Wayne State University unveils the new Humanities Commons: A hub for arts and literary scholars

image shows seating in the new Humanities Commons
The new 2,800-square-foot space in the Undergraduate Library will host arts and literary events, community exhibitions, classes and collaboration.

Liberal arts students at Wayne State have a new campus space to call their own. The Humanities Commons will unite students and faculty in the liberal arts and social sciences, providing an outlet dedicated to conversations about art, community, resilience and accessibility.

Located in the David Adamany Undergraduate Library (UGL), the 2,800 square-foot space will be used for arts and literary events, community exhibitions, classes and group collaboration. The project, overseen by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), welcomes students and faculty from all disciplines.

The concept of the Humanities Commons emerged during discussions between CLAS Dean Stephanie Hartwell and students. "Wayne State has amazing resources for the STEM fields, but our arts and literary students felt something was lacking," said Hartwell. "The Humanities Commons will help to fill that gap."

Students at the Humanities CommonsM.L. Liebler, author and Department of English professor, will head the Humanities Commons as the space's coordinator. A long-time arts and literary activist, Liebler says the space will revive a once robust liberal arts community at Wayne State.

"The Commons pays homage to a bygone era at WSU," Liebler said. "It's reminiscent of Monteith College and the Miles Modern Poetry Room in State Hall. Those dedicated spaces nurtured both creativity and intellect in welcoming and inclusive ways."

Liebler's vision for the space includes art exhibits, printmaking workshops, and even teaching students how to create books.

He also plans to bring his groundbreaking All Access Cafe to the Commons. The creative writing event offers differently abled writers, musicians and filmmakers the opportunity to present their art through readings and performances. "I see the Commons as a special place where the liberal arts will thrive," he said. "This is a place for discussions and expressions in a creative and inclusive environment."

A print from artist Barbara Greene Mann
An exhibition of artwork by Wayne State alumna Barbara Greene Mann will be displayed throughout the UGL in coordination with the opening of the Humanities Commons.

In conjunction with the launch of the Humanities Commons, an art exhibit featuring the work of Wayne State alumna Barbara Greene Mann will be displayed throughout the UGL. The exhibition, "The Elephant in the Room," will celebrate the life and art of the Cass Corridor visionary. Greene Mann persevered through personal challenges, including mental illness and substance abuse. "Her art, often characterized by periods of darkness, reflects her journey through adversity," said Hartwell, who helped create the collection alongside Grace Serra, curator of WSU's art collection.

Notably, Greene Mann's fascination with Lucy, an elephant housed at Canada's Edmonton Valley Zoo, became a recurring theme in her work, leading to the creation of the exhibition.

The Humanities Commons grand opening celebration takes place at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 21. The event kicks off with an exclusive screening of Lucy and Me, a documentary film about the art and life of Barbara Greene Mann produced and directed by Joel Martin.

Students at the Humanities CommonsMartin graciously lent the university pieces of Greene Mann's art from his personal collection for the exhibition. Her life and art and Martin's partnership with CLAS have influenced and expanded the mission of the Humanities Commons to emphasize accessibility, creating space for marginalized voices and the resilience that the arts create in communities.

In addition to campus and community collaboration, Hartwell envisions a greater mission for the Humanities Commons. "Detroit is just the greatest place in the world to lift up the humanities," she said. "This city is all about art, resilience and music. The Humanities Commons is a space to discuss and celebrate that."

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