Experimental & Civic Arts Lab

Experimental & Civic Arts Lab

UNH student dancers Emily Shafritz, Emily Wozer, and Lily NeherThe Experimental & Civic Arts Lab aims to study the creative and technical arts as methods for enacting Martin Luther King, Jr.’s philosophy of non-violent resistance in a contemporary, social-mediated context. The Lab is directed by Prof. Kevin Healey, Associate Professor of Communication at UNH. Affiliated faculty include Liese Zahabi (Art & Art History) and Tom Jackson (Communication). 

The premise of the Lab is that while King’s ethical principles of non-violent resistance remain relevant, today’s media ecosystem requires new forms of multimodal civic engagement beyond conventional forms of speech and activism. The Experimental & Civic Arts Lab will serve as an experimental space for developing such approaches. Music composition, documentary film, video animation/design are the primary modalities driving our projects, as these are the project leaders’ key areas of expertise. The project leaders have also worked closely with student dancers in past projects, and plan to continue incorporating choreography into their work.

Our work builds on existing literature in arts-based research (ABR), which leverages elements of the creative process (imagination, improvisation, design, performance) as modes of inquiry. It also builds on literature in contemplative studies, which leverages attention-cultivating practices like meditation, yoga, contemplative prayer, and various forms of civic engagement (marches, vigils, etc.) to sharpen the affective and ethical dimensions of scholarly inquiry and pedagogy.

Our recent project, “Come Back Home: Music, Dance, and Video Design as Methods of Relational Truth-Seeking,” served as the impetus for creating the Lab. "Come Back Home" received funding through COLA’s "We Hold These Truths" grant program, and received the 1st place Award for Innovative Design in the HUGEmanities BIG Contest in 2022.

In addition to 3 new music/dance videos on similar themes, the Lab will support the project leaders in producing a documentary-style film which integrates the shorter videos with original interviews featuring the performers, the project leaders, and outside experts in ABR, contemplative studies, interface design, and civic discourse. The documentary film will serve as a demonstration of how multi-modal, arts-based work is especially well-positioned to carry on King’s legacy of non-violent civic engagement in the context of contemporary social media.