University of the Arts
Advancing Human Creativity
University of the Arts’ mission is simple: to advance human creativity. UArts believes creativity is the most essential skill for success in today’s society and has educated generations of groundbreaking artists, performers, designers and creative leaders for more than 141 years.
After being granted university status in 1987, University of the Arts became the largest institution of its kind in the nation, offering programs in design, fine arts, media arts, crafts, music, dance, theater and writing. It now features 30 undergraduate arts majors, 15 graduate programs and the nation’s first PhD program in Creativity.
University of the Arts students participated in Who Wants to Live Forever, a video collaboration with college students from four other continents, that was released in time for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference, held Oct. 31 – Nov. 12, 2021, in Glasgow, Scotland. Throughout 2021, participating students collaborated with director and videographer Matteo Valenti—who created the video in conjunction with Brian May. In addition to being the renowned rock band Queen’s guitarist, May is co-founder of the Save Me Trust, a nonprofit organization that works to protect and advocate for wild animals.
UArts was the only school in the U.S. to represent North America. The other participating colleges and universities included IED European Institute of Design, Milan, which represented Europe; Creatures Animation Hub, Kampala, which portrayed Africa; Griffith Film School, Brisbane, which depicted oceania; Tokyo Zokei University, which produced the Asia component; and Núcleo de Animação PUC, Rio de Janeiro, which addressed South America. The students’ animation was set to “Who Wants to Live Forever,” a 1986 Queen song.
The UArts Animation students who participated were J Cella BFA ’21, Corrine Distefano BFA ’21, Kaenan Ericksen BFA ’21, Ebin Huston BFA ’21, Guisa Longasa BFA ’21, Reese MacDonald BFA ’21, Wren Martin ’22, Trevor McKeon BFA ’21, Naja Meeks ’21, Brandon Perez BFA ’21, Atesh Sakaraya BFA ’21, Sage Salvatore BFA ’21, Travis Swisher BFA ’21 and Angela Visconti BFA ’21.
The North America section addresses pollution of water and land and deforestation and its effect on animals.
At the time of the project’s inception, Karl Staven was serving as the Animation program’s director. He wrote about the project: “A random email arrived in my inbox offering up the potential opportunity to collaborate on a film with other universities around the world.” Staven jumped on the opportunity, incorporating it into UArts’ Client Animation class, in which students work with nonprofits to learn how to communicate with clients and create content in collaboration with them.
This incredible video, created by students from five continents, shows the devastation our precious planet faces. - Brian May, co-founder, Save Me Trust, and guitarist, Queen
Staven also wrote, “Students arrived on the first day with a 45-second clip from the music in hand and were given the task to generate ideas, which would be run through Matteo to finalize an approach. We formed two groups, water and land, led by students, who then saw through the realization and completion of the project.”
Angela Visconti, then a senior, was chosen by her peers to supervise the plastic and oil pollution section of the project. “It’s challenging being a supervisor, but it’s rewarding,” she said in 2020. “It’s really nice that we get to experience communicating as a team and as fellow animators. It’s great for confidence.”
UArts Animation students also joined a private, working Facebook group, so students could share their work across continents as it evolved.
In a press release distributed at the outset of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference, Brian May and Save Me Trust co-founder Anne Brummer stated, “This incredible video, created by students from five continents, shows the devastation our precious planet faces. … World leaders are meeting at the UN Climate Change Conference 2022 (Cop26), and it is essential they take heed and take actions now.”
President David Yager announced that the university is the recipient of a $1 million Redevelopment Assistance Capitol Program (RACP) grant from the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This crucial funding will enable the university to develop a new Student Center to support UArts’ community of visual and performing artists.
“At University of the Arts, we believe that creativity is the true catalyst for social and economic change and the most essential skill for success in today’s global, technology-driven society,” President Yager said. “Now more than ever, we need to invest heavily in human creativity in order to build a more innovative and adaptable future for the next generation of thinkers, doers and dreamers—and that is just what this grant will allow us to do with the Student Center.
“On behalf of the entire university community, I want to offer my sincere thanks to Gov. Tom Wolf for choosing UArts to receive this very competitive funding, as well as Senator Larry Farnese, Representative Brian Sims and all the members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly who supported this project.”
With more than 65 percent of UArts students currently utilizing Gershman Hall’s classrooms on a weekly basis, the new space will not only act as the heart of student activity on campus, but will also be a vehicle to kindle human creativity and innovation in Philadelphia and beyond. The new center will provide an important gathering and learning space that is currently lacking on UArts’ very urban campus. It will also feature a gallery space, a film screening room and a performance center to showcase works of art by the university’s extremely diverse and talented student body, as well as performing and visual arts talent from around the globe.
“The construction of the new University of the Arts Student Center is a significant win for the entire university community,” said Paul Beideman, president of Avenue of the Arts Inc. “It will create a hub to foster human creativity and artistic growth for University of the Arts students for decades to come. But, importantly, it is also a significant win for the entire Avenue of the Arts and Center City neighborhoods in Philadelphia. It will be an imaginative space to share works by performing and visual artists from beyond university borders and will create a destination for arts and cultural enthusiasts from across the city, the region and the commonwealth. It will add a much-needed boost to our hard-hit restaurant and entertainment industry by patrons who travel to the university to view exhibitions and shows at the Student Center. This project is exactly what we need on South Broad Street at this moment.”
With shovels ready to hit the ground, this project will create dozens of high-quality, good-paying jobs in downtown Philadelphia over the course of the project. Consistent with its ongoing commitment to creating as diverse a student body and facility as possible, the university will ensure that at least 25 percent of those employed on the project are from minority populations and that at least 40 percent of those who are hired throughout the course of this project are based in Pennsylvania.
For naming opportunities, contact Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Andrew Pack at email@example.com.
This fall, in partnership with producer, musician, author and film director Questlove and whisky producer The Balvenie, University of the Arts will present one creative thinker with an opportunity to participate in UArts' PhD in Creativity program through an innovative scholarship program.
The recipient of the Balvenie Fellow in the PhD in Creativity will be fully funded in the three-year program, the next cohort of which will begin in June 2022. It is open to anyone age 21 and older from anywhere in the United States, and applications will be accepted through Nov. 15. The winning candidate will be selected by Questlove, in partnership with UArts and The Balvenie.
Besides a two-week intensive summer immersion program and a return visit to Philadelphia in the winter of the first year, all coursework will be completed remotely. Application requirements and a timeline are available at uarts.edu/academics/phd-program.
"The PhD in Creativity program was created to remove the constraints that many higher education programs have, and allow students to fully embrace new ideas and innovation in ways they may not normally have in other fields," said Jonathan Fineberg, program director for the PhD in Creativity. "Questlove and The Balvenie share the PhD program's core ethos that reimagines how we think about craft, in its many forms, and we're thrilled to be giving a student an opportunity to explore their own creative journey with this scholarship."
UArts' PhD in Creativity was born in 2015, when President and CEO David Yager met Fineberg at a conference on cross-disciplinary thinking in art and science sponsored by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Both were invited to serve on the conference's steering committee, and their engagement led to collaboration in building a radically re-envisioned PhD program. Based on the notion that creative thinking is at the heart of all innovation, it was destined for this first-ever PhD program to be hosted at an arts school and begin with an intense focus on creative thinking.
The scholarship's announcement is tied to the launch of Quest for Craft: Season One, which debuts on YouTube Oct. 28. Hosted by Questlove, best known for his roles as a founding member of The Roots and musical director for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, the show will highlight the vital intersection of craft and creativity through conversations with four iconic creative minds. The first season's guests will be Grammy Award-winning music producer Jimmy Jam, Saturday Night Live writer and cast member Michael Che, musician Patti Smith and author Malcolm Gladwell.
News & Events
In a video released Aug. 31, actor Will Smith surprised recent UArts alum Jabari Banks BFA '20 (Musical Theater) with a life-altering piece of news: Banks would be stepping into Smith's shoes to reprise his iconic role in a dramatic reboot of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The news broke on the YouTube channel for NBC's streaming service, Peacock, where the new series will air, and in trade publications Variety and Deadline.
"From the deepest parts of my heart, I want to say congratulations to you," Smith told Banks in the video. "You have the role of Will on Bel-Air."
Banks' background makes him the perfect fit to play Will, his first TV role. He lives in West Philadelphia, the birthplace of his celebrated character, and is an accomplished rapper, singer, songwriter and basketball player. In high school, Banks said, he encouraged his friends to dress up as cast members from the original show.
"I'm so ready," Banks said during the announcement. "I'm ready to bite down."
The new series, Bel-Air, received a two-season order in September 2020, according to Deadline. It's based on a viral concept trailer created by Morgan Cooper, who has been tapped to write, direct and executive produce the series. Chris Collins of The Man in the High Castle and The Wire fame will be Bel-Air's co-writer. The show is a product of Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith's Westbrook Studios and Universal Television. Quincy Jones and the original series' creators, Andy and Susan Borowitz, will also serve as executive producers.
When it debuted in 2019, Cooper's trailer was a stark departure from the original series' comedic tone, hinting at the serious trouble that forced main character Will to relocate to his aunt and uncle's mansion in Bel-Air. It has since racked up nearly 7 million views on YouTube.
Announced as a "dramatic analogue" [sic] to the original sitcom, Bel-Air will fully flesh out Cooper's concept, tracing Will's complex journey to the ritzy, gated California community while exploring the conflicts and emotions surrounding it. The new series' hour-long format promises to deliver a bit more gravitas while maintaining the trademark swagger of the original 148 episodes.
Bel-Air will film in both Philadelphia and California. A release date has not yet been announced, but it is expected to debut in 2022.
Following a rigorous selection process earlier this year, UArts Assistant Professor of Studio Practice Tommie-Waheed Evans was named a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow in choreography. Evans was one of 184 artists, writers, scholars and scientists selected from a pool of more than 3,000 applications. His selection recognizes what the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation notes as exceptional creative ability in the arts.
Evans’ application was focused on Sermon on the Mount, a piece he constructed over a year with his Philadelphia-based dance incubator, waheedworks. Through dance, it explores the intersection of queer, spiritual and welcoming spaces.
The work is not an outright criticism of the church’s rejection of queer themes and homosexuality, Evans says, despite the title’s religious connotations. Instead, he says it asks, “How can we make a space where everyone is welcome and can feel the positivity and light that happens inside a church without it being church?” Sermon on the Mount also reflects Evans’ studio practice at University of the Arts, where he encourages students to feel liberated and safe in who they are.
Evans discovered dance at a young age while growing up amid racial strife, earthquakes and gang violence in Los Angeles. Evans’ mother had previously enrolled him in music and singing lessons, but when he attended a friend’s dance recital at age 13, the artform resonated with him deeply.
“At the end of the day, dance chose me,” Evans said. “I tell the students, ‘If I didn’t have dance, I don’t know where I’d be or what I’d be doing during this time, this pandemic.’ It is the practice inside of dance, even though it’s on Zoom, that I’m able to see a future and to mentally be okay.”
Inspired by his friend’s performance, Evans enrolled in a family-run dance studio that offered ballet, jazz and tap lessons. A few years later, at age 18, Evans joined several classmates as they auditioned for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center’s summer program in New York. Despite his admitted ambivalence toward auditioning, he was the only dancer in his peer group to receive a scholarship to train with the internationally known and historic Black dance company.
Evans’ interest in choreography was kindled in high school, as he worked on a piece under the guidance of his mentor and teacher, Karen McDonald, who now serves as academy director of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles. His infatuation grew when he came to Philadelphia and engaged with Philadanco, when the company’s founder and former director, Joan Myers Brown, encouraged Evans to continue exploring his voice and vision.
When Evans left Philadanco in 2014 and began teaching at UArts, he was dealing with arthritis in his hips that required surgery. Donna Faye Burchfield, dean of the School of Dance at UArts, took him under her wing and supported him during that time.
“I just felt like I was in this space all alone, and she saw me and was like, ‘Come, sit at my table and let’s talk,’” Evans said.
Burchfield presented Evans with new resources and artists, took him to performances and introduced him to new people. Those experiences and connections, Evans says, convinced him to sit down and pen an application for a Guggenheim Fellowship. He credits his selection this year to the support he’s experienced throughout his artistic journey, from his family in Los Angeles to his colleagues in Philadelphia.
“It’s a feeling I’ve never felt,” Evans says of his fellowship. “Like, anticipation for what’s to come. It’s validating. But it’s a moment when I’ve been able to really see the people who have helped me get here and feel their excitement.”
The short documentary Abortion Helpline, This is Lisa, co-directed by University of the Arts Film Program Director and Assistant Professor Mike Attie along with Barabara Attie and Janet Goldwater, is included on the shortlist for various upcoming documentary film awards.
The film, which follows the work of the Philadelphia abortion hotline phone counselors, is among 15 others eligible to be nominated for the Best Shorts category for the 36th annual International Documentary Association (IDA) awards. The IDA Documentary Awards ceremony—which will be held virtually in January 2021—is notable for being the “world’s most prestigious event dedicated to the documentary genre, celebrating the best nonfiction films and programs of the year,” according to the IDA website. The site also indicates that the IDA “seeks to represent excellence in the documentary field from around the world, by emerging and established documentarians.” The final list of 10 nominees will be announced on Nov. 24.
Abortion Helpline, This is Lisa was also included on the recently released DOC NYC Short List. The 12 films included will be reviewed by a jury and one will be selected for a Directing Award. In addition, this list serves as the festival’s prediction for what might be shortlisted for the Academy Awards. According to IndieWire, “Historically, most of the DOC NYC short-list titles overlap with the Academy’s official 15-film Oscar Short List.”
In reaction to these announcements, Mike Attie commented, “Of course it's very exciting to be included on these lists. We never really considered the awards potential for Abortion Helpline—it's not what you think about when making a film like this—but clearly it is striking a nerve with audiences and programmers.”
These are just the most recent accolades among many that the project has received since its debut in 2019. Previously, the film was chosen from among 9,000 submissions to be screened at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival; was an official selection of the 2019 Philadelphia Film Festival as well as the 2020 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival; and won the Grand Jury Prize for Short Films at the AFI DOCS Film Festival, a major nonfiction film festival in the U.S.
All of this continued momentum serves to support the ultimate goals of the film: to raise awareness about the negative impact of discriminatory policies surrounding abortion—notably, the Hyde Amendment—and highlight the need for reproductive justice.
Laurie Wagman Recording Studios
The newly opened facilities are dedicated to exploring all facets of music production including composition, sound design, digital and analog recording, mixing and mastering.
UArts is reimagining the arts university experience. In addition to the distinct opportunity to study outside your major and in Philadelphia’s vibrant cultural center, we’re breaking new ground for creative exploration, expression and learning, year after year.
#UArtist is a celebration of the boundless creativity of the UArts community. Students, faculty, staff and alumni are welcome to share their work with us via Instagram by including #uartist.