Andalusia native to lead arts, creative research at University of Michigan

Published 9:15 am Saturday, October 14, 2023

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Andalusia native Clare Croft was recently selected to a leadership position aimed at expanding and integrating the arts in faculty research at the University of Michigan.

Clare Croft, a dance historian, theorist and curator who has spearheaded national efforts to strengthen arts infrastructure, will serve a three-year appointment as the university’s first director of arts research/creative practice.

Clare was born in Andalusia and attended city schools through the tenth grade and went on to graduate from the Alabama School of Fine Arts in 1996.

She is the daughter of former Andalusia teachers, John Croft and the late Rozilyn Croft. John Croft was known locally as the “Voice of the Andy Bulldogs,” calling Andalusia football games on local radio for about 30 years. John now lives in Daphne and Rozilyn passed away earlier this year.

Clare said growing up in Andalusia provided her valuable lessons that she carries in both her professional and personal life.

“Growing up in a small town, you learn that building relationships is a key to success,” she said. “I work (and live) in larger contexts now with a lot more people around, but knowing that it’s both important and joyful to know the people with whom you’re working is key and something I saw all around me growing up.”

Her passion for dance and writing also began in Andalusia where she was active with Andalusia Ballet where she was encouraged to combine the two.

“I loved dancing from the time I was little. I took my first class at Andalusia Ballet when I was 3, back when the Ballet was still just a series of classes offered out of the Murphy’s home,” Clare said. “The only thing I loved nearly as much as I loved dancing was writing. When I was about 14, [Andalusia Ballet director] Meryane Murphy told me there were people who wrote about dance for a career. I’m sure it was a passing comment, but I held onto it tightly. I wrote my first piece about dance around the same time, and The Andalusia Star-News published it. My interests in intertwining dance and writing continued to grow. I studied dance history and criticism in college, and that helped launch my professional writing career, which has included writing for The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, and the Austin American-Statesman. I then returned to graduate school to get my PhD, partially because I wanted to be able to write, teach, and talk about dance full-time. I guess it matters what you say to teenagers!”

Her latest role with the University of Michigan’s Arts Initiative is a broad effort to emphasize the value of the arts within the context of a leading public research university.

“As a scholar, teacher, audience member and dancer, I know firsthand that the arts are a field of study and inquiry that fosters critical, deliberative and imaginative thinking, and does so with an emphasis on collaboration, even care,” said Croft, who is also an associate professor of American culture and of women’s and gender studies in LSA, and associate professor of music in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

“The arts must be a crucial piece of life at a research university, as they bring what scientists might call new discoveries; what social scientists might call new perspectives; and what humanists might call new insights. I am excited to develop new funding programs and support systems to assist my fellow faculty members in deepening and elevating their work.

As director, Croft will develop strategy, design funding programs and enhance infrastructure for arts research and creative practice across U-M. Her efforts will closely align with the goals of the Arts Initiative, a universitywide endeavor launched in 2019 to illuminate and expand human connections, inspire collaborative creativity, and build a more just and equitable world through the arts.

She will collaborate with faculty, staff and students across disciplines to identify and address needs and gaps within the arts research space.

With support from the Arts Initiative and OVPR, Croft will develop and administer a new five-year, $2.5 million program that is designed to support faculty-led arts research and creative practice. The program will announce its initial call for proposals this fall.

Croft received a Ph.D. in performance as public practice from the University of Texas at Austin. She joined U-M as an assistant professor in 2010, and during her tenure in Ann Arbor, Croft has held faculty appointments in the Michigan Society of Fellows, LSA and SMTD.

“As an educator, administrator and performer, Dr. Croft brings a tremendous wealth of experience and expertise to this new leadership position, and with her strong support and leadership, the University of Michigan will continue to push research boundaries by articulating a strong vision spanning arts integrative research through creative practice,” said Geoffrey Thün, associate vice president for research – social sciences, humanities and the arts.

Clare said she owes much of her professional success to the lessons she learned growing up in Andalusia and as a student of the Andalusia Ballet.

“I have no idea what my life would be without Meryane Murphy. Andalusia Ballet was my second home. She obviously instilled my love of dance in me, and told me the career I now have even exists. But, more importantly, I learned from her and from ballet what it meant to work hard, with discipline and focus — and just how pleasurable it can be to work really hard,” Clare said.