U-M Arts Initiate and Yo-Yo Ma Collaborate to Create Emotional Map

mapping without borders
Image courtesy of the University of Michigan.

Ever wonder what an emotional map would look like? The University of Michigan and Yo-Yo Ma collaborate with the community and students to map our past year in quarantine.

People use maps for all sorts of things. You can represent physical topographies of land, borders between nations, and assist us with navigating to desired destinations. But maps can do more than just that. In the right hands, they can represent emotions, make unseen connections to understand one another, and even help us understand the past or move forward into a new future. The real question is, can the arts help to create a new kind of map?

A new residency with international performing artist Yo-Yo Ma is being launched by the University of Michigan Arts Initiative. This is in partnership with the University Musical Society. Together, the idea of emotional maps will be explored.

Yo-Yo Ma will join a newly formed steering committee composed of six U-M students and three Michigan-based artists from Ann Arbor, Flint, and Dearborn. Students from each campus will be selected to represent all three U-M campuses. These students and artists will be charged with the development of new variations of maps that will express what the U-M community has experienced in the past year.

This residency will start April 15 from 6 to 7pm with a virtual event that is free to the public. However, registration is required.

“Mapping without Boundaries” will feature Yo-Yo Ma and U-M President Mark Schlissel with members of the Steering committee reflecting on the challenges of the past year, and how the pandemic has radically altered education modes and dispersed the university’s students, faculty, and staff. The event will also incorporate performances and audience participation.

“The arts have a unique power to express how we collectively feel as a community and society, and bring us together, especially after a year-long separation and the difficulties and pain of the COVID pandemic,” said Christina Olsen, director of the U-M Museum of Art and Arts Initiative co-chair. “This is the Arts Initiative’s first major project and we’re thrilled Yo-Yo Ma is partnering with us on it, given his long and deep commitment to working collaboratively and with a strong focus on inclusion and social justice.

The steering committee includes students from all three campuses, student coordinators, representatives from Central Student Government, and three Michigan artists. Nour Ballout, a Detroit-based interdisciplinary visual artist and curator, Tunde, a Flint-based musician and performer, and Avery Williamson, an Ann Arbor-based interdisciplinary artist whose work includes weaving, photography, jewelry, painting, and drawing, will be present. An advisory council of faculty and staff from all three campuses will serve as a consultative body for the steering committee.

Yo-Yo Ma and the steering committee will work together over the summer to further develop creative ways to bring community members together and share their own experiences through a shared platform. The new mapping project will be created from crowdsourced data points ahead of the 2021 fall semester.

According to the steering group, each phase of the project will incorporate participatory moments, including the April 15 launch event, where the audience will have the opportunity to share their voices. 

Yo-Yo Ma’s residency culminates in September with the unveiling of a virtual project that aims to mark the isolation of the past year while celebrating the possibilities of a return to campus. The project will evolve as it develops in response to the community input and public health guidelines.

To register for the April 15 event, community members can sign up here. Registration for the event is required to attend.