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What is the Center for Undisciplined Research?

The Center for Undisciplined Research is a nine-month (September 2017-May 2018), decentralized “center" housed by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth with support from the College of Visual and Performing Art, Housing and Residence Education, and the Provost’s Office. My name is Roz Crews, and as the UMass Dartmouth 2017-2018 Artist in Residence, I am the founder and director of the Center for Undisciplined Research.

As an anthropology and visual art student in college, I found the strict lines of disciplined academia to be limiting. I searched for moments of intersection and overlap where I could explore things that were collaborative and multidisciplinary. The Center for Undisciplined Research is a utopic vision for expanded research practices based on my experiences as an undergraduate student. This year I will work with a self-selected group of students to form the central artistic research collective. The group will have agency to freely research and devise without concerning themselves with disciplinary rules, methods or expectations. As the director of the Center, my mission is to support students’ deep interests that may or may not exist within traditional disciplines, departments, or colleges in the university. The artistic research will intersect with social fields of study, such as anthropology, comedy, history, sociology, urban studies, ecology, gender studies, and biology, and in accordance with place-based education philosophy, we will focus on the local. Our group will meet regularly, throughout the year, as we define the Center and its goals. I will connect students to resources, people, and organizations in the community that might be relevant to their interests, and I also hope to challenge the notion that mastery and individualism are more useful than variety and collaboration. The Center will offer structures for students to participate in such as collaborative art installations, service learning opportunities, a regular newsletter, workshops, lectures, and events, but it will also be built by the students themselves. Without their input and curiosity, the Center can not exist.

This project will be a stage for collective memory making, a container to hold inspiration and manifestations of our experiences, and a laboratory for researching the social, political, and environmental agents responsible for our world. Through focus groups and individual meetings, every first year resident on campus is invited to participate in determining what topics we might research as a collective—anything from local history and ecology to prison abolition and portrait photography. Once we’ve determined research topics, we will create a schedule for the academic year that includes events, workshops, and activities related to the students’ interests. The research process will incorporate many methods, and the findings will be non-conclusive, qualitative, and presented in a variety of forms such as publications, lectures, videos, and public or private installations. In addition to student participants, there will be opportunities for local organizations and people to partner with the Center.

University centers are typically designed to traverse boundaries of departments and colleges, to provide points of intersection and interdisciplinary research. The Center for Undisciplined Research is an itinerant space that toes the boundaries of art and its capacity to serve as a tool for making meaning in the world. Its goal is to reassign value to the unstructured and loose ways we study people and places everyday, questioning what gets sanctioned as research. We also plan to interrogate disciplinary intersections, such as ethics and methods, to unpack how and why disciplines exist in the first place. The Center is an art project designed to empower first-year students to decide their own rules and methods for researching as they embark on a new journey—college. As an artistic learning community, inspired by Reggio Emilia educational philosophy and bell hooks’ thoughts on teaching, we have flexibility to pick and choose which methods make sense for our purposes, and we get to move between purposes. We will ask what it means to be undisciplined, to fit into the interstitial spaces between this or that, to find power in the grayness.

Because this center is an initiative of an independent artist and an unknown team that will form over time, its existence references the work of artists and collectives who have been establishing "Centers," "Institutes," and alternative schools for many decades, including but not limited to: Steve Lambert and Steve Duncombe, Tania Bruguera, J. Morgan Puett, Mark Dion, Anna Craycroft, Claudia Rankine, Marina Abramović, Matthew Coolidge, Fritz Haeg, the Hi-Red Center, Andrea Zittel, the Yes Men, Hope Ginsburg, Stefan Riebel, Mel Chin, SPURSE, the LA Urban Rangers, Ghana Think Tank, LAPD, Joseph Beuys, and Phoebe Davies. These people have shown me how artists invent and document temporary communities that come together in search of something, with or without the support of institutions. They have made and claimed space for undisciplined work and unharnessed research to happen in organic ways, and this center looks to them as guides in our process. Because we are located within a university, we are available to the public as an academic resource, and in our ephemeral life as a center, we hope to extend outward towards the various local and regional communities that the campus supports—connecting students with people who can help them feel rooted in their environment.*

*this website was designed and produced by Roz Crews who has no formal training in design or web-related things. Thanks to designer Nicole Lavelle for creating a modular visual handbook that the Center can use for all things related to design.