I made it!

I made it to Providence and to Brown where I am now a proud official member of the JNB Center Public Humanities team. I had my first brief visit to campus and the Center yesterday and met a whole slew of first and second year Public Humanities masters students as well as Tyler Denmead, postdoc fellow and Sunila Galappatti, Fulbright fellow. I also briefly met Annie Valk, Center director and the great Jenna Legault–with whom I have had one of those intense (but very pleasant) administrator/administratee email relationships since this all began. She and I are like old friends now.

Everyone seems friendly, in fact, as well as passionate about making meaningful connections between their area of humanities or cultural heritage work and the public, and genuinely interested in each other’s projects. It’s going to be stimulating fun to be in this space that combines what in my experience, have been a bit separate: the arts/culture/nonprofit/policy world and the academic world. Different languages, different priorities, different imagined members and audiences…

Each fellow will give a talk about their project; Tyler gave his yesterday (mine will take place on October 3rd). He founded Providence’s New Urban Arts, a nationally recognized interdisciplinary out-of-school community arts program for high school students in 1997. After stepping down as NUA’s director in 2007 and earning his Ph.D. at Cambridge, he is returning to NUA as a participant/observer. He  wants to engage in an ethnographic study of the organization and produce some kind of multi-media thick description that will help explain why the NUA model is as powerful and transformative as it is.

Of course this ethnomusicologist thinks ethnography is a powerful methodological tool with the potential for moving past a kind of artspeak that is inherently  individualistic and defensive (because of eternal fundraising and infrastructural pressures). Ethnography can potentially help Tyler represent the NUA kid’s own experiential POV and as he noted yesterday, represent group experience, the “community” that NUA is actually building. It sounds like a great project and I look forward to learning more about it this semester and beyond. I’m sure Tyler will share more about his project as it develops on his own website.


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