Mellon Foundation grants funding for 3 liberal arts projects

Sowmya Sridhar, General News Reporter

The Mellon Foundation, a private foundation that supports arts and humanities across the nation, funded grants in early December for three UT liberal arts projects totaling over $2 million as a part of its Higher Learning program.

Phillip Brian Harper, Higher Learning program director, said in an email that the three grants further Mellon’s mission to promote accurate narratives of the human experience.

Pido la Palabra

Pido la Palabra: A Texas Prison Literature Project for Social Justice and the Literary Imagination is one of the projects being funded to implement Spanish-language creative writing courses in prisons. Pido la Palabra is a collaborative literature initiative between the Texas Prison Education Initiative and the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies.

Sarah Brayne, director of the Texas Prison Education Initiative, said many incarcerated people have less education than those who aren’t in prison. Brayne said she hopes to improve access to education through Pido la Palabra.

“For those who may be incarcerated for a very long time, (education) can create a destigmatized identity as a student, create communities within the prisons and a sense of pride,” associate sociology professor Brayne said.

Adela Pineda, director of the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, said that although Texas has many Spanish-speaking incarcerated people, programs to help them reintegrate into society through education are limited. 

Pineda, a professor of Latin American literary and cultural studies, said her writing students will also participate as collaborators in the fall to implement Pido la Palabra. She will be using archival material from the University’s Benson Latin American Collection to teach the students about incarcerated writers.

The Crip Narratives Collective

The Crip Narratives Collective, overseen by associate English professors Alison Kafer and Julie Minich, will be a program to mentor and provide academic resources to people with disabilities.

Kafer, associate professor of women and gender studies, said the three-year grant will go toward creating opportunities for UT faculty, Ph.D. candidates, undergraduate and graduate students to discuss their research around disability. The initiative will also invite artists with disabilities to do residencies at UT.

Kafer said that while the norms of education presume nondisability, the goal of The Crip Narratives Collective is to create spaces that allow for variety around modes of working and supporting academic research and art that does that work.

“When artists with disabilities make work, their work is seen to be more as a kind of therapy as opposed to artistic practice,” Kafer said. “We wanted to make a space to support artists as artists as opposed to disabled people practicing therapy to heal themselves.”

Mellon Fellowship for High Impact Scholars

The University of Texas Mellon Fellowship for High Impact Scholars will fund fellowships for Latin American and Caribbean scholars, artists and journalists to come to UT or partner institutions in Puerto Rico.

This fellowship is led by Richard Flores, professor of anthropology and Mexican American and Latina/o studies, and Ramón Rivera-Servera, dean of the College of Fine Arts.

Flores, deputy to the president for academic strategies, said the $1.2 million grant will support travel, stipends and subsidized housing for the scholars, artists and journalists. The initiative will also give scholars “the opportunity to digitize their work to make sure it stays safe,” Flores said.

“Our greatest ambition is to give the scholars a broader platform for their work and provide them a space to think and reflect and do the kind of work they want to do,” Flores said.