Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Thursday, October 29, 2009

U-M hosts weeklong exploration of role of body in making art

In the latest incarnation of innovative arts exploration, U-M’s Arts on Earth presents “Arts & Bodies,” a weeklong series of performances, talks and happenings that aim to provoke rethinking the vital connection among the arts, education and societal values.

Watch online videos of
Arts and Bodies and Music of Now
For a listing of times and events, go to

The series of programs begins Sunday. All events are free and open to the public.

“With the many economic problems affecting people, we think it’s timely to explore ways the arts can help us gain some perspective,” says Theresa Reid, executive director of Arts on Earth, a universitywide initiative in creative work and learning directed by the deans of arts and engineering on North Campus.

A major feature of Arts & Bodies is the residency of “body musician” Keith Terry, a leading expert in the cultural origins of the form, and the many ways to make music by using the body as the sole instrument, including slapping, clapping, stomping and vocalizing.

Terry’s residence runs from Sunday through Nov. 7, including a Body Music Festival at the Michigan Union and a concert at Rackham Auditorium.

In its most basic form, body music is snapping or clapping along to a rhythm. In a more complex form it’s deeply reflective of culture, politics and the irrepressible impulse to express a nonverbal connection. Notable forms include hambone, gumboot, Palmas and kecak.

National Public Radio called Terry a “body music pioneer” for his vision and the force behind the 2008’s International Body Music Festival, held in San Francisco. Terry, who is the first to earn a Guggenheim award to explore body music, goes beyond slap-and-snap techniques. He focuses on the universal nature of body music, and the rhythms as a cultural expression, Reid says.

“We have the foremost practitioner to teach us how find the musical joys in our bodies in ways we never dreamed of,” she says.

Terry’s residency also includes a two-day art lab at the Duderstadt Center, and two days teaching body music to Detroit Public School students. The labs are led by faculty and students from the arts, engineering, psychiatry, kinesiology, English and linguistics.

“Many public schools are deprived of access to musical instruments,” Reid says. “Here’s an opportunity for students to understand the natural rhythms of the body and how to creatively express themselves through body music.”

Arts on Earth’s latest series of programs is another chapter in offering an innovative approach to arts education, says David Munson, dean of the College of Engineering and co-director of Arts on Earth. Past programs included explorations of the connection between arts and the mind, and arts and the environment.

“Creativity is essential not only for getting us out of this current economic slump, but for long-term American economic survival,” Munson says. “The arts aren’t the only way to enhance creativity, but they are surely the way that also rewards us with wonder, and joy, and a sense of connection with humanity.”