new chancellor office efforts
In an effort to further integrate the arts into campus life at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the Chancellor’s office has named Dr. M. Cynthia Oliver, professor in the Department of Dance, the Special Advisor to the Chancellor for Arts Integration at Illinois. Dr. Amy L. Powell, curator of modern and contemporary art at Krannert Art Museum, will now also serve as Curator of Campus Arts Research under Oliver’s direction.
In her five-year term as associate vice chancellor for research and innovation in the humanities, arts, and related fields, Oliver developed programs to support and bolster more interdisciplinary arts research and collaboration across campus, such as funding projects through the Community + Research Partnership Program (CO+RE) and the complementary Arts CO+RE. As a dance artist and scholar, Oliver holds an impressive array of accolades including research awards, publications, and fellowships, and career-defining performance and choreography acknowledgments like a New York Dance and Performance (“Bessie”) Award, and more recently a Doris Duke Artist Award, among others.
Oliver’s work within the Chancellor’s office will center on coalescing the many conversations around growing arts research, resources, and integration at the university that have been at play for many years (some of which were mentioned in The Next 150, 2018-2023 Strategic Plan), and formalizing these ideas into actionable programs and initiatives. As with many well-laid plans, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic stalled some progress in this area while further highlighting the deep need for this support, as a growing number of interdisciplinary collaborations across campus continued (and continue) to develop and flourish.
“Having led a task force in 2017/2018 for the new strategic plan, I conferred with a lot of my peers in FAA–learning what they wanted and needed and what the impediments were to the work they were doing,” shared Oliver. “We had a working group on arts integration from as far back as 2015, that has been advocating to integrate creative practices and projects into faculty workloads rather than treating them as activities outside of the valued categories of teaching, research, and service. Even though it was a part of the last strategic plan, it wasn’t really happening. Now we are trying to figure out how to assist our [artists and scholars] in a systematic way. We need to demonstrate our value of this work with our attention, money, and additional systems of support.”
Powell, who joined Krannert Art Museum (KAM) in 2014, will transition into a 50% appointment as the Curator of Campus Arts Research, lending her expansive curatorial practice that emphasizes both knowledge production and experimentation. At KAM, Powell’s work has centered on bringing artists to the museum, introducing them to faculty scholars and artists, and facilitating many collaborations that have continued to thrive well past an exhibition’s close. As Curator of Campus Arts Research, Powell will commission artworks that respond to and emerge from specific campus sites and spaces, cultivating a unique blend of creativity and scholarship. The role will develop partnerships across academic programs, research centers, engagement units, student life, athletics, and more to bring interdisciplinary artistic creations to life that enrich the campus, advance the university’s mission, and make significant contributions to fields within contemporary art, curatorial practice, and more.
“I’m really looking forward to making contemporary artists more integral to the culture of the university as a whole,” said Powell. “I’ve done this a lot in my role in the museum and am excited to scale up, especially under Cynthia’s visionary leadership.”
Powell’s exhibition Autumn Knight: In Rehearsal, for instance, included performances at the ARC pool and the Stock Pavilion. For artists Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, in collaboration with faculty members Maryam Kashani and Junaid Rana, Powell held a listening party at the Channing-Murray Foundation. Every artist she’s hosted has tapped into university resources in some way, from archives to expertise to sites on campus. “I’ve always been interested in getting artists out of the museum and into the campus,” Powell explained.
Powell’s interest in facilitating research and experimentation grows from a desire to help elevate artists to the next phase of their artmaking and careers. In her work with KAM and previous collaborations with Oliver, Powell has introduced artist scholars to supercomputing resources, virtual reality technology, and researchers in other fields who can inform the way artists think about creating.
“I like her expansive thinking,” explained Oliver. “Partnering with Amy helped me get my students out of the dance studio and into another disciplinary realm, offering them insights into the ways in which dance and choreographic thinkers can relate to other disciplinary perspectives and methods and how we can more broadly think about art making in general.”
This first year will focus on exploring campus arts integration at peer institutions and how that might inform efforts at Illinois. “There is a tremendous opportunity for Illinois to be a leader and to distinguish ourselves from other universities,” said Powell.
Some initial responsibilities for this role will include planning and executing 1-3 significant artworks annually and working with the Office of the Chancellor and Krannert Art Museum to further integrate this work into teaching. The role will also seek funding opportunities and develop a sustainable, long-term plan for a campus-wide curated commission program.
For Powell, her biggest hope is threefold: “First, that every university student has an experience of the visual arts at some point, if not every year. Secondly, that artists start to recognize us as a resource and stepping stone in their career. And thirdly, that we are–and I become–more knowledgeable about visual arts contexts locally and regionally. I want to further take down “town and gown” divisions and connect artists to both community and non-university resources. My hope is that this role evolves into not just a campus position but one that thinks of the university in context with the community and beyond.”
Part of the grander vision for this new effort through the Office of the Chancellor is to expose people and communities to what art can accomplish–how it brings people together, fosters other kinds of communication, and stimulates innovation and debate.
“We think through art,” emphasized Oliver. “Art allows people to have conversations and think through ideas they’ve never had before so it should always have been part of the mission of a land grant institution serving the public good and working to solve our grand challenges through education. I’m hoping people see this office as a resource to come to when they are interested in collaborating, they are interested in art, and how we can support them.”