For Petra Kuppers, performance is art. It is healing. It is vibrant, urgent, and necessary. She has worked with people who were incarcerated, people who have physical disabilities, community groups, and students. At the core of her diverse forms of art and scholarship is a drive to uplift those she believes often go unseen. 

Kuppers—the Anita Gonzalez Collegiate Professor of Performance Studies and Disability Culture, and a professor of English literature and women’s and gender studies—describes herself as “a community performance artist, a disability culture activist, and a wheelchair dancer.” Her life’s work recently culminated in receiving the coveted Guggenheim Fellowship, one of 43 U-M affiliates to ever receive the honor. 

For the fellowship, she is focusing her writing and methods on two key areas: the mental health system and institutional sites of incarceration, specifically through performance projects that she co-curated with her wife, poet and dancer Stephanie Heit. As an educator and community practitioner, Kuppers encourages all forms of artistic exploration. “I’m trying to give everybody the opportunity to explore their own creative sense, however they wish to do that,” Kuppers says.