to feel safe in your space, whether virtual or real.

Before we start creating. I always ask, “Why are we doing this?” because that really shapes the process.

As I create, I try to also ask, “Is the spell working?” Good art is like a spell that’s being cast. For me, that’s “Bodak Yellow” by Cardi B. No matter where that song was played people were entranced by it. It transforms spaces, reality, people.

Tunde OlaniranTunde Olaniran Photographed by Steven Piper


What are your post-pandemic dream plans for future performances and collaborations? 

I have no idea what the future will look like as far as performance goes, and I’m trying my best to not cling to any sort of semblance of the past.

With the film I’m currently creating, I’d love for that to open doors to more film-making. I’m currently working on a TV pilot script right now with someone that’s connected to this project, and I’m learning a lot about the pitching process.

I’d also love to be working for other artists and producers more. There are artists on this mixtape that I’d love to be directing their Grammy performance one day.

All I want is to make more music that would connect with other people in whatever way possible. Of course, I want to keep being ambitious with how my music is performed, but that’s my main goal.


(This interview was edited for clarity)

Introducing Sacramento Knoxx

Scramento Knoxx

UMS is pleased to welcome Sacramento Knoxx as this season’s Education and Community Engagement Research Residency Artist. He is a founding member of the Aadizookaan, a dynamic collective of creatives who, guided by ancestral indigenous-based knowledge systems, tell uplifting cultural stories through multidisciplinary art and music.

In this residency, Knoxx will base his work on Anishinaabe teachings to explore themes of environmental justice, exploitation, and the connection between the spirit and the land. The winter solstice, December 21, marks the first performance of the residency, Manidoo-Giizisoons (Little Spirit Moon), where Knoxx will invite audiences to meditate on the changing seasons over Zoom and be part of the creation of a new piece of music. Register for the event

UMS 21st Century Intern Catherine Moore recently sat down with Knoxx to talk about his artistic practice and hopes for the residency. Read the interview below:

What are you most looking forward to in this residency?

I’m most looking forward to the creative process. I want to bring Anishinaabe teachings into this phase of winter, as traditionally that’s when a lot of stories get told and shared. It’s in alignment with Anishinaabe cultural ways and lifestyles, and it feels amazing to share it with others. It’s all about creating the magic in the music, because sometimes when you’re in the studio by yourself, the magic stays there. This is a good opportunity to show the ingredients and to share the entire process, and uncover gems for everyone to share in.

The winter solstice is coming up, which is a ceremony time and seen as the final day to take care of one another. It’s the moment where the poles shift. To put this residency in the context of all this and sharing it with others as a young person with the grit of Detroit, it puts a lot of perspective on why these teachings are important and meaningful now.


The name of your organization you founded, Aadizookaan, means “the sacred spirit of the story.” Why do you think it’s important to share these sacred stories through this residency, and why is it a guiding principle of your organization?

I wanted to create something for myself that combined storytelling, language, spirit, art. I believe that I am assisting the telling of this sacred story, creating a framework for sharing these traditions. My ultimate goal is to keep the sacred spirit of the story going. I think of it as crowd-surfing – right now it’s my turn, and I have to pass it on. It’s a gift to be able to share my perspective and my understanding. I can provide these stories to others to interpret as they need, so they can continue to pass these teachings on.


In this year, there has been an increased reliance on nature and finding peace in change. Your UMS residency performances revolve around the Lunar Calendar, the first performance occurring on the evening of the Winter Solstice (Mon Dec 21). What do you think is the significance of reflecting on the lunar calendar and change of seasons, especially now?

This speaks to environmental justice and the sacredness of our land. We all do our efforts to take care of it, but we’re also all part of systems that exploit it. That is the essence of the effects of colonialism, that it’s a disconnect between the body, mind, and soul, from the land.

The land is our family member, we’re all connected to specific areas and we must respect the land that we live on because it supports us. Native folks were some of the first in this area to be stewards for the protection of land and work through social problems and exploitation because connecting with the earth is a part of our lifeway.

We have to ask ourselves, “What is my relationship with this land, my family member?” We need this connection with the land, and there is a grounding nature to being refreshed by taking a break from the monotony of looking at screens and working all the time. With COVID, I’ve noticed a new wave of people connecting with the universe and nature. I want to be able to provide these people with the Anishinaabe teachings to help guide these connections and push them toward justice.


Your recent album is called The Winter Tried To Kill Me: Sad nDn Love Songs. As you begin to craft another piece about winter and your relationship with it, what nuances are you bringing? How does this tie in with approaching the winter again, and creating your new piece for this residency?

That project was never planned. To me, it was just therapy. I have dealt with a lot of trauma in this time of winter; it always surfaces, and I never catch it. The project stemmed from needing to be raw and vulnerable and reconnect to these Anishinaabe teachings in a different way.

The Anishinaabe teachings tell us to prepare for the winter because the winter is a medicine. It’s going to calm everything down. There’s a teaching about the winter. It says that “the Winter tried to kill the Anishinaabe people because they were being greedy and wouldn’t slow down and follow the natural progression of life.” This story spoke to me because I was being hurt by not facing certain things in my life. This winter will be amazing because I used to keep all this hidden, but now I am comfortable with my struggles, and I feel a new wisdom.


What do you hope the audience gets out of these Anishinaabe stories and teachings?

The two important elements of Anishinaabe teachings are “being with nature” and “undoing and reclaiming.” With the history of colonization in this country, to practice “native” things and religion was illegal up until 1978. The Civil Rights movement, the efforts of different cultural groups, and the American Indian movement pushed for policies that helped these Native folks practice traditional lifeways. The older people before me reclaimed these practices and instilled it in me as a youth, and I grabbed it and continue to evolve and shape these teachings and ways of life.

What’s most critical in preserving these lifeways is showing people what native people look like in the future. Most depictions of Native American art and history are in a past context. I embrace the futurism of creating and portraying new traditions and new ceremonies that hold on to the things of the past. This residency is part performance, part recording and archiving, and part processing and planning. It’s the planning of future ceremonies that are representative of these Anishinaabe teachings.


Your work is grounded in indigenous knowledge systems and environmental justice. How do you act on that in your creative process, and in your everyday life? How do you want your audience to incorporate these teachings into their everyday lives?

When I see people that have no prior knowledge of indigenous knowledge systems, I have to ask, “how I can pull them in the conversation or the work in a way that’s genuine and fun?” With work surrounding social movements and justice, it becomes easy to get caught up in the excitement of the protest, but difficult to know what to do next. That’s where the Anishinaabe teachings come in. The Anishinaabe teach that people should “come as they are.” Then, through visits, you learn who this person is and see where they fit into systems.

When I rap, there’s a lot of concepts I realized I have to explain before or after the song. With visuals, I’m able to help decode these lyrics and create a dynamic story-telling experience. As I’m creating this residency work, I’m paying attention to who’s watching, and how they’re going to utilize it. But I want to bring more people in. I think backward a lot – I think of my end goal and what I want people to come away with, and I shape my creative process around that.


The root of your work and essence as an artist and Anishinaabe storyteller is engaging with your audience. How are you adapting to our new virtual performance world?

I’ve done a few virtual performances, and I’ve noticed that the pressure’s not there like it is when you’re about to go on stage. I think it’s because you don’t feel the spirits of the audience in the room. It’s almost beneficial for me, because whenever I perform, I get nervous, but you miss the magic of that pressure dissolving away when you connect with your audience.

I’m excited to be able to sample the textures of the Zoom call during the residency performance because that is totally unique to virtual performance. It’s experimentation in the limitation and exploring.


As you said earlier, reflecting on the winter is a highly vulnerable process for you, and is seen as very restorative in Anishinaabe teachings. What advice would you give to your audience on how to be vulnerable and engage with your work?

There are certain animal relatives that fought the winter for the Anishinaabe people. There is a cycle of life from being a baby, to growing old, to passing away, to returning to the earth. When you make your rounds, there’s this North-Winter spirit that is wise because it’s traveled through this entire circle.

I’m going to share this story with the audience. The story of these animals and plants that stood up and protected the Anishinaabe people when the winter said, “I’m going to kill everybody, I’m going to make everything cold.” Obviously now we can control the elements with electricity and heat. But through looking at the moon time and feeling the connection to the natural world and nature, I hope to create a feeling and appreciation for the spirits that surround us is important in this moment. The snow and the cold help us remember that we have to keep our lifeways grounded and remind us of the teaching of the North.


(This interview was edited for clarity)


The UMS Research Residency Program is made possible through generous support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Want to engage with artists and activists next semester?

Engaging Performances

As theaters and venues close worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic, artists and presenters are developing innovative ways to inspire and challenge audiences.

In collaboration with U-M arts presenter, the University Musical Society (UMS), Engaging Performances (Winter 2021) will connect undergraduate students with artists and activists who are using the performing arts (theatre, dance, and music) to spark dynamic conversations during trying times.

Students will have virtual discussions with artists from UMS’s newly developed Digital Artists Residency program, 20-21 Research Residency Artist Sacramento Knoxx, UMS arts administrators, and other guest speakers. Students will also participate in selected digital engagements (such as performances, conversations, participatory experiences, discussions, and other activities) outside of the course.

Regular synchronous online class sessions will involve interactive classroom activities, lectures by guests and visiting artists, discussions on weekly readings, response papers on identified engagements and readings, and in-class student presentations. The case studies will be drawn from a variety of artistic styles and media over time and geographical locations.

Class visits by artists and activists active during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students enrolled in the 2021 Engaging Performance Class will engage with digital works by the following seven artists:

  • Actor Wendell Pierce will explore social justice, anti-racism and the Black canon of performance work.
  • Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato will use song as a lens through which to process and navigate the human experience in relation to current events and global concerns in real-time.
  • Choreographer Cleo Parker Robinson, who is celebrating the 50th anniversary of her Denver-based company Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, will document, in collaboration with award-winning filmmaker Alan Domínguez, the creative process behind The Four Journeys, a new work that examines the confluence of culture in México from its diverse indigenous heritage to more recent influences from Europe, Africa, and Asia.
  • Flint-based musician and activist Tunde Olaniran will activate a dynamic residency that features art-making across disciplines, community collaboration and co-creation, emergent technologies, and video animation.
  • Performance artist Brian Lobel, who, along with artists Gweneth-Ann Rand, Allyson Devenish, and Naomi Felix, will playfully interrogate the idea of failure…in art, in life, in public, and in private through an extension of his 2015 performance piece, 24 Italian Songs and Arias.
  • Lebanese composer and pianist Tarek Yamani and the Chicago-based Spektral Quartet will join forces to explore the junctures between Western Classical, jazz, and traditional Arab music, resulting in a new, evening-length commission.
  • Sacramento Knoxx is an Ojibwe and Chicano rapper, artist, and activist based in Detroit whose work is rooted in native resurgence and land-based performance practice. The cycles of the moon and the changing of the seasons will serve as the grounding timeline for this residency, which will feature a series of virtual open-studio events.

Course Information

Term: Winter 2021 // Course name: Engaging Performance
Course Listing: MUSPERF 200, ALA 260, RCHUMS 334.014, WGS 344.1
Instructors: Charli Brissey and Naomi André
Credit: 3 Credits (Humanities Distribution)
Class Schedule: Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:30 am – 1 pm (Online/Remote)

Is it for me?

No previous knowledge of the performing arts is required from students! It is open to undergraduates at all levels and across all departments at the University of Michigan.

Hear from past students

Theresa Nguyen (Information Science, Spring 2020 graduate)
“After taking this class, I’ve learned the importance of an audience and what it means for the performer. Although I was going to see performances for a class, my presence in the audience meant a lot to the performer. The audience can either improve or worsen the overall impression of a performance. I’ve also learned to step out of my comfort zone and be immersed in arts I would never go to.”

Monique Wheeler (English, Junior)
“The most important lesson that I learned was the impact that doing research on an artist can have on the way you interpret a show. I loved getting a chance to know the performers. Some questions that this class raised for me were: How important is venue when it comes to performance? Why do individuals tend to only see performances they know they will like? What genres produce the highest ticket sales?”

Karina Vallejo Vasquez (LSA, Sophmore)
“I think the important lesson that I personally learned was that the performing arts are experienced differently by everyone to some degree based on our experience and lenses. A major question that I now think about more often in regard to performances is how did that make me feel and how has it changed me.”

– Engaging Performance is made possible through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and a partnership between the University of Michigan and the University Musical Society (UMS).

Meet the 2020/21 Season 21st Century Artist Interns

Each year, UMS and the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance pair students with an internship working for a dance, theater, or music ensemble that UMS will present in its season. In the 2020/21 Season, they will be working directly with UMS staff and Digital Residency Artists.

The 21st Century Artist Internship is a highly competitive program developed to prepare students for new demands that working artists face in the contemporary marketplace. In addition to generating outstanding creative work, today’s artists are also tasked with reaching potential audiences in innovative ways. This unique program provides real-world work experience and professional connections to help develop these skills within the context of UMS’s programming.

The 21st Century Artist Internship program is made possible in part by the Jay Ptashek and Karen Elizaga Family.

This Year’s Interns

Kristin HansonKristin Hanson

Class of 2022
Major: Dance
Minor: Performing Arts Management and Entrepreneurship
Focus of Internship: UMS Performance Playground

Kristin Hanson is currently a student at the University of Michigan pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance. When she’s not in the studio, she also studies Performing Arts Management and History of Art. She is currently President of Dance Student Assembly and is producing a dance choreography showcase for Arts In Color, an organization focused on DEI within dance. As a dancer, Kristin has been fortunate enough to train with Marcat Dance in Spain, BAIRA MVMNT/PHLOSPHY in Detroit, and DanceWorks Chicago. She has performed in original works by Joshua Peugh, Joel Valentin-Martinez, Robin Wilson, and Kelly Hirina all over Ann Arbor and Chicago. Kristin has also presented her own choreography at the American College Dance Association conference and collaborated with Red Shoe Company for Claude Debussy’s Children’s Corner Ballet.

As an arts administrator, Kristin has worked for University Musical Society as an Education and Community Engagement student staff member and has interned in the offices of DanceWorks Chicago and the Detroit Dance City Festival. Kristin has even performed as a multitude of princesses for the Southeast Michigan company, Crowning Jewel Productions. She is passionate about interdisciplinary collaboration and loves supporting artists through arts administration.

Catherine MooreCatherine Moore

Class of 2022
Major: Choral Music Education
Minor: Performing Arts Management & Entrepreneurship
Focus of Internship: Marketing/Digital Artist Residencies

Catherine Moore, from Westfield, NJ, is a junior majoring in Choral Music Education, with a minor in Performing Arts Management & Entrepreneurship. She is a passionate advocate for diversity in the arts, and this is central to her work as a performer and educator. She currently works as a Communications and Program Assistant for the Arts Alliance, and as the Media Manager for Connecticut Summerfest. She loves to teach piano and voice lessons, run and practice yoga, and is a section leader at First Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor. Catherine is excited to help bring virtual arts programming to a now global audience with the UMS Marketing Team.

Sammy SussmanSammy Sussman

Class of 2022 (currently on gap year)
Major: music composition
Minor: musical theater composition
Focus of Internship: Tarek Yamani and Spektral String Quartet

Sammy is a composer, bassist and investigative reporter from Bedford Hills, NY. Though currently on a gap year, Sammy plans on returning to U-M for his senior year in September 2021. As a composer, Sammy’s compositions have been recognized by the American Composers Forum, the Foundation for Modern Music and the National Association for Music Education. His music also received an honorable mention in the New York Philharmonic’s New World Composition Challenge. Recent composition projects include a full-length musical, “Diseducated,” with book, music & lyrics by Sammy Sussman and Allison Taylor.

As a reporter, Sammy has written for The Michigan Daily, Bridge Michigan and VAN. His investigative reporting has been featured in the Columbia Journalism Review and the Detroit Free Press‘ year-ending series “This journalism made us jealous in 2018.” Over the summer, Sammy began writing a book about his great-grandfather, an Austrian Jewish refugee who spent the year before the Anschluss reporting on the rise of Austrian Nazism for a Belgian newspaper under a Belgian pen name. Excerpts from this book will soon appear in The Detroit Jewish News and The Michigan Daily, among other outlets.

Announcing the 2020 DTE Energy Foundation Educator of the Year

UMS and the DTE Energy Foundation are pleased to honor Thurston High School English teacher Rachel Bomphray as the 2020 DTE Energy Foundation Educator of the Year.

The award recognizes and celebrates educators who value the importance of arts education and create a culture for the arts to flourish in their school communities.

Ms. Bomphray has worked over the past four years to grow a poetry program at Thurston High School, organizing opportunities for her students to work with the University of Michigan on collaborative creating writing sessions. Using the creative arts as a catalyst, she organizes trips to the U-M campus where her students get to work on projects with U-M students, learn to attend performances with a critical eye, and imagine their future as college students.

Ms. Bomphray goes above and beyond her call of duty, not only helping her students learn writing skills but developing the whole person and widening their view of the world, themselves, and their place in it.

Bomphray was nominated through a public nomination process. As part of the award, UMS will provide complimentary tickets and transportation for Ms. Bomphray to bring one class to a UMS School Day Performance next season, when in-person performances and school field trips are expected to return, additional complimentary tickets to a mainstage UMS performance, and a $200 award honorarium. UMS will also work with Ms. Bomphray to bring a UMS touring artist to Thurston for a class visit or school assembly.

Download Full Press Release

Bringing the Community Together: A Profile of UMS Community Partners

In the 2019/20 season, UMS was fortunate to collaborate with over 30 community partners, and over the past few weeks our Education and Community Engagement team has been actively checking in with them. We were amazed to hear how our community partners have adjusted to these tough times and how they are adapting their operations in order to keep serving the Southeast Michigan community. Here are a few of their stories:

Flint School of Performing Arts

Flint School of Performing Arts

Flint School of Performing Arts (FSPA) has moved approximately 75% of instruction online, and has increased its social media presence by including more content generated by students, faculty, and FSPA alumni.

Normally, FSPA serves nearly 4,000 people annually through dance and music lessons, classes, performance ensembles, and music therapy, both on-site at the Flint Institute of Music and at locations throughout Flint and Genesee County. For decades, FSPA has worked to increase accessibility in the arts for traditionally underserved populations by developing culturally sensitive pedagogy and through tuition assistance programs. With the COVID-19 crisis, their focus has shifted to making sure that their teachers have the necessary training and equipment to instruct virtually and that their students have access to technology so they can continue to learn.

The crisis is exacerbating the gap between those with resources and those without, whether because of a lack of technology or heightened financial need. FSPA is currently creating a new fund to support their students’ needs beyond tuition, such as repairing a bow, purchasing pointe shoes, or procuring reeds for wind instruments.

Check out their pages on social media to see how students and teachers are connecting in very creative ways! Facebook. Twitter. Instagram.


Riverside Arts Center

Riverside Arts Center

Riverside Arts Center (RAC), an accessible facility that serves as a hub for a variety of artistic ventures, has developed a number of online resources to empower the Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County community during the crisis. They have created an online gallery entitled PRESENT, consisting of 99 images by 26 artists; digitized their creativity toolkit; and are planning to host a new virtual leadership series and offer free online classes to spark creativity.

Typically, RAC supports the creative community in Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County, and the surrounding area by providing affordable spaces for events, offering visual arts and dance classes, presenting local theater companies, hosting civic/social events, and curating thought-provoking art in their community art gallery. They also have a K-12 program that places teaching artists in Ypsilanti Community Schools.

Since the pandemic, RAC’s biggest challenge has been financial. They have had to furlough staff in an effort to help the organization survive through the pandemic without their normal revenue streams. Despite the current financial constraints, RAC is overwhelmed by the love from the community and struck by how the arts sector in Washtenaw County has been a pillar of strength.

Currently, RAC is hopeful to present a modified version of its 2020 summer camp program while keeping community safety top priority.


El Ballet Folklórico Estudiantil

El Ballet Folklórico Estudiantil

For over 25 years, El Ballet Folklórico Estudiantil (EBFE) has empowered and fostered the Mexican culture of mariachi music and folkloric dance, providing bilingual theater and Mexican cultural enrichment events throughout the Greater Flint area. They serve over 100 youth and adult students through ensemble classes, private lessons, and summer workshops, and last year presented 40 performances drawing in 9,000 audience members.

To continue serving their students and audiences during this pandemic, EBFE has migrated all their instructional classes, recitals, and performances to online and social media platforms, overcoming hurdles with internet connectivity and sound delays during digital instruction. In addition, they are focusing more attention on broadening understanding of Mexican culture and history.

After moving online, EBFE has noticed that families are getting more involved with lessons and are helping students practice their Spanish. EBFE plans to launch a video/audio archive of their performances, rehearsals, and instruction soon.

We encourage you to learn more about these outstanding community organizations, Flint School of Performing Arts, Riverside Arts Center, and El Ballet Folklórico Estudiantil, by visiting their websites, where you can find out how to support their efforts.

One of the Most Interesting Courses at U-M

Students in Hill Auditorium

Eight live performances. Three humanities credits. Experience the performing arts up close and behind the scenes.

Engaging Performance (Winter 2020) connects undergraduate students directly to the touring, world-class artists who perform music, theater, and dance on the U-M campus. Students will attend live performances, talk with the artists and the arts administrators who help get them here, and explore how the performing arts are an integral part of our lives and the world at large.

Class will include lectures (including some by guests and visiting artists), required attendance at evening performances, interactive classroom activities, weekly readings, response papers about the performances, and presentations from students in class.

Students will attend live performances of:

These performances constitute the course’s primary “texts,” and the full package of tickets is available to students enrolled in the course for the dramatically reduced rate of $120. Engaging Performance is made possible through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and a partnership between the University of Michigan and the University Musical Society (UMS).

Course Information

MUSPERF 200.001, ALA 260.001, HISTORY 230.002
Instructors: Victoria Langland and Mark Clague

Meets Tuesdays & Thursdays
11:30 am – 1 pm
Angell Hall G127

Register Online

By the end of this class students will be able to:

  • Rigorously describe live performance
  • Imagine how performance asks questions about the world
  • Identify how structural choices vary across performances
  • Identify various elements of a performance and discuss how they impact one another
  • Have knowledge of tools necessary to research a performance’s historical and social context prior to attending a live performance
  • Consider how performance might be a mode of research—a way not just to ask a question, but to investigate that question in motion, through sound, etc.
  • Learn more about the UMS and what it offers to students

Is it for me?

No previous knowledge of the performing arts is required from students! It is open to undergraduates at all levels and across all departments at the University of Michigan; no previous experience or special training in arts is required.

Engaging Performance is made possible through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and a partnership between the University of Michigan and the University Musical Society (UMS).

Meet the 2019/20 Season 21st Century Artist Interns

Each year, UMS and the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance pair students with a summer internship working for a dance, theater, or music ensemble that UMS will present in its upcoming season.

The 21st Century Artist Internship is a highly competitive program developed to prepare students for new demands that working artists face in the contemporary marketplace. In addition to generating outstanding creative work, today’s artists are also tasked with reaching potential audiences in innovative ways. This unique program provides real-world work experience and professional connections to help develop these skills within the context of UMS’s programming.

Full Press Release (PDF)

The 21st Century Artist Internship program is made possible in part by the Jay Ptashek and Karen Elizaga Family.

This Year’s Interns

Victoria BrionesVictoria Briones

Class of 2020
: Dance
UMS PresentationAmerican Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake

Victoria Briones is a senior dance major, expected to graduate in May 2020. She was born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina, where she trained in ballet, jazz, and contemporary styles. She loves to choreograph, and, in doing so, strives to connect her passions of art and activism.

Briones will intern in artistic programming at the Joyce Theater (New York, NY), one of the nation’s premier venues for dance presentation. She will also participate in the intern professional development program at American Ballet Theatre and serve as an occasional intern for education.

Zion JacksonZion Jackson

Class of 2020
Major: Voice Performance
Minor: Performing Arts Management and Entrepreneurship
UMS Presentation: Stew & The Negro Problem

Zion Jackson, from Dewitt, MI, is studying Voice Performance with a minor in Performing Arts Management & Entrepreneurship. Zion is a member and the Business Manager of the Michigan Men’s Glee Club, a representative for the School of Music, Theatre, & Dance in Central Student Government, and is also an avid performer in student-run musical theater productions. He is very passionate about leadership, the arts, and non-profit organizations. In his free time, Zion enjoys traveling, cooking, and exploring new art. Zion is so excited to represent UMS as a 21st Century Artist Intern this summer, and is looking forward to learning more about what it means to be an arts professional.

Jackson will serve as the personal assistant to performer, composer, and writer Stew. Stew is the creator of the Tony Award-winning musical Passing Strange and front man of his eponymous band Stew & The Negro Problem (New York, NY).

Shannon NulfShannon Nulf

Class of 2021
Major: Dance
Minors: Movement Science and Performing Arts Management
UMS PresentationANTHEM

Shannon Nulf is a third-year University of Michigan Dance BFA with minors in Movement Science and Performing Arts Management from Hancock, MI. At U-M, she has participated in works by multiple BFA and MFA students, as well as two university productions, one of which included restaging Urban Bush Women’s work Shelter. She co-founded and serves on the board of a dance student organization called “Arts in Color” where she and her peers create and pursue DEI initiatives within the department, and will serve as President of the Dance Student Assembly for the 2019-2020 school year.

Nulf will assist choreographer Milka Djordjevich in the development of her new dance work CORPS during a residency at the prestigious Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography at Florida State University (Tallahassee). Following the residency, Nulf will support the presentation of Djordjevich’s ANTHEM in Philadelphia and Djordevich’s administrative activities in Los Angeles through LA Performance Practice.

Isabel OlsonIsabel Olson

Class of 2020
Major: Theatre Arts/Directing and History
UMS Presentation: The Believers Are But Brothers

Isabel K. Olson, from Atlanta, GA, is a dual degree student in History and Theatre Arts with a Directing concentration. Previous artistic projects include directing MUSKET’s Cabaret, serving as a Literary Intern for the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and assisting as a Programming Intern for the New York Musical Festival. As an advocate for new theatrical works and theater for social change, Olson is excited to assist artist Javaad Alipoor in bringing The Believers Are But Brothers to the Arthur Miller Theater January 22-25 for UMS’s No Safety Net festival.

Olson will assist theater artist Javaad Alipoor on the presentation of his two original plays, Rich Kids and The Believers Are but Brothers, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (Edinburgh, Scotland, UK).

Karalyn SchubringKaralyn Schubring

Class of 2020
Major: Composition
UMS Presentation: Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center

Karalyn Schubring is a composer, pianist, and improviser from Gilbert, Arizona, who is dedicated to inspiring others to engage imaginatively with music. Since beginning her piano and composition studies at a young age, her music has received awards from several national organizations. An avid performer of new music, Karalyn is a founding member of Front Porch, a quartet of violin, bassoon, piano, and percussion that reimagines the classical concert as a shared experience of warmth and love. She will graduate in 2020 with her Bachelor of Music Degree in Composition, having studied piano with Matthew Bengtson and composition with Bright Sheng, Roshanne Etezady, Evan Chambers, and Kristin Kuster.

Schubring will intern in artistic programming and fundraising at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.


UMS and the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance extend our congratulations to the 2019/20 interns! Follow @umspresents on Instagram for “on the ground” updates from them throughout the Summer!

Announcing the 2019 DTE Energy Foundation Educator of the Year

UMS and the DTE Energy Foundation are pleased to honor Scarlett Middle School band teacher Caroline Fitzgerald as the 2019 DTE Energy Foundation Educator of the Year!

The award recognizes and celebrates educators who value the importance of arts education and create a culture for the arts to flourish in their school communities. Ms. Fitzgerald’s focus on the arts has extended beyond her work in the music classroom with a passion that permeates throughout the entire school, the Ann Arbor Public School system, and the greater community. She demonstrates an incredible investment in her students and believes that through music she can support her students becoming confident, self-assured young adults. Her work at Scarlett highlights the important role of music instruction in supporting students’ overall engagement and academic success.

Ms. Fitzgerald was nominated through a public nomination process. As part of the award, UMS will provide complimentary tickets and transportation for Ms. Fitzgerald to bring one class to a UMS School Day Performance next season, additional complimentary tickets to a mainstage UMS performance, and a $200 award honorarium. UMS will also work with Ms. Fitzgerald to bring a UMS touring artist to Scarlett for a class visit or school assembly.

Download Full Press Release

21st Century Intern Travelogue: Kandis Terry

“My summer experience as one of four UMS interns is one that I cannot put into words. This opportunity not only gave me the chance to grow as a student, but also gave me every tool I didn’t know I needed to heal as an artist.”

Kandis Terry spent the summer of 2018 in New York City with Camille A. Brown & Dancers (CABD) as part of her 21st Century Internship — a program in collaboration with UMS and the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

The best part of my time as a 21st Century Intern was that I was able to surround myself with all types of artists from diverse cultures and ancestral backgrounds. I realize that I have a voice and that my quality of movement matters. I saw the possibilities and wonders that artistic “creation”—specifically that of Black Women—can do. Through Camille’s artistry and leadership, and with her unique administrative team, I have been able to make many new professional connections and forge relationships. Here are two of my favorite experiences from my summer:

Dance/USA Annual Conference

Jim Leija, Kandis TerryOne of the most memorable experiences from my internship was attending the extraordinary Dance/USA annual conference in Los Angeles. There I engaged in a delightful conversation with leaders representing many demographics about social stature, gender, and race within movement and culture—in particular, Black men, women, boys, and girls. Although these topics are not always given the spotlight or recognition in what is known today as a common and adequate professionalism in the art of dance, Camille’s work gives voice to social issues that have been presumably swept under the rug for a long time.

Gibney Dance Center Educational Panel

Camille A. Brown, Kandis Terry, Indira Goodwine

Camille A. Brown, Kandis Terry, Indira Goodwine

Much of my time in New York was surrounded around mental health awareness. I had the pleasure of working with CABD’s Managing Director Indira Goodwine, whose sense of positive morale and work ethic I really looked up to. She taught me to grow and continue be the best version of myself, or at least strive to be.

On my first day of my internship, I observed her talk as part of a three-member panel at the Gibney Dance Choreographic Center, which represented a perfect balance of poise, eloquence, and artistic measure. Each artist spoke to their unique experiences as a professional dancer up to this point in their respective careers.

Indira was the only woman on panel, and encouraged all of the women in the room to pursue a successful career in the arts profession. She spoke about how incorporating mental wellness in your work field or place environment contributes to one’s success and overall happiness in life, with some wise words on how to conclude each day:

  • “We are in charge of what, when, and how we make both sense of and success with the findings we collect from our artistic research.”
  • “What you have to offer is more than you know.”
  • “Language matters.”

CABD dancer Maleek Washington was also on the panel, and offered great advice to those in attendance:

  • Know who you are as a person and who you are as a dancer.
  • Instagram gives you instant access to publicity at your fingertips.
  • ‘Word of Mouth’ is important.
  • Go see shows, take class!
  • Put in hard work now.

Gibney Dance Center Educational Panel

It was a great way to start my internship! From that point on I knew it was my job and my responsibility to capture and embrace all of the tasks and opportunities presented to me over these next upcoming summer months.

While at U-M, my educational experience has been enriched but challenging. This internship saved me. It showed me that many artists of color struggle with mental wellness. In response and efforts to address this epidemic, we must be resilient and push forward with our talents and passion for creativity.

At times I have felt lost, but my 21st Century Internship experience, in its entirety, was an affirmation for me, and the beginning to my course and journey towards healing and setting new goals.

Kandis Terry in NYC

Love great music, theater, and dance?

Love great music, theater, and dance?

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