At Carolina, we discover and translate our science and creative endeavors to make tangible impacts for the public good. Creative endeavors on our campus transcend barriers and include discoveries that inform understanding of a wide range of mechanisms, but they also inform our understanding of humanity, and they advance intellectual and artistic exchange.
Each April our campus comes alive with a celebration of the arts, which will be particularly exemplified with Arts Everywhere Day on April 14. This year’s celebration, themed “You are an Artist,” will feature performances, installations, and creative activities across campus, including an all-day art fair in the Gift Plaza at the Frank Porter Graham Student Union.
But celebrating art on campus and beyond is not limited to one day, or month, and certainly not to one discipline. Discovery at its heart is creative. Art shapes how we create and think. Humanistic research captures and changes lives and brings people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives together. And Carolina scientists draw on the expertise of their colleagues in the fine arts and humanities to infuse creativity, and a human touch, into their innovations in fields like artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, imaging, novel therapies, and more.
Bridging data and computer science with the arts, the AI Project hopes to advance research and collaboration on the philosophical foundations and significance of artificial intelligence and virtual worlds. The project is housed in the philosophy department and conducted in collaboration with computer science, linguistics, and the Parr Center for Ethics, and hopes to support researchers across campus so that they use the right ethical approaches in their research and share their findings and developments accurately.
Recently, an impressive 66×40 foot mural was painted on the exterior of the UNC Institue for Marine Sciences (IMS) in Morehead City. The three-story captivating display depicts the institute’s world-class research on storm surge, local species of fish that researchers are helping to protect, and people who live and work in the area that depend on the state’s coastal resources. The design process brought the greater community together to contribute to the mural and preserve the beauty of Carteret County.
Community engagement is a vital component of impactful scholarship. Recently, a faculty member and graduate student from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health were awarded the Engaged Scholarship Prize from North Carolina Campus Engagement, a collaborative network of 38 colleges and universities committed to educating students for civic and social responsibility, partnering with communities for positive change, and strengthening democracy. Dane Emmerling, a health behavior assistant professor, was recognized for his work in using community-based partnerships to build trust, increase transparency, share decision-making, and improve the quality of data and research products. Graduate student Elana Jaffe was awarded the prize for pursuing engaged scholarship that centers women’s experiences of menopause and access to resources for menopause management in carceral settings.
In the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, we go further than recognizing artistic endeavors. Each year our office partners with the UNC Institute for Arts and Humanities to provide Arts and Humanities Research Grants. The program offers up to $7,500 in funding for scholarly, creative, and artistic pursuits, led by either individual faculty or teams. The FY23-24 Art and Humanities Research Grants request for applications is now live, and this year’s deadline is May 19.
Last year, we awarded eight grants for creative scholarship that culminated in books, albums, and events, including funding English Professor Florence Dore’s traveling humanities program. Dore teaches courses at Carolina in songwriting, contemporary fiction, and the American novel; published a book and released an album last year; and is currently (with the support of the Arts and Humanities Research Grant) touring the country performing shows that blend music and classroom-like discussions on democracy and civic belonging.
Belonging was one of many emotional themes represented in “Omar,” an opera from MacArthur Award-winning musician Rhiannon Giddens, which was performed in Memorial Hall this past February. The opera drew inspiration from the 1831 autobiography of Omar ibn Said, the only known complete autobiography written by an enslaved person in Arabic. Additional resources, including texts found in Carolina’s Louis Round Wilson Library, provided historical context for the work.
Giddens is the current Southern Future’s artist-in-residency, a role she began in 2022 that will last for three years. During that time, she will focus on discovering and sharing cultural artifacts and local histories on topics central to Southern Futures. Through her research and conversations, Giddens will contribute to a better and more truthful understanding of what life was like in and around North Carolina at the turn of the 20th century.
Being involved in the research enterprise at Carolina means having the opportunity to witness first-hand the ways in which art influences science and science influences art. Other examples include David Gotz’s data visualization work, applying advanced imaging technologies and techniques to improve our understanding of cellular processes, the use of music therapy to help young patients cope with prolonged hospitalization, reports and graphs produced by Carolina Demography representing North Carolina’s economic and population growth, and so many more. The art of data visualization and imaging are critical elements of discovery and the application and dissemination of our research. These are just a few examples of the incredible creativity that shapes the questions we ask in our labs, with our data, and with people and communities.
The event coordinators of Arts Everywhere have developed a calendar of opportunities for celebrating the arts beyond the 14th, and I would encourage you to view it and attend any events you can. Art is everywhere; across our campus, and our state, and it provides critical inspiration and contribution to the work of our researchers. Creativity truly powers discovery.