Yo-Yo Ma is joining the University of Michigan for a new residence that spans all three locations

ANN ARBOR – The University of Michigan arts initiative, in collaboration with the University Musical Society, opens a new residency with internationally recognized cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

As part of the project, regional artists and UM students at all three locations will work together to reflect the experiences of the school community over the past year.

Ma will work with six UM students and three Michigan-based artists from Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Flint on a newly formed steering committee to develop new maps depicting the university experience under a pandemic.

Yo-Yo Ma performs to an Ann Arbor audience at the University of Michigan Hill Auditorium during a visit in February 2019. (Eric Bronson | Michigan Photography)

The three artists include Detroit-based interdisciplinary visual artist Nour Ballout; Flint-based musician Tunde Olaniran; and Ann Arbor-based interdisciplinary artist Avery Williamson.


The faculty and employees of all three UM locations will also form an advisory board that serves as an advisory body to the steering committee.

The residence begins on April 15th with a virtual event from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., free and open to the public. Registration is required to participate.

The webinar, titled “Mapping Without Boundaries,” will feature Ma, UM President Mark Schlissel and members of the Steering Committee who will reflect on the radical way the pandemic is changing campus life for students, faculties and staff Has. The participation and performance of the audience will also be included in the event.

Avery Williamson is an Ann Arbor-based multidisciplinary artist whose weaving, photography, and drawing work examines the narratives of black women in personal and institutional archives. (Avery Williamson)

“The arts have the unique power to express how we feel together as a community and society, and to bring us together, especially after a year-long separation and the difficulties and pains of the COVID pandemic,” said Christina Olsen, director of the UM Museum Co-chair of the Art and Arts Initiative said in a press release.


“This is the art initiative’s first major project and we are thrilled that Yo-Yo Ma is working with him, as he has been a long and deep advocate of collaboration and a strong focus on inclusion and social justice.”

The start of the art initiative was announced in autumn 2019. The project is now completing the first part of its three-year launch phase to identify the best ways to promote art experiences on each UM campus.

Nour Ballout (* 1993 in Beirut) is a Detroit-based interdisciplinary artist and curator. After immigrating to the United States at the age of nine, they spent their youth in Dearborn, Michigan, which is the largest concentration of Arabs outside of the Middle East. Nour’s artistic and curatorial practices are closely related and deeply rooted in social practice and community building. Her work explores the concept of home as it manifests itself in bodies, built environments, and communities. While working in a variety of creative media, they maintain a primary practice in photography. (Nour Ballout)

“UMS is proud to support this partnership between the Arts Initiative, our longtime friend and colleague Yo-Yo Ma, and a very special steering committee made up of Michigan students and artists,” said Matthew VanBesien, UMS President and member of the Arts Initiative working group in a statement.

“We believe this project can serve as a new model for the way a great university like Michigan can work together, center the arts, and engage a new generation of creative thinkers to explore broad questions and challenges in our world.”


The steering committee will work in the summer to establish a new mapping project that will allow members of the school community to share their experiences via a common platform. The project will start before the autumn semester 2021.

The highlight of Ma’s residence is the unveiling of the virtual project that characterizes life in isolation over the past year.

According to a UM press release, student steering committee members include: Audrey Banks, School of Fine Arts, UM-Flint; Alyssa Melani, School of Music, Theater, and Dance, UM-Ann Arbor; Ashwin Prakash, a student at UM-Ann Arbor’s College of Engineering; Nithya Arun, President of the Central Student Government, UM-Ann Arbor; Darena Matti, DEI Liaison and Central Student Government, UM-Dearborn; Samantha Uptmor, President of the Central Student Government, UM-Flint.

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