2021 Arts CO+RE Research Projects Selected

Arts CO+RE | The Community + Research Partnership Program

June 20, 2021
By Tyler Wolpert


From a performance centered around a blue whale skeleton made of recycled plastic to a virtual performance commons, the three projects recently awarded funding from the Arts CO+RE Program, an outgrowth of the CO+RE (Community + Research Partnership) Program launched last year, create a range of opportunities for engaging local youth and adults in the arts and amplifying partnerships between UIUC researchers and artists and community members.

Support for these projects comes at a timely moment as the creative arts community—a vital, yet vulnerable, part of society—is reeling from the effects of the ongoing pandemic. Nurturing the arts and igniting imagination has never been more important, and Arts CO+RE contributes to that effort by supporting local artists as they develop exciting new projects that showcase the creativity and vibrancy of UIUC and the surrounding area.

“The pandemic has been demoralizing for artists,” said Cynthia Oliver, Arts CO+RE Program Leader and the Associate Vice Chancellor—Humanities, Arts, and Related Fields. “The excitement, the energy that comes from what we do—we lost that almost overnight.”

These new projects offer community members a different way to think about what we experience, enjoy, or consider—such as recycling and sustainability or the experiences of a person with a disability. “Good art makes us think about a world outside of our own,” said Oliver, ‘and makes us consider something new and different. Each of these projects accomplishes that in their own way.”

The following projects selected by a committee of community stakeholders and UIUC members highlight the diversity and creativity of our local community:

CETACEAN (The Whale): The 6th Performance in the Unreliable Bestiary

A multi-year communal process culminating in a public performance centered around a full-scale blue whale skeleton—an enormous marionette suspended and “swimming” through the air of the University of Illinois Stock Pavilion.

Project Overview

This project is a multi-year communal process culminating in a public performance centered around a full-scale blue whale skeleton, an enormous marionette suspended and “swimming” through the air of the University of Illinois Stock Pavilion. Using collected, recycled plastic, each of the 221 bones of the 110-foot-long skeleton will be built by area students and student-led organizations—a haunting, crowd-sourced ghost whale.

The work will feature performers in old-fashioned deep sea diving costumes, large-scale video projection, a live chorus, music, and the story of the Pioneer Inland Whaling Association that toured a rotting whale carcass across the Midwest in 1881 on the flatbed of a train. Blue whales are thought to be the largest animal to ever inhabit our planet. The creature’s vast size might represent our need, our hope, and our difficult ecological moment. CETACEAN will create an emotional communal event while serving as an educational platform built to discuss environmental systems, climate change, and resilience, and embody collaborative processes, sustainability, and interdisciplinary storytelling.

Research Team
  • David "Deke" Weaver, Professor of New Media
  • Jennifer Allen, Choreographer, Performer Susan Becker, Costume Design
  • John Boesche, Video Projections Design Terri Ciofalo, Production/Technical Consultant
  • Jamie Jones, Research Consultant James Lo, Composer/Sound Design
  • Jorge Lucero, Social–Practice/Art-Education Consultant, Performer
  • Andy Warfel, Production Design
  • Jayne Wenger, Dramaturg
  • Aimy Wissa, Bio-Design/Engineer Consultant

Disability Aware Cities

This multidisciplinary community-based arts program and public art project incorporates public art, oral history, and storytelling and supports collaborative and interdependent creative teams composed of members of the local community who are disabled and Applied Health Science students. The program will engage and spotlight members of the arts and disability communities and will foster innovative learning experiences for students, faculty, and members of the community through new, equitable, and creative approaches to access and the disabled experience.

Project Overview

This multidisciplinary community based arts-program and public art project incorporating public art, oral history, storytelling, writing, visual arts, access, and subjective, nonnormative experience supports engagement with local members of the arts and disability communities, innovative learning experiences for students, and new discoveries in intersectional arts access. With support from this grant we will pilot a public art project that exposes pre-health professional students to the lived experience and embodied understanding of disability, which will support and promote artists and individuals with disabilities living in Champaign-Urbana. Through this work, we will foster sustainable and meaningful relationships with community members who have disabilities as well as the organizations who work with them, while identifying and addressing barriers between campus and the greater community by focusing on access and inclusion. Collectively, we have conceived of a program to benefit both PACE consumers and undergraduate students, while strengthening the relationship between our campus and the C-U disability community.

This project furthers the university’s mission of discovery, engagement, and innovative learning by prioritizing learning through first-hand experience in sustainable and equitable partnerships. Issues concerning disability—from innovative medical research, lectures, and laboratories to courses geared toward learning about disability culture—often fail to prioritize and collaborate with actual individuals with disabilities. Interactions often take place in laboratory settings, which sustains hierarchies between normal/non-normal and care-giver/patient and reinforces campus/community divides. AHS prepares students for careers in the health sciences where they will interact with people, patients, and clients of diverse abilities. These students, particularly those enrolled in AHS’s undergraduate disability studies minor, will have the opportunity to collaborate with differently abled community members through co-creating a public art project meant to spotlight the experience of individuals with disabilities on our campus and in our community. PACE consumers will be supported in sharing their experience as people with diverse disabilities, and they will ultimately be contributing to awareness and change around access and inclusion on both campus and in the region. Engaging with these complex and intersectional issues through creative practice has the potential to offer transformative, reciprocal experiences for both students and PACE consumers. The final work of art will not only be the result of, but will also be dependent upon, interdependent creative explorations of our campus and the city of Urbana which will result in a public art project in both places.

Research Team
  • Liza Sylvestre, Curator of Academic Programs at Krannert Art Museum
  • Rachel Storm, Program Director of the Urbana Arts and Cultural Program
  • John Kosciulek, Professor of Kinesiology and Community Health
  • Sherry Longcor, Program Director at PACE, Inc

Champaign-Urbana Virtual Performance Commons

This project seeks to take advantage of this moment to assist artists in presenting their work digitally and train those who desire to learn to use these tools themselves.

Project Overview

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the shuttering of performance spaces at the university and in the community for arts practice and research. The means of connecting to audiences shifted to digital spaces and the once familiar ways in which performing arts had been presented were no longer accessible. This left artists largely on their own to learn to navigate new technologies, find ways to connect to their audiences, and experiment in mediums and formats they never previously employed. As the effects of the pandemic fade, there is an opportunity to build on the work done by performing artists and continue their exploration of digital mediums. Our project seeks to take advantage of this moment to assist artists in presenting their work digitally and train those who desire to learn to use these tools themselves. The project will provide artists a space where they have access to professional video and audio equipment and the expertise of a team of creative partners who will work with them to explore the possibilities and limitations that accompany adapting their work to a digital medium. Further, it will enable artists to investigate and attempt new types of performance afforded by the use of technology otherwise unavailable to them.

The need for this project is clear for both the community and the university. Nearly every stakeholder involved in this project has sought to present their work virtually during the pandemic and continue the practice and development of their craft. This has led to exploration, much experimentation, and also revealed the limitations of equipment and the importance of expertise and know-how in adapting performance to a digital medium. This virtual commons will provide access to technology, expertise, a performance space, and a production studio that will allow artists to capture performances, broadcast their work, learn new skills, and develop new concepts and approaches to their craft.

The benefits of this program go beyond just the needs of artists and extend into the audiences and communities that they are trying to reach. The creation and distribution of digital content opens access to these performances to those who may not be able to attend performances in person. It will help bring the performances to the disabled, those in isolation due to the pandemic, former community members and alumni who live elsewhere, prospective students, individuals with personal, work, and family commitments that limit their ability to attend live performance, and those around the globe who have an interest in the arts generally. The involvement of various stakeholders from the university and community in a consolidated virtual space will help to increase awareness of the arts for each other locally, with the goal of increasing engagement for all parties.

Further, the project will provide completed high-quality recordings for the performers, public broadcast of the works (online and on local television), and public online access to the performances thereafter. This aspect of the project will serve the stakeholders in several ways. Having copies of high-quality representations of their work may help some artists access future professional and creative opportunities. Public broadcast will expand the reach of their artistic performance and increase engagement with the community. Long-term public access to these recordings will give artists a place to direct interested audiences and collaborators while also bringing diverse audiences to a single space to access these performances.

Research Team
  • Jake Metz, Media Commons Technology Specialist, University Library
  • Charles Harris, Multi-Instrumentalist, Producer, Songwriter, Sound Engineer, Entertainment Curator, and Music Venue Owner
  • Marten Stromberg, Rose Bowl Tavern Owner

After more than a year of shuttered venues and isolated lifestyles, the above efforts present a unique opportunity to help hit the reset button for the local art community and show the integral relationship the creative arts have to our quality of life. Arts CO+RE gives researchers and community members the support to explore areas that show promise in creating experiential engagement, raise awareness, and improve the lives of East Central Illinois residents.

Disability Aware Cities, for example, will create engagement with local members of the arts and disability communities and provide innovative learning opportunities to appreciate the experiences of others.

This project will focus on breaking down barriers between campus and the community by raising awareness of issues faced by those with disabilities. “UIUC has a large number of students with disabilities, more than 3,000 registered with Disability Resources & Education (DRES) and likely many more who are not registered, so it’s critical to develop programming in support of that community, in support of their voices and their experiences,” Liza Silvestre, multimedia artist, Curator of Academic Programs at Krannert Art Museum, and project lead.

Working with students and community members, the project’s team will identify sites on campus and in Urbana to create an oral history or subjective storytelling that explores the experiences of a person who has a disability—for instance, what it is like for a person with blindness or a person who uses a wheelchair to cross a busy intersection in Urbana or explore campus. “Our teams are creating unique sculptures and signage,” said Sylvestre, “which will be installed at sites where the oral histories are gathered. The public will then be able to access those histories and stories at the site and will be able to explore someone else’s experience.”

“We’re excited for the Arts CO+RE support, and it comes at an important time. We have the chance to explore what art should become in thinking about long-term access and how the pandemic has forced us to reckon with what access is and what access should be,” said Sylvestre.

Ultimately, these Arts CO+RE projects will provide value to both the university and local community and can also be models for other communities as they explore crafting a new work, highlighting a performance, or thinking about different abilities within a particular community.

“These projects are a beautiful example of the riches that are right here in our backyard,” said Oliver. “The people working on these creative undertakings, the audiences who experience them, they’ll all see the world from a different perspective. That change, and the ripples from it, can help propel us toward a better future.”

For more information about the Arts CO+RE Program, contact Cynthia Oliver (coliver@illinois.edu), Associate Vice Chancellor—Humanities, Arts, and Related Fields.