Arts and humanities faculty finding grants success with support of RDS team

By Jenna Somers and Jane Hirtle

An emerging trend has developed in the arts and humanities community at Vanderbilt thanks to the leadership of faculty researchers, scholars and artists. With the support of grants managers and the Research Development and Support team within the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, faculty have submitted six recent proposals to federal and local government agencies that reflect a growing arts and humanities research enterprise at the university.

They include the following:

All four faculty members noted the support they received from the College of Arts and Science grants manager, Sarazen Kokodynsky, and the RDS team: Liane Moneta-Koehler, Catalin Cristoloveanu and Susannah Imhoff. Through constant communication and meticulous attention to detail, they ensured that all pieces of proposals were complete and compelling, including all administrative documents and supplemental documents. Kokodynsky managed the budgets and subcontract requirements, and RDS provided proposal coordination and grant writing assistance, adapting services to meet the unique needs of each researcher.

“These combined efforts further the goals of both RDS and the College of Arts and Science’s Office of Research to lower the barriers to grant submission that our faculty face,” said David Wright, dean of graduate education and research in the College of Arts and Science and professor of chemistry.

“We’ve been working hard in the College of Arts and Science to foster a grants culture among our faculty in humanities and arts, and the RDS team has been a great partner to us,” added Bonnie Dow, dean of academic affairs and professor of communication studies.

In collaboration with a colleague at another university, Ramey submitted to the Advancement Grant for an NEH summer institute on 3D modeling and virtual reality for medievalists. She also submitted to the NEH Institutes for Advanced Topics in Digital Humanities to support her project that uses a video game engine to create a learning environment for medieval French language and culture.

“From my own experience with NEH grants at Vanderbilt in the past and from seeing how much things have progressed here for grants support for humanists, I am really impressed and grateful to have the help,” Ramey said. “Seeing my colleague’s reaction to the level of support I received made it clear that Vanderbilt is moving in a very good direction for supporting grant writing.”

Sutton submitted both of her grant applications to aid in the creation of a database of about 16,000 enslaved and free Black laborers and soldiers who built and defended Nashville’s fortifications during the Civil War, including Fort Negley. Prior to this project, in order to increase public understanding of this neglected history, several public humanities groups, such as Friends of Fort Negley and the Nashville City Cemetery Association, raised funds to transcribe historical documents that were previously accessible only in person through microfilm. Now, Vanderbilt researchers, under the guidance of a community advisory board consisting of representatives from local public humanities interest groups, plan to make the transcribed records searchable online, with the capacity for producing visualizations of the data, such as maps and network analysis graphs.

“The resulting website will increase access to this underutilized information and provide public humanists and other educators with a sizeable databank from which to draw on for their interpretive programming,” Sutton said. “This will allow for richer, more nuanced and fair representations of Civil War and Reconstruction history for the public.”

“Liane Moneta-Koehler, Susannah Imhoff and Catalin Cristoloveanu were generous with their time, highly responsive, very knowledgeable in the processes of proposal evaluations, adroit in proposal language and best practices, and detailed in their feedback through multiple drafts,” added Sutton. “Sarazen Kokodynsky worked closely with the Friends of Fort Negley to help create timelines and budgets and fulfill grants and subcontract requirements. Like the members of the office of RDS, she was generous with her time and helped take on a lot of the administrative work of the proposal, which allowed me to spend more time meeting with the community advisory board members and focusing on strengthening the proposal content. As an early career humanities scholar, I could not have received more well-tailored support in this complex process.”

Similar to the themes of Sutton’s work, Pavlović sought support for her interdisciplinary and inter-institutional Woven Wind artistic project, which aims to ethically amplify the silenced voices of the enslaved as preserved in The University of the South’s Lovell-Quitman archive. The collection includes extensive plantation records, photographs and documents from Confederate officer William Storrow Lovell, his wife Antonia, and her father, John A. Quitman, a slaveowner and former governor of Mississippi. Field work, genealogical findings and interviews with slave descendants in Nashville and Sewanee, Tennessee, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Jackson and Natchez, Mississippi, will inform the artistic team’s creation of photographs, paintings, films and sound objects. Through educational events and a final exhibition planned at the Tennessee State University gallery, the artists, who live in the historically Black North Nashville community and Sewanee and work at Vanderbilt, will come together to discuss matters of race, slavery and justice.

“Federal funding allows us to build platforms for larger outreach for our creative work and visibility,” Pavlović said. “Through their work, artists challenge some of the most difficult questions of our time with empathy, providing a place for conversation and aesthetic experience. I am grateful to both the Office of the Provost and the College of Arts and Science Dean’s Office for their support during the NEA application process.”

Another artistic collaboration focusing on social awareness and change, Filsoofi’s project is a series of interactive multimedia installations in which public performances will reimagine the silenced existence of Iranian musician Moshtagh Ali Shah and explain his historic contributions to music in Iran and elsewhere. The project addresses the concept of sound, suggesting the act of listening can power community engagement, promote social change and foster a better future. Staged via various events, the exhibition will run between January and March 2022 at the New Gallery at Austin Peay State University.

“The interactive installations and performances will create opportunities for dynamic community engagement, with the combination of art and music facilitating thoughtful listening and expanding cultural awareness,” Filsoofi said.

“Tracking and measuring the progress of a grant submission, and the administrative responsibilities to complete it during a set timeframe, are frustrating tasks, especially for new and junior faculty,” Filsoofi said. “But I was not alone in this process, and I feel encouraged and eager for any opportunities to come, especially because I have the support of dedicated experts within my department and the university.”

Research Development and Support (RDS), within the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, offers proposal development assistance for strategic, federally funded opportunities. Services include coordination for complex proposals, content development and draft review. RDS further supports faculty by building relationships with external sponsors, hosting workshops, and providing guides and language for common proposal requirements.