Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons is sometimes described as a work of “verbal cubism.” Wrote Marcel Proust in a letter: “For several years, Beethoven’s late quartets and Franck’s music have been my primary spiritual nourishment.” You probably know that Karl Ove Knausgård wrote a music column when he was sixteen (covered: Simple Minds, Talking Heads, David Bowie, and Eric Clapton). And you?
I manage digital media programs for UMS (University Musical Society) in Ann Arbor, but I’m also a writer and editor. UMS is a performing arts presenting organization; we bring a season of world-class performances to Southeast Michigan each year. I get to go to performances as part of my work, and for me, exposure to the performing arts has been invaluable and has inspired my writing in countless ways. Last year while I was sitting down to plan new initiatives at UMS, I was also looking for writing residency opportunities. I came across some interesting options (Amtrak, as you may have heard, caused a stir last year with its new “residency” program which offered writers cross-country train trips). The other residencies sparked an idea. I thought, we have a great resource at UMS: our performances. Why not ask artists to take “residence” there? Our Artists in Residence program was piloted this season.
We selected five Michigan-based artists to be a part of the program: the painter Carolyn Reed Barrett, the writer Robert James Russell, the theater maker Emilio Rodriguez, classical pianist Nick Gable, and performance artist Leslie Rodgers. As part of the program, the artists received tickets to select UMS performances of their choosing (having written a narrative about how these performances might support their creative work). The pilot program was a success in many ways. Robert James Russell said of the program: “[the program] has changed the way I approach and view outside influences … such a candid, vivid exposure to art and performance has expanded my worldview, and it continues to inspire me. I am a stronger writer—and observer—because of this program, and am forever grateful for the experience.”
As I observed the impact of the UMS Artists in Residence program over the course of the past year, I thought even more about cross-pollination and inspiration in the arts. That’s when I came across the MQR call for bloggers. Aha! I thought, the perfect place to connect with writers and think specifically about writers and works of literature inspired by live performances. In the coming year, I’ll write a series of posts focusing on genres of performing arts and writers or works that have been inspired by that genre (dance, theater, classical music, jazz, cutting edge or crossover work, and more). Alongside each post, UMS will offer up a pair of tickets to an Ann Arbor area MQR Blog reader (it could be you!), and then we’ll follow up with our reader after his or her performance experience as part of the next post in the series.
So, stay tuned for the first installment this fall (the UMS season kicks off in September with My Brightest Diamond). For now, you can explore the season’s offerings online (it’s shiny and new, and just launched!).
Where do you find sources of inspiration outside of the world of writers and writing?
Featured image courtesy of Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the UK. Images of performances courtesy of UMS.