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Presidential Initiative: Expanding the Impact of the Arts and the Humanities

The arts and the humanities enrich our lives and are essential to education, research, scholarship, and public engagement across the University of Illinois System. Instruction in these fields prepares students for a life of conscientious citizenship and creative contributions in every economic sector. Research and creative breakthroughs in these arenas help us imagine new approaches to today's social problems, drawing from deep historical experience, finely honed craft, and expertise in collaboration and improvisation.

The challenges we face today underscore how crucial it is that we embrace work in these fields. The COVID-19 crisis cannot be tackled, for example, without confronting the historical lessons from previous pandemics as well as the ethical dimensions of health disparities. Enhancing social equity requires a deep understanding of how racism intersects with cultural norms and practices in our communities. And during times of upheaval, the arts and the humanities help nurture the human spirit by offering inspirational new experiences, renewed connection to records of the past, and frameworks for valuing difference and cultivating informed debate.


President Killeen and EVP Wilson are pleased to announce the second, system-wide funding opportunity aimed at highlighting and amplifying the public good flowing from the arts and the humanities. This initiative, Expanding the Impact of the Arts and the Humanities, is consistent with our Strategic Framework, which was approved by the Board of Trustees in 2016. The President’s Office will provide up to $2 million to support this initiative. The goal of the program is to promote the transformational impact of the arts and the humanities at our universities and beyond.


Proposals can come from faculty (tenure system and non-tenure system) at one university or across more than one of our three universities. Collaborative and/or linked proposals are encouraged, with a maximum of $200,000 awarded to any single proposal. Cost sharing is welcome but not required.  

Projects that received support from the first Presidential Initiative for the Arts and the Humanities are not eligible for this round of funding unless there is a significant new aspect to the original project.


Proposals will be evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • Potential of the arts and/or humanities project to have a transformational and public impact within the U of I System and beyond
  • Extent to which the project involves multiple university stakeholders, especially students
  • Ability of the project to develop new partnerships with community and/or statewide organizations
  • Interdisciplinary nature of the project
  • Extent to which the project connects to ongoing initiatives at our universities such that there is sustainable impact
  • Clear and compelling budget that highlights the need for system-level funds


Funds should be used to support the visibility and impact of the arts and/or humanities at any one of our universities or across our universities. Examples of eligible types of support include: purchase of a special collection or exhibition, honoraria for artistic performances or speakers, release-time for faculty to spearhead the endeavor, undergraduate or graduate research stipends, equipment or technology needed for the project, travel/outreach to partners, and small- and large-scale event costs. Support for an individual research project or creative work typically would not be considered through this program.  

The Office of the Executive Vice President and Vice President for Academic Affairs will work with the awardees to connect them to external funding opportunities and to public outreach/communication training.  

2021-2022 Proposals Funded

Africana World Studies at UIUC and UIC, $175,000
Teresa Barnes, Maimouna Barro, Mary Gathogo, Erik McDuffie, Tekita Bankhead and Sam Smith (UIUC); and Lynette Jackson and Kirk Hoppe (UIC)
The development of a joint Africana World studies project on the UIC and UIUC campuses will help break down long-standing academic silos of African studies and African-American studies. Through a three-semester sequence, the project is expected to lead students to new opportunities for language learning and community engagement, and it will impact the curriculum at both universities. The project leaders anticipate that the primary participants will be undergraduate students. 

The Multiethnic Digital Humanities Project, $175,000
Mark Canuel, Rhea Ballad-Thrower and Sandra De Groote (UIC)
The project will use digital tools and platforms to connect Black studies, Asian studies, Latin American and Latino studies, Native American and Indigenous studies and other key areas. The project leaders plan to build on the success of the Digital Humanities Initiative, which helped transform humanities work and artistic expression with digital research tools and innovative online platforms. By applying digital tools to multiethnic studies, the project will extend their public reach, as well as embracing faculty work from all three universities in the system. Students and faculty also will be exposed to cutting-edge research using digital tools.

American Plumbing: The Canals, Rivers, and Communities that Bridge North and South – Illinois Rivers Project, $175,000 – Rivers of Illinois
Rachel Havrelock (UIC) and Anne-Marie Hanson (UIS)
With plans to host a series of events along Illinois’ rivers, this project is designed to increase knowledge about the state’s waterways and bring new voices to issues related to the environment and climate change. The five planned events will showcase local culture and open dialogues about water that allow experts from the U of I System to both teach and learn from the public. Working with partners, project leaders also plan to author stories, record knowledge and design interactive digital features – including an Illinois rivers website – that will later be featured in a series of public events.

Remembering Black Life in Color: Care, Memory, Community and COVID-19, $175,000 – "Mapping Care Project: The History of Black Nurses in Chicago"
Gwyneth Milbrath (UIC) and Karen Flynn (UIUC)
Project leaders plan to work with organizations such as the Black Metropolis Research Consortium and the Chicago Chapter of the National Black Nurses' Association, recruiting students from a wide range of disciplines to help assemble a history of the human impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black communities. The project will gather oral interviews and create both digital and portable exhibits for presentation. Project leaders also anticipate that their work will expand the collections of the Midwest Nursing History Research Center at UIC and reach audiences outside the academy.

Cripping the Arts, $175,000
Karyn Sandlos (UIC) and Jorge Lucero (UIUC)
Cripping the Arts will build an art-focused collaboration to allow students, faculty and disabled community members across the U of I System to take advantage of the well-recognized educational opportunities for people with disabilities at universities in Urbana-Champaign and Chicago. The project will begin with an exhibition in Chicago and Urbana-Champaign that will serve as the launch point for new community partnerships, teacher training and artist residencies. Project leaders plan to transform spaces dedicated to the arts as well as art education and studio practice through new ideas about disability. Students from UIUC and UIC will be involved in all stages of programming.

IC@Illinois: The Illinois Intercultural Competence Initiative, $171,000
Elena Delgado (UIUC)
Focused on undergraduate students, IC@Illinois intends to make the University of Illinois System a hub for intercultural communication and intercultural studies. The project will use a humanities-centered approach to focus on the trajectories and histories of U.S minority populations, as well as relationships among different cultures. Undergraduates will be able to earn certification in Intercultural Competence, which refers to the ability to interact and function effectively across cultures. Graduate students will have roles, too, contributing to the development of courses, workshops and teaching modules.

Informing and Enabling Illinois' Arts Ecosystem, $164,000
Jennifer Novak-Leonard, Andrew Greenlee and Magdalena Novoa (UIUC)
This arts-focused project will highlight the impact of the arts in communities around the state, and help identify factors that can better support the arts and artists in different regions. The project intends to help propel the newly launched Arts Impact Initiative within the UIUC College of Fine and Applied Arts in collaboration with the Department of Urban and Regional Planning. The project also will include a series of public forums, along with generating a series of evidence- and data-driven issue briefs and an applied workshop course in Urban and Regional Planning that will pilot curricula that explores how arts and artists are a part of community development.

Neverland, or "Why Are there American Indians in Peter Pan?": A Collaborative Work on New Theatre, $105,000
Gabriel Solis and Terri Ciofalo (UIUC)
The project’s leaders plan to produce a new work of theater, “Neverland,” by Madeline Sayet, executive director of the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program, in the spring of 2022. Sayet will serve a residency as a guest artist as part of the project. The play will be designed, performed, managed and studied by UIUC students and faculty, leading to the production of undergraduate and graduate research. The goal of this project is to substantially increase knowledge and understanding about Indigenous performance.

Making Our History: Artists Render Lincoln's Legacies, $85,000
Graham Peck, Brytton Bjorngaard and Meghan Kessler (UIS)
Making Our History will engage the public in Illinois and beyond in American history by using art as a lens for interpretating President Lincoln’s legacy and to spur conversation. Physical and digital exhibits will be created by historians and artists for display at the UIS Visual Arts Gallery, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum (ALPLM) and the Springfield Art Association before being donated to the three universities in the system. Project leaders also plan outreach via news media and the ALPLM podcast series, and will work to connect with K-12 teachers as a key audience, encouraging them to bring their students to exhibitions.

The Luis Alfaro's Residency Project (LARP), $140,000
Young Richard Kim and Christine Dunford (UIC)
This project intends to showcase the transformational impact of the arts and humanities by bringing acclaimed playwright, MacArthur fellow, and USC associate professor of dramatic writing to the campus of UIC during the spring ’22 semester. Working together with UI Health and various Chicago community organizations, Luis Alfaro will be leading storytelling workshops (“Speaking My Mind”) that address individual and community mental health challenges through an active engagement with the arts and humanities. Other LARP projects include classroom instructional visits for UIC’s Department of Theatre and Department of Classics and Mediterranean Studies, creative writing workshops and public events at the sister campuses of UIUC and UIS, a multimedia ethnography project, and a public outreach event co-organized with UIC’s Institute for the Humanities and other campus partners.

2019-2020 Proposals Funded