Improvising Inclusive Communities: From AUMI to the Center for Improvisation Studies

Abbey Dvorak, Music; Kip Haaheim, Music; Michelle Hayes, Dance; Nicole Hodges Persley, Theatre; and Sherrie Tucker, American Studies

funded Spring 2016

Researchers from the Improvisation, Community and Social Practice (ICASP) initiative (Canada) posit that “improvisation, by promoting an awareness of transcultural discourses, and by providing an atmosphere for the acknowledgment and articulation of difference, can facilitate direct intervention in political, social, and economic discourses.” ( The particular intervention that has driven the ongoing research of the co-applicants is - how, and to what extent, does musical improvisation across abilities facilitate more inclusive communities, expand connections among local groups that otherwise do not interact, and reduce isolation among community members? Since 2012, as AUMI-KU InterArts, we have explored mixed-ability improvisation using a musical instrument (AUMI) designed to adapt to all bodies. These experiences have illuminated hidden issues, softened barriers, increased empathy, and brought together communities that are often isolated from one another. Results include two journal articles, one book chapter and a digital humanities project, and presentations at eleven international and national conferences, seven regional/local conferences/performances, and a continuing series of jam sessions at the Lawrence Public Library. Through the residency and consultation with Jesse Stewart, we intend to establish a Center for Improvisation Studies in order to sustain work with AUMI, extend its implications across more disciplines, and to engage the international community of research centers dedicated to critical improvisation studies.