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Posted on Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 5:24 a.m.

U-M art students are 'Coming Out' to declare their identities

By Jennifer Eberbach

U-M School of Art & Design student Anya Klapischak is blurring the line between “art school” and so-called “real life,” by organizing her classmates for a happening at the Michigan Theater on Thursday, . “U-M Artists & Designers Coming Out Project.” will be held on Dec. 15 from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

Art school students will take the stage one-by-one as images of their artwork are shown. Each of them will complete the same phrase; "My name is _______. I am an Artist/Designer/Performer/Enthusiast etc., and this is my art."

“I weigh the importance of choosing to identify yourself as an artist, designer, life believer, beauty monger, whatever you want to call yourself. This event, which I think of as my own art work, is about seeing my peers take the leap into actually calling themselves something,” says Klapischak, who identifies herself as an inter-arts performance artist.

She hopes the experience will bring “a heightened sense of self and identity.”

“I want my fellow students to sense what it’s like to put their face, name, and work all under this one single idea in one moment in time,” she explains.

Klapischak is publicly declaring herself as an artist all semester long, by wearing the same one piece "worker's uniform" every day. She admits the uniform is getting hard to wear. But she keeps putting it on every morning because it teaches her a lot about herself. “I want to wake up everyday and ask myself if I’m going to put on the uniform today. Do I want to be a performance artist today? Hopefully, my answer will be yes.”

“For me, wearing this every day breaks down the barriers between performance and real life. When I put on my worker’s uniform, I am making a choice to go to work. But what does that mean when you are always wearing the uniform? When does life start and work end?” she asks.

“Hopefully that mentality will continue on once I’ve taken off the uniform. My work is my life, I live in my work. It’s a conscious choice I’m making every day."

The idea came to her in U-M associate professor Rebekah Modrak’s course covering “art school culture." For class, Klapischak has performed many experiments that turn social conventions on their head. She and other students have stood in the doorways of other people’s classes to see how they would react. She sits down with students listening to their iPods and asks to share ear buds. And she has sat on the floor in her other classes to see how student respond, for example.

“Technically, it’s all allowed. But socially? Not really. There are a lot of unspoken rules in an art school,” she explains. “Even something as simple as making eye contact and saying hello to strangers can make people really uncomfortable,” she says.

Another thing she has observed is that many art students have a hard time identifying themselves as artists with confidence to others. “A lot of people have trouble telling people they are pursuing art. I often hear an almost imperceptible shame—the tone of doubting or questioning one’s self. And I’m concerned with stripping negative connotations from the label ‘art student’,” she explains.

“It’s almost like coming out to your parents, with regards to sexuality, thus the event’s title.”

Although participating in the performance-oriented exhibition is only open to U-M art students, Klapischak says it will be most successful if a lot of local Ann Arbor artists and art lovers join the happening in the audience. “I want people in the audience to feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves. Come honor all the strong identities that come forward and help create a supportive, safe environment for the brave students who take the stage,” she says.

As a relative newbie to Ann Arbor—she transferred to the U-M this fall after beginning her college career at Yale University—Klapischak loves being an artist here, so far. “Doing this project, I want to see what Ann Arbor is all about. This is a town that prides itself on being really supportive of local endeavors and businesses. But can they walk the walk?” she wondered.

“So far, it seems like it’s an honest reputation we have here in Ann Arbor,” she says. Locals have been donating to the project, which is close to reaching its $1,225 goal. And she is optimistic that a lot of locals will be in the audience to support student artists at the big event.

Another effect that she hopes the event will cause is “infiltrating art students into the greater Ann Arbor art community,” she explains. “I’d like to see more students collaborate with local artists and show their work at non-university exhibition spaces. Definitions that distinguish ‘art students’ from ‘real artists’ are arbitrary. An artist is hopefully always a student of the world, experience, and story. And you don’t magically become an artist the day you graduate. I hope the Coming Out Project will blur the line between those definitions,” she says.

Looking to the future, Klapischak would love to organize more events like this. “Perhaps it could be a monthly thing,” she says. She also hopes collaborations between students and local artists will result from the event. “I would love to do a show exhibiting their collaborations,” she says.

U-M Artists & Designers Coming Out Project will be held on Dec. 15 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St. Admission is free. Find out more, donate, or join the fun on the event's website,


Michael K.

Sun, Dec 11, 2011 : 1:11 a.m.

Yes. Very nice way to get the "townies" into the mix with the students. We really see so little of what is going on at UM.

Kai Petainen

Sat, Dec 10, 2011 : 2:30 p.m.

what a neat story... it can inspire others... and force one to think a bit.