Creative Collaborations


By Casey Hilder


Creative Collaborations header featuring UofM Dance Students

The UofM's newly established Institute for Arts & Health leads the charge of an array of interdisciplinary research collaborations

The University of Memphis announced the establishment of the Institute for Arts & Health in early 2021, ushering in an exciting new effort to bridge the arts, humanities, social sciences, digital technologies and STEM areas; with the aim of contributing to a more just and equitable society.

“The roots of the institute stretch back to the spring of 2018,” said Dr. Anne Hogan, dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts (CCFA) and acting director of the new institute, “when informal meetings were held in various campus venues in which faculty, staff, graduate students, health and well-being practitioners and educational partners shared best practices for research and outreach broadly related to the arts and health.

The institute’s mission is to bring together an inclusive coalition of faculty, staff, graduate students, artists and community partners seeking to identify, incubate and seek funding for interdisciplinary research and community engagement related to the arts and health.  It welcomes expressions of interest from all UofM colleagues and members of the wider community as it strives to broaden the reach of its projects, affiliations and leadership team.

“I am thrilled that the efforts of UofM colleagues and community partners to drive innovation in this important area of research can further evolve under the auspices of the Institute for Arts & Health," said Hogan. "And I am inspired by the work that has been done to date. Achieving Institute status is so important for us to continue our mission to increase the impact and visibility of arts and health-related initiatives.”

The Institute for Arts & Health currently supports a trio of subcommittees, each focused on different aspects of arts and health: Arts Initiatives for Health in the Community, chaired by Dr. Susan Elswick from the College of Health Sciences; Health, Wellbeing and the Built Environment, chaired by Jenna Thompson of the Department of Architecture; and Health Initiatives for Artists, chaired by Dr. Miriam van Mersbergen from the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD). Dr. Melissa Janoske McLean, CCFA Dean’s Fellow for Research and associate professor with the Department of Journalism and Strategic Media, will be working closely with the subcommittee chairs and with Hogan to advance ongoing and upcoming research initiatives.

“I think the beauty of the CCFA is that there are opportunities like this to work with just about anybody across the University,” said Janoske McLean. “Everybody needs something we have to offer, so it’s all a matter of finding those connections that already exist and helping people see just how much art, music, theatre, architecture, communication and strategic media all can help other projects move forward and even bring about some awesome projects of their own.”

Curricular developments from the Institute for Arts & Health include the CCFA and CSD creation of a Vocology Graduate Certificate focusing on vocal health, as well as an undergraduate concentration in Dance Science housed within the Department of Theatre & Dance that was recently developed by CCFA and the College of Health Sciences. Further projects include a study of physical therapy for orchestral musicians to meet their unique needs as performers.

Immediate goals for the three committees behind the Institute for Arts & Health include developing a database that gathers all information on projects throughout the University and community partners that promote the arts and health to enhance visibility, increasing involvement and disseminating information into the community. This will be achieved with the development of a webpage that will serve as a repository for all information related to the Institute for Arts & Health, including how interested community partners can get connected, scholarly articles, ongoing projects, current grants and other specific interests. Moreover, the team behind the Institute for Arts & Health hopes to assemble a series of digital showcases for spring 2021, as well as reschedule the inaugural Arts and Health Symposium for fall 2021.

“I think a lot of faculty want their work to make a difference in the world, and a lot of the time that means working with people that we might not expect,” said Janoske McLean.

This newly established Institute for Arts & Health is among a growing number of collaborative efforts that cross the line between various departments as the College of Communication and Fine Arts continues to forge ahead with research initiatives benefitting the entire UofM landscape.  For further information about the institute and opportunities to participate, contact Mallory Gary (mngary@memphis.edu).

Representatives from the College of Communication and Fine Arts were recently involved in a cross departmental collaborative effort led by Dr. Esra Ozdenerol, professor of Geographic Information Systems in the Department of Earth Sciences, which received a $1 million National Science Foundation ADVANCE Adaptation grant to fund the "ASPIRED: Adaptations for Sustainable Policies and Increased Recruitment Excellence in Diversity" initiative.

“In the past 10 years, NSF has created an ADVANCE program designed to foster gender equity through the identification and elimination of organizational barriers that impede the full participation and advancement of diverse faculty at a given institution,” Ozdenerol said. “These barriers can exist in the form of policy, processes, practices and organizational culture.”

Ozdenerol served as principal investigator, and co-principal investigators were CCFA mainstays Dr. Craig Stewart, associate professor with the Department of Communication and Film; and Jacob Allen, chair of the Department of Theatre & Dance.

“This is an adaptation grant, so we’re looking to adapt programs that were proven effective at other college campuses," said Allen. “One of the programs that Ozdenerol looked at adapting was a theatre-based program from the University of Michigan. That’s where I came from before I took a job at the University of Memphis, so that affiliation proved that I would be a good addition to that project. I also think that she recognized that the power of theatre for social change can be a great and effective tool.”

The initial plan was to create a theatre troupe comprised of UofM students to devise a set of theatrical performances to reflect the experiences of female STEM faculty in higher education.

“CCFA is really proud of Jacob, Craig and the team they worked with on this grant,” said Janoske McLean. “We’re also excited because it provides a great example for CCFA faculty hoping to do similar things.”

Stewart also served as co-PI in a separate NSF grant project, the Urban STEM Collaboratory, alongside Dr. Stephanie Ivey, associate dean for Research with the Herff College of Engineering. This grant involves a tri-institution collaboration with the University of Memphis, University of Colorado Denver and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis devoted to studying the recruiting and training of undergraduate student populations in STEM. Further interdisciplinary research efforts were achieved by Janoske McLean, who secured a Community of Research Grant to bring a grantsmanship and community engagement workshop to campus in spring 2021.

“We have hired a consultant to do a four-workshop series on strengthening relationships with community arts organizations and actually meeting with those organizations to try and develop projects that are mutually beneficial, as well as seek external funding,” she said. In addition, four CCFA faculty members earned grants from the 2021 Communities of Research Scholars (CoRS) program. These faculty members are Dr. Ryan Fisher with music, Janoske McLean with journalism and strategic media, and a joint grant involving Kate Roberts with art and Teri Del Rosso of journalism and strategic media.