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.
When University of the Arts celebrates the accomplishments of the Class of 2022 during Commencement on May 19, it will also recognize two influential and multitalented artists with honorary degrees: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Aaron Dessner.
May 19 will mark the university’s first in-person Commencement ceremony since 2019, and it will be held at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music. The event will also be livestreamed for the public and those outside the university community at commencement.uarts.edu.
Questlove is an Academy Award–winning filmmaker, drummer, DJ, producer, director, culinary entrepreneur, New York Times best-selling author and the unmistakable heartbeat of Philadelphia’s most influential hip-hop group, The Roots. He is the musical director of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, where his beloved Roots crew serves as the house band. Moreover, this six-time Grammy Award–winning musician’s indisputable reputation has landed him musical directing positions with everyone from D’Angelo to Jay-Z.
In 2021, Questlove made his directorial debut with the Academy Award–winning feature documentary Summer of Soul, which explores the legendary 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. The film premiered on the opening night of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, where it was awarded the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for Best U.S. Documentary. The movie broke the record for the highest-selling documentary to come out of Sundance when it was acquired by Searchlight/Hulu, and it has since gone on to win Best Feature Documentary at the 2022 Academy Awards, Best Documentary at the 2022 British Academy Film Awards and Best Music Film at the 2022 Grammy Awards. In addition, former President Barack Obama named Summer of Soul one of his favorite movies of the year.
Questlove has also written multiple books including the New York Times bestsellers Mo’ Meta Blues and Creative Quest; the Grammy-nominated audiobook Creative Quest; Soul Train: The Music, Dance and Style of a Generation; the James Beard–nominated somethingtofoodabout; Mixtape Potluck; and the newly released Music Is History.
Aaron Dessner is a New York–based musician, composer and producer, best known for his work with Taylor Swift (including the 2020 Grammy Awards’ Album of the Year winner, folklore, and its sister album, evermore) and with Grammy Award–winning alternative band The National, whose albums he has co-written and co-produced since the group’s inception in 1999. Dessner began producing additional projects almost a decade ago, developing his own distinctive sound and approach, and an ability to connect with artists from disparate genres, including Sharon Van Etten and her breakthrough album, Tramp; the craftsmanship of Irish artist Lisa Hannigan; or the gothic blues of singer-songwriter Adia Victoria.
Dessner also collaborates with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon on their collaborative project Big Red Machine and has co-founded international music festivals including the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival in Wisconsin, Boston Calling and the National’s own Homecoming festival in Cincinnati. Along with his twin brother, Bryce, Vernon and a community of musicians and creatives, he launched the 37d03d (PEOPLE) collective in 2016. 37d03d produces multi-artist events and operates an independent record label, all with the goal of supporting and encouraging spontaneous collaboration.
James Brandon Lewis, a critically acclaimed composer, saxophonist and writer, has been named the inaugural recipient of The Balvenie Fellowship in University of the Arts’ PhD in Creativity program. The scholarship opportunity is supported by The Balvenie and informed by drummer, DJ, Academy Award-winning director, New York Times bestselling author and founding member of The Roots, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson.
The first-of-its-kind PhD program at UArts supports creative minds from anywhere in the world while removing the constraints typically found in higher education programs, allowing students to explore new ideas in innovative ways. The low-residency degree advances interdisciplinary research in the arts, humanities and sciences through intensive immersion in creative thinking. Lewis will join the program in June 2022, embarking on a fully funded, three-year journey that will bolster his studies at the intersection of molecular biology and music through the lens of art, life and philosophy.
In 2011, Lewis created Molecular Systematic Music, a twofold approach to music that braids the fundamentals of music theory with the ideas of molecular biology through the context of DNA. While Lewis is not a molecular biologist, the ideas he expresses deploy the vocabulary of molecular biology as useful metaphors while exploring new possibilities and relationships across disciplines. These previous explorations will form the foundation of his studies at UArts.
“University of the Arts seeks students who have achieved proficiency in an intellectual pursuit in any field and, in many cases, this pursuit has not been able to fit easily into existing PhD programs. The work James has already done, alongside the complexity of his studies, is inspiring, and we’re thrilled to have The Balvenie and Questlove by our side as he excels in this program,” said Dr. Jonathan Fineberg, program director for the PhD in Creativity.
The scholarship runs parallel with the online Quest for Craft series, which represents The Balvenie and Questlove’s commitment to expanding and showcasing the convergence of craft in creativity. The partnership was launched in late 2020 and intends to unpack the uniquely human elements that elevate the great to the exceptional.
Lewis attended Howard University and received his MFA from California Institute of the Arts. He has received accolades from NPR, The ASCAP Foundation, MacDowell and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and has been heralded as “a saxophonist who embodies and transcends tradition” by The New York Times. Rolling Stone described his music as “deep, gospel-informed spirituality with Free Jazz abandon and hard-hitting funk-meets-hip-hop underpinning.”
Lewis has released several critically acclaimed albums, most recently, 2021’s Jesup Wagon. In addition, Lewis leads numerous ensembles that tour internationally and is a member and co-founder of the American Book Award–winning ensemble Heroes Are Gang Leaders. In 2020, he was voted the rising star tenor saxophonist in Downbeat magazine’s international critics poll.
Beginning in summer 2022, University of the Arts will welcome 10 artists-in-residence from within the university community and around the world, as they accelerate and cultivate contributions to contemporary knowledge production. This new Inspiration Lab Artist-in-Residence program, made possible by generous donor support, offers unprecedented residency opportunities at a thriving arts institution on Philadelphia’s Avenue of the Arts.
The program will gather together 10 individual artists or small collaborative groups at pivotal moments in their careers for three- to 12-month residencies. The emerging and mid-career artists—selected by a committee of external arts professionals, such as curators, academics and critics—will receive the critical support needed to reflect, experiment and produce compelling new work.
To accommodate and support this residency program, the university has built 10 new studios and accompanying installation and exhibition spaces on the third floor of Anderson Hall, an eight-story building on South Broad Street devoted to visual art, design and museum studies. Two of the studio spaces will be reserved for members of the university community. As a means to elevate and sustain relationships with the UArts and greater Philadelphia community, all artists-in-residence will explore connections with ongoing courses and provide public presentations of their work.
“I eagerly anticipate our inaugural artists-in-residence to productively engage members of our creative community through their innovative practices,” UArts’ President and CEO David Yager said in announcing the program. “I am particularly appreciative of the pathways that will undoubtedly connect our students, faculty and staff to these residencies, and I look forward to experiencing the many ways these artists will contribute to and learn from the UArts community.”
In addition to dedicated studio space, artists will have the potential to utilize advanced workshops and labs across UArts’ campus, including fabrication studios, the cutting-edge Albert M. Greenfield Makerspace and Laurie Wagman Recording Studios, and the Center for Immersive Media, which houses one of the largest motion-capture stages on the East Coast. Access to these spaces will be subject to availability and the scope of each project.
Through these residencies, a wide range of creative disciplines will intersect and cross-pollinate, reflecting UArts’ commitment to interdisciplinary arts education. Artists ages 21 and older with proven histories of creative practice from disciplines such as visual arts, new media, performance, design, film, moving images, writing, choreography and music composition are encouraged to apply. The open call for the inaugural residencies will end on Sunday, May 23, 2022.
News & Events
University of the Arts has announced the recipients of the inaugural round of the Grants for Creative Research & Innovation program, providing funding to 11 innovative projects led by UArts faculty and staff.
Through funding provided by the President’s Fund for Excellence, the Grants for Creative Research & Innovation program is able to disburse $53,000 to realize the 11 projects that comprise staff and faculty members’ imaginative, innovative ideas and advance the creativity of the UArts community.
The inaugural round of grants will allow UArts staff and faculty members to pursue research in dance and motion, explore the history of wood engraving, prototype augmented reality devices, develop theatrical and dance performances and curricula, give voice to Syrian refugees through podcasting, and more.
The grant recipients will conduct research, travel and execute their projects in the coming months, with the intent of sharing or reporting on their projects and discoveries in the fall. Below is the staff and faculty work that has received funding from the President’s Fund for Excellence.
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Dance Lauren Bakst will travel to Kassel, Germany, in order to attend Documenta Fifteen, a summer-long exhibition curated by ruangrupa, an artist collective based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Ruangrupa’s curation for this edition of Documenta centers the practice of lumbung, an Indonesian word literally meaning “rice barn,” but broadly conveying collaboration, friendship, sharing and caring for everyone in a group. In artistic and curatorial practice, ruangrupa’s approach offers a model for the curation of contemporary art that privileges “sustainability in ecological, social, and economic terms, in which resources, ideas or knowledge are shared.”
During Bakst’s five-day visit to Kassel, she will engage with the collective about their practices while experiencing this curatorial model firsthand, so that it can inform her scholarly research and teaching. “What are the affordances and limitations of sustainable models for contemporary art and how do they transform not only the nature of how we come to art itself, but also what we understand living life to look and feel like? How do the theories and histories of performance contribute to our sense of what durational and temporary collectivities make possible?”
Rebecca Gilbert MFA ’02 (Printmaking and Book Arts) will dive deep into the world of wood engraving through a trip to England, exploring the history, techniques, equipment and evolution of printmaking practice.
In England, Gilbert will attend a WEN Con, a workshop organized by The Engravers’ Network (WEN), and will join the Society of Wood Engravers for additional research.
“Making these international connections will open doors for me in many ways, from having more people to contact in the thick of a problem in … studio troubleshooting, to getting publicity, possible opportunities to be included in publications and international exhibitions, gaining historical insight, teaching tips, and information to include in my teaching,” Gilbert says. “Without a doubt, I will learn subtle, yet game-changing, tricks of the trade … I truly believe all of these different types of connections and interactions will help to continue to propel my own work even further.”
Gilbert, a graduate of UArts, emphasizes that personal growth as an artist is just a step to being an effective teacher. Ultimately, the experience developed and skills gained on the trip abroad will translate into a greater pool of wealth to share with students. This is particularly important to Gilbert, who states that she is “the only person that really practices and teaches the art and process of wood engraving in the region.”
Photography Program Director Jennifer Greenburg will use her grant to expand her photographic-based project Revising History, an ongoing series that incorporates costuming, performance and stagecraft to analyze socio-historical narrative. In the works produced for the series, Greenburg replaces people in recreated historical photographs, creating new context and insight into an idealized and obfuscated version of the American past.
“My images identify the influence historical imagery has on the biases and prejudices that remain in our culture today,” she says. “I replace the person who used to be in the image in order to comment on the narrative of gender imbalance promoted by vintage photographs.”
In late 2021, Greenburg conducted research for the Revising History project as a fellow at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, where she identified narrative elements that are missing from the series.
The works in Revising History only reach completion when Greenburg is able to exactly mimic the photographic angles, lighting, depth, density and range of view as the original source material, requiring large-format camera lenses and a large studio space. Her Creative Research & Innovation grant will allow Greenburg to make progress by covering the costs of production consumables needed to create the series’ large-scale test prints and to secure new equipment and studio space—all necessary to be able to transform into and perform as the historical character she represents, says Greenburg.
School of Dance Artist-in-Residence Courtney Henry will utilize the Creative Research & Innovation grant to deepen her personal dance practice and develop a radical ballet syllabus by undertaking an experiential collaboration with interdisciplinary artist Jaamil Kosoko.
Henry’s Spiral as Code: Unlocking Indigenous Wisdom Through the Ballet Technique is not intended to yield a choreographed piece, but rather to develop new means of understanding movement. Henry will build dance phrases and conduct movement research through the lens of contemporary ballet, along with a traditional instrument from West Africa.
Henry’s intentions are ultimately pedagogical. “Blurring of the line between student and teacher in process is what I’m most interested in. How can the deepening and self-actualizing of my own practice and curiosities then give students the permission to do the same?”
This deeper degree of self-understanding will be achieved with consistent video and process journaling throughout the collaborative process.
Adjunct Associate Professor of Dance Jungeum Kim’s artistic research has been focused on how choreographic practice relates to other art forms, particularly moving images and shapes. Kim will use her Creative Research & Innovation grant to explore this intersection of media and inspirations, pursuing a two-month-long project to create a short experimental video work that synthesizes dance and animation, while acting as choreographer, performer and animator in collaboration with a guest composer.
“In the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, I learned a new skill: how to manipulate visual effects motion graphic software, and I created my first animated dance video. In this piece, I integrated a filmed live performance with paper cutouts that I animated,” Kim explains. “During the creation, I was able to deepen my knowledge and innovate my creative practice. I am eager to continue my practice and keep expanding my expertise. I strongly believe this project will enhance my creativity and capacity as an artist.”
Kim has previously developed two courses that focus on generating choreographic ideas that relate to digital media, including Expanded Field in Dance and Performance and Choreography and Alternative Media.
Kim also received the Faculty Transformation Fund grant in 2019.
Instrumentalist and part-time faculty at the School of Dance Julius Masri is leveraging the Creative Research & Innovation grant to take a deep dive into the expressive potential of music and motion by creating a series of compositions and performance methodologies based on the exploration of somatic principles of movement. Masri will be writing musical pieces to be implemented on various instruments, using established musical idiomatic forms, including Arabic, jazz and other contemporary musical systems.
“I am currently exploring the possibilities of new musical languages by developing my own glossary ofmovement systems that I can then proceed to interpret sonically,” Masri says of the overall approach, adding that the resulting performance of this research would require the development of new forms of live conducting or semaphore in order to be brought to life.
The eventual culmination of Masri’s research will be an ensemble recording. The grant will assist Masri in securing rehearsal rooms and booking professional recording studio space that would be large enough to account for health and safety concerns during the pandemic.
Adjunct Professor of Photography B. Proud launched the photographic series Transcending Love in 2017 to center LGBTQIA+ couples in an extension of her 2009 First Comes Love Project, partially funded by UArts. The series comprises portraiture of LGBTQIA+ couples, with the goal of “opening hearts and minds to couples in the transgender community and confronting the threats to their human rights,” Proud says. She will use support from the grant to expand the current series and produce a limited-edition portfolio to be shared with universities, museums and teaching institutions.
Proud intends to expand the printed exhibition from 18 to 25 images, to include a greater diversity of subjects who were added to the project since its first exhibition in 2020. Proud took a two-week trip to the south in summer 2021, producing portraits and conducting interviews with seven couples. She underscores that “showcasing more couples of color from conservative southern states is a key aspect of this project.” She also noted that this goal was a key motivating factor for applying for the Creative Research & Innovation grant.
Two of the recently produced images have already been accepted into exhibitions and need to be printed and framed. But a more involved next step for Transcending Love is the production of a special edition portfolio of 12 portraits and stories. The grant will allow Proud to create a 16” x 20” portfolio housed in a custom-designed clamshell box, produced in an edition of 10. It will be made available to universities, colleges, museums and teaching institutions for the purpose of education.
Adjunct Professor of Music Technology Ellis Rovin sees augmented reality (AR) as an important alternative for engaging with digital art without leaving our own reality and will use the Creative Research & Innovation grant to develop new technology for an AR art exhibition.
Rovin explains that the key tool of AR has historically been the projector, and that while projector technology has made incredible advances, “a projector can never display an image brighter than the surface it is projecting onto, nor can it display an image darker than the room it is in,” Rovin says. “This creates a situation where the dynamic range of our art is directly tied to the environment we are in, limiting our ability to have digital media coexist with our corporeal lives.” Rovin argues that the solution to this problem lies not in future technology, but rather that from a recent past: the LCD screen.
Rovin and colleagues are developing a new form of high-definition (HD) display that can shift from total transparency to complete opacity. Through research, tinkering and methodical experimentation, they have developed a remarkable prototype screen. Through the disassembly, modification and reassembly of an LCD screen, they have produced a slab of fully transparent glass that can change color, display video in full HD and turn completely opaque.
Funding will allow Rovin and collaborators to refine the prototype display and address several challenges they encountered during the earlier stages of development. Additional resources will allow them to create a less opaque screen, build a less cumbersome enclosure, make the power-hungry screen more efficient and incorporate industry-standard playback capabilities.
With further research, some elbow grease, and resources from the Creative Research & Innovation grant, Rovin aims to have three operational displays ready for installation by June.
Over the past two years, Savannah Reich, adjunct associate professor of Screenwriting, had to reimagine how to make theater.
“As a playwright, I’m inspired by being in the room with actors, and I often write for specific performers or venues, with a specific dream of how the audience will interact with the piece.” she says. “During the early pandemic, I spent much of my time in an apartment with my boyfriend, a musician and sound designer.”
Naturally, Reich ended up writing a piece that requires only a playwright and a sound designer. The result, Oedipus in Seattle, is an experimental mashup of Oedipus Rex and Sleepless in Seattle, to be performed by two actors who have never rehearsed it.
“When the show begins, the actors enter the stage in front of a live audience, put on headphones and move through the play following … in-ear instructions,” she explains.
The audience can hear some, but not all, of the instructions, sometimes being forced to guess what sort of directions the actors are responding to. The actors will perform tasks; ask each other questions; and occasionally act out the roles of Oedipus, Jocasta, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan from the respective source material. The casting is also experimental, decided by a game of rock-paper-scissors played in front of the audience.
With the piece already written and the audio recorded, the crucial next step for Reich is to playtest Oedipus in Seattle with real actors. With such a minimal and experimental approach to production, she states, it’s important to test the play thoroughly, have constructive conversations and reflect before asking actors to be so vulnerable in front of a live audience.
The Creative Research & Innovation grant will allow Reich to undertake the thorough playtesting of Oedipus in Seattle needed to realize it publicly.
The idea for Rebecca Sack’s project, Shadow Fliers, emerged from conversations with bat researchers; site visits; site-specific exhibitions in the New Jersey Pine Barrens; and a genuine, earnest passion for bats—from their misunderstood nature, to their critical role in ecosystems worldwide and their plight in the face of growing environmental threats like habitat loss and the highly fatal, bat-specific disease white nose syndrome.
Sack, who is program director of Fine Arts and Painting coordinator, as well as assistant professor, has a clear idea for Shadow Fliers: a series of double-sided, hanging acrylic on muslin paintings installed in the historic water mill at the Nautelankoski Museum (Lieto Museum) in Finland. The paintings will depict the bats that live in the space and in the local environment, with the intention of bringing positive awareness of and appreciation for the presence of bats—at this specific site in Finland, in the wider ecosystem and in the wider world.
Sack notes that the content and site-specific nature of Shadow Fliers will be personally beneficial, too, as it will challenge and expand her practice to engage a broader pedological vision that addresses a larger public, and in turn will allow Sack to bring new insights and methodologies into the classroom. In addition to the final installed work, Sack will present a lecture and discussion about the work and corresponding research.
Three years ago, Associate Professor of Directing, Playwriting and Production Fadi Skeiker was awarded the President’s Fund for Excellence grant, which allowed him to workshop his play SY-Aspora in Austin. With his Create Research & Innovation grant, Skeiker will continue the journey that started before the pandemic in Austin and will rework some of the compelling firsthand stories he has heard from Syrian refugees as audio stories.
The play SY-Aspora was a series of monologues, narratives and stories about Syrian refugees. Each of the play’s monologues are based on stories that Skeiker heard while previously leading applied theater workshops with and for Syrian refugees.
Skeiker will use a combination of directing, acting and audio performance to create 10 five-minute radio-drama episodes, each one presenting the monologue of a Syrian refugee, which will then be distributed as a podcast.
The production of the project will be a collaborative undertaking: Skeiker will write and curate the project, while employing former students to join the project as producers, directors and performers. He emphasizes the pedagogical benefit of working with students, noting that it will offer paid, professional experience and novel opportunities to develop skills.
Skeiker aims to publish the series in May; distribute the resulting podcast through key streaming platforms; and host the 10 episodes on iTunes, Spotify and YouTube.
About UArts’ Creative Research & Innovation Grant
The Creative Research & Innovation grants are made possible through the President’s Fund for Excellence, which continues to grow through the generous support from the university’s private donors.
The 2022 round of grants was evaluated and awarded by a committee of UArts faculty and staff comprising Film Program Director Mike Attie, Creative Writing Program Director Steven Kleinman, Associate Professor of Music Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology Paul Schuette, Associate Professor of Fine Arts in Painting Marcelino Stuhmer and Associate Professor of Dance Katie Swords Thurman. Additionally, Director for Special Projects Raúl Romero served as the committee’s facilitator.
University of the Arts is one of 34 Pennsylvania institutions of higher education to receive an It's On Us PA grant, Gov. Tom Wolf announced last week. Replicating the federal It's On Us campaign, Governor Wolf introduced the grant program in 2016 focused on combatting sexual violence on campuses by supporting initiatives and strategies that bolster awareness, prevention, reporting and response systems. This is the first It's On Us PA grant UArts has received.
"Pennsylvania's colleges and universities must be a safe space for students to learn and grow without fear of violence, harassment, or abuse," Gov. Wolf said in announcing the 2022 grants. "Each one of us has a responsibility to promote healthy relationships, and the It's On Us PA grant program was created to provide pathways to trainings and resources that improve campus culture and engagement."
UArts received a grant of $25,000. The funding will address a pressing need as students become reacquainted with life on campus following the social isolation spurred by COVID-19 and the limited number of educational events addressing sexual assault, consent and healthy relationships available during the pandemic.
"I'm incredibly excited that UArts has the opportunity to not only address sexual violence prevention and education at our institution but also to contribute to the narrative," said Lauri Millot, director of Title IX, equity and compliance at University of the Arts. "UArts students have the skill set and vision to create a film that is relevant, giving voice to the experiences of students, valuing inclusivity, challenging negative stereotypes and victim blaming, and acknowledging bad behavior in a way that we believe will foster a safer learning environment and campus community."
UArts will leverage the grant to create an innovative and authentic docu-fiction film that addresses sexual assault and intervention from a student perspective, capitalizing on the boundless creativity of its diverse community of artists, performers, designers, and leaders. The film, highly reflective of the university community's values, will provide students with a hands-on opportunity to work closely with several of UArts' award-winning faculty filmmakers.
With guidance from Millot, UArts students will begin a dialog to explore student perceptions and experiences relative to risk. They will also be encouraged to highlight their view of effective and appropriate intervention techniques and provide insight on the university's current prevention and response approach. This work, expected to begin in January, will inform the script and overall production, resulting in a film that identifies and challenges all manner of power differentials and aims to reduce the effect of the bystander phenomenon. In addition, the film will be shared across a wide array of platforms, ensuring that it can be accessed virtually.
The It's On Us campaign is a national initiative to raise awareness about sexual assault; teaching participants that assault includes non-consensual sex, advising them on how to identify dangerous situations, empowering them to intervene, and urging them to create an environment of support for victims and survivors. Since 2016, Gov. Wolf's administration has awarded over 190 It's On Us PA grants totaling nearly $4 million to more than 75 postsecondary institutions, including public and private two-year and four-year colleges and universities.
All Pennsylvanians are invited to visit the It's On Us PA page on Gov. Wolf's website and take the pledge to "recognize that non-consensual sex is sexual assault, identify situations in which sexual assault may occur, intervene in situations where consent has not or cannot be given, and create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.
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.”
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.