The Arts of Citizenship Program was founded in 1998 during the University of Michigan's Year of the Humanities and Arts (YoHA) during the 1997-1998 academic year. YoHA's Arts of Citizenship initiative brought to campus distinguished intellectuals, artists, designers, and cultural advocates, among them Ken Burns and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, to discuss their work and the importance of the humanities and arts in general. AOC became a separate unit under the Office of the Vice President for Research in May 1998. Since AOC was founded in 1998, core funding came from the UM Office of the Vice President for Research and from other UM units, including the Whitaker Fund for the Improvement of Teaching. Grants and gifts for specific community projects came from Ford Motor Company, Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan, Michigan Humanities Council, Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, McKinley Foundation of Ann Arbor, and Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. Recognition for Arts of Citizenship projects has included an Award of Merit in Education from the Historical Society of Michigan (2001) and awards from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters (2002) and the Michigan Associated Press (2003).
AOC integrated local projects with national cultural debates and ambitious research with community collaboration across a variety of disciplines in the arts, the humanities, and design. AOC pursued its goals through forming partnerships between the University of Michigan faculty and students with schools, museums, libraries, arts organizations, theater companies, dance troupes, public agencies, and grassroots groups. AOC also developed courses that combined rigorous study with practical community work and provided start-up funding for innovative teaching and creative projects.
One of the most notable projects was "Students on Site" (SOS), the first project launched by AOC in 1998. SOS brought together University of Michigan faculty, archivists, and students with local K-12 teachers. They used the history and landscape of a historic riverfront district as the site for an innovative interdisciplinary, multi-week curriculum for third and fourth grade classrooms in the public schools. AOC developed an online teaching archive of documents about the history of Ann Arbor, created by University of Michigan students for K-12 students. In October 2001, the project won an Award of Merit in Education from the Historical Society of Michigan. SOS became the model for the other AOC projects, of which there were 18 total.
David Scobey served as the director of the program from 1998 until 2005.
Following Scobey's departure the program was refocused a bit, incorporating more projects directed by graduate students. The current website for AOC is at http://www.artsofcitizenship.umich.edu/?page_id=12.