Mellon Fellowships for Arts Practice & Scholarship

Give It or Leave It

Artist Cauleen Smith (California Institute of the Arts) and Film Scholar Robert Bird (UChicago Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Department of Cinema Media Studies) endeavor to unpack the revolutionary potential of filmic images. This project began with their work together on the Smart Museum's exhibition Revolution Every Day (September 17, 2017 - January 28, 2018), and will continue to develop through various forms, including their co-taught fall 2018 course.

Studio R-A

Professors Bill Brown (University of Chicago, Department of English) and Ted Brown (Syracuse University, School of Architecture) embark on a collaboration that seeks to explore theoretical, practical and formal dimensions of re-assemblage. To initiate this collaboration, the Brown brothers will co-teach a course that is both seminar and studio based, working with students from diverse backgrounds of study, and bringing in other working artists to offer their insights on various notions of re-assemblage. 

Whispering Campaign

Curator Dieter Roelstraete and artist and professor Pope.L (University of Chicago) expand upon their collaboration at documenta 14 where Pope.L first presented his Whispering Campaign project (Roelstraete was a documenta 14 curator). Continuing to evolve as a Gray Center Mellon Collaborative Fellowship, Whispering Campaign has also included sponsored tours and conversations at documenta 14 with University of Chicago staff, students and faculty, the exhibtion Brown People are the Wrens of the Parking Lot at Logan Center Gallery, and a co-taught course for Winter Quarter 2018 entitled Art and Knowledge.

Ghost Village

University of Chicago historian and professor Judith Zeitlin (Department of East Asian Languages & Civilizations), and Beijing based composer Yao Chen collaboratively undertake the creation of an opera, with Yao composing the music, and Zeitlin writing the libretto. Entitled Ghost Village, the opera will be based on a ghost story of the same name that features in Pu Songling’s (1640-1715) masterpiece, Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio.


Professor Steven Rings (Department of Music) and composer / percussionist Glenn Kotche aim to rethink the three musical categories of voice, groove, and song, considering them at once as a fused, holistic group, and as parameters amenable to strategic separation and recombination.

Imagining Futures

This interdisciplinary project brings together New York-based Transmedia artist and theorist Thenmozhi Soundararajan and two faculty from Ci3’s Transmedia Story Lab, Melissa Gilliam (adolescent health researcher and physician, Biological Science Division-founder of Ci3), and Patrick Jagoda (game designer and scholar, English & new media studies) as they explore significant social, cultural, and political issues that will impact possible human futures through a series of experimental and interactive digital narratives. 

The Archaeological Lens

Anthropologist Shannon Lee Dawdy and filmmaker Daniel Zox embark on a project whose subject matter concerns rapidly changing death practices in the US, particularly as regards disposition of the body and the creation of memorial objects. The aesthetic challenge is to use the moving picture medium with an archaeological eye as they explore how film might be used as a means to excavate the contemporary – creating visual field notes of material practices.

Framing, Re-framing, and Un-framing Cinema

Digital artists Paul Kaiser and Marc Downie of OpenEndedGroup collaborate with Tom Gunning (Art History and Cinema & Media Studies) on a project that seeks to study and intervene in the current redefinition of the moving image as it shifts from the frame of classical cinema to the immersive framelessness and interactivity of virtual reality. 

The Data That We Breathe

Caroline Bergvall (London-based artist, writer and performer), Judd Morrissey (writer, code artist and professor, School of the Art Institute of Chicago), and Jennifer Scappettone (cross-disciplinary writer, scholar and professor, English and Committee on Creative Writing, University of Chicago) launch a series of experiments into the physical and poetic dimensions of breath: its channeling in the evolution and performance of human languages, and its molecular migrations through instruments, terrains, and times. 

Afterword: The AACM (as) Opera

GEORGE LEWIS, New York-based composer & musicologist, SEAN GRIFFIN, Los Angeles-based composer & director of Opera Povera, and CATHERINE SULLIVAN, film and theater artist & faculty member in the Department of Visual Arts, embark on the creation of an opera, film and related presentations based on the final chapter of Lewis’ award-winning 2008 book A Power Stronger Than Itself: the AACM and American Experimental Music (2013-15).

The Black Death Project

How do we render and receive stories of death and violence in black communities?  CATHY COHEN (Chair of Political Science), film producer and director ORLANDO BAGWELL, and sculptor GARLAND TAYLOR develop a project that investigates how representations of blackness, death and violence are reflected in and refracted by neoliberalism and new media (2014-15).

Bilingual Knowledge Bilingual Stories

Palestinian-Israeli novelist, columnist and TV-writer SAYED KASHUA and University of Chicago professors ANASTASIA GIANNAKIDOU (Linguistics) and NA'AMA ROKEM (Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations) explore the possibilities and limits of bilingualism in a project that creates a crossover between different methods of engaging the question, what do bilinguals know? (2014-15)


Artist and media theorist VICTOR BURGIN, and University of Chicago philosopher and artist D.N. RODOWICK investigate displaced or effaced histories of architecture and urban space in the near South Side of Chicago through the creation of site-specific audiovisual installations (2015).

Tell Me the Truth

CHASE JOYNT, Toronto-based multi-media artist, and KRISTEN SCHILT, faculty member in the Department of Sociology, explore the construction of public narratives about institutional and individual identities in a year-long project entitled Tell Me The Truth.  Throughout 2013-14, Joynt & Schilt will curate a series of screenings, readings, and multi-media installations that highlight queer artistic collaboration in an attempt to deploy and disrupt positions of scholarly, artistic and experiential authority (2013-14).

The Good Book Extended

The COURT THEATRE; DENIS O'HARE, actor, and LISA PETERSON, director, together award-winning playwrights; and MARGARET MITCHELL, Dean of the Divinity School & Shailer Mathews Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature, collaborate on and around the development of The Good Book, a theatrical exploration of the Bible (2013-15).

Alternate Reality: A Pervasive Play Project

Professor SHA XIN WEI, experimental phenomenologist & media artist, and PATRICK JAGODA, Professor of English & New Media, collaborate on The Project a year-long transmedia gaming project (2012-13).

Never The Same

Chicago artist & activist DANIEL TUCKER and Art Historian REBECCA ZORACH expand a project entitled Never the Same which, since 2010, has sought to archive and document the history of Chicago’s rich storehouse of politically and socially engaged art practices (2013).

Staging the Invisible

Choreographer CLAUDIA LAVISTA of Delfos Danza collaborates with composers SHULAMIT RAN and AUGUSTA READ THOMAS and music composition Ph.D. students  on site-specific choreography and composition (2012-13).

What is Sculpture?

ANNE WAGNER, art historian & curator, and JESSICA STOCKHOLDER, artist & chair of the Department of Visual Arts Professor embark on a series of private and public dialogues probing the question "what is sculpture?" (2012).

Gray Center Projects

Cinema 53

Cinema 53 is a new screening and discussion series presenting conversation-provoking films by and about women and people of color. A partnership between the historic Harper Theater in downtown Hyde Park and the University of Chicago’s Gray Center for Arts & Inquiry, Cinema 53 brings together scholars, artists, students and audiences from the South Side and beyond to consider how visual cultures reflect, and reflect upon, enduring inequalities and revolutionary futures. Curated by Gray Center director Jacqueline Stewart.

Brown People Are the Wrens in the Parking Lot

Brown People Are the Wrens in the Parking Lot is an art campaign facilitated by students, staff, and faculty at the Logan Center for the Arts, University of Chicago, that aims to provide space for us to collectively address questions and create actions concerning difference and possibility in our society. 

What is an Artistic Practice of Human Rights?

“What is an Artistic Practice of Human Rights?” is a multi-day summit taking place April 29 and May 1, 2017 hosted by the University of Chicago and composed of a group of distinguished international artists who will propose, examine, and challenge the ways in which creative cultural resistance can broaden our collective understanding of human rights.   

Artists include: Lola Arias, Jelili Atiku, Tania Bruguera, Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti of Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency, Carlos Javier Ortiz, and Laurie Jo Reynolds  

Co-presented by the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry, the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights, and the Logan Center for the Arts.

Volkenburg Puppetry Symposium

The 2015 Volkenberg Puppetry Symposium is presented by the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry in partnership with the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival and Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.  This event brings together artists and scholars from diverse fields to investigate the meaning, vitality and relevance of contemporary puppetry (Jan 2015).

Unsuspending Disbelief: The Subject of Pictures

Unsuspending Disbelief: The Subject of Pictures, conceived and organized by Laura Letinsky (Dept. of Visual Arts), is a daylong symposium that addresses questions regarding what a photograph pictures as opposed to what a photograph “means,” seeking out a more precise ontological mapping of the relationship between pictures and photography (Nov 2014).

Material Matters

CHRISTIAN SCHEIDEMANN, New York-based conservator, and CHRISTINE MEHRING, faculty member and chair of Art History, orchestrate a series of engagements with local scholars, artists and curators interested in the materials of modern and contemporary art.  This two-year collaboration is a project of the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society in partnership with the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry (2013-15).

Urban Forum's Neighborhoods: The Measure and Meaning of an Urban Ideal

Sponsored by the University of Chicago Urban Network, the 2014 Urban Forum focused on four disciplinary traditions involved with the concept of neighborhood: sociology, geography, social work, and urban design.  The Gray Center Lab hosted a number of related events including an exhibition (Apr 2014).

Boulez at 90, a workshop residency with the CSO

Three day residency with Gerard McBurney (Creative Director of the CSO’s Beyond the Score series), architect Frank Gehry (scenic designer), and Mike Tutaj (video designer) for the development of Boulez at 90: Provisionally Definitive, a CSO music-video-performance event based on the life of composer Pierre Boulez (Sep 2014).

Making A (Re)Entrance

ADI BARAK, Postdoctoral Fellow at the School of Social Service Administration, and AMY STEBBINS, Ph.D. Candidate in Germanic Studies and Cinema & Media Studies, develop a two-quarter performance series that brings together halfway house residents from the Crossroads Adult Transition Center with students and staff from the University of Chicago to explores the status of entrances and re-entrances - both on stage and in society - while radicalizing the aesthetic and social parameters of civically-engaged performance. Visit the rehearsal blog here (2013-14).

Mind on Heaven

NYC-based sound designer Ben Williams and Chicago-based filmmaker Brian Cagle in residence in the Gray Center Lab to continue their ongoing creation of Mind on Heaven, a portrait/tribute to the late Dennis Palmer (Mar 2014).

Every house has a door

Chicago-based performance company Every house has a door in residence in the Gray Center Lab to develop and present 9 beginnings: Bristol & 9 beginnings: Chicago. This performance engages with the Live Art Archives of The University of Bristol and Arnolfini in the UK, and the Randolph Street Gallery archives at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Jan 2014).

University of Chicago Partnerships

The Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry and the Gray Center Lab regularly partner with various University of Chicago departments and centers to co-produce readings, symposia, exhibitions, and workshops.