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 145 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 23 undergraduate arts majors, 15 graduate programs and the nation’s first PhD program in Creativity.
This weekend is full of activities, programs and events and is open to family, friends and alumni.
Ten artists from across a range of media will join University of the Arts in August as the second cohort of artists in residence through the university’s Inspiration Lab (iLAB). Launched last year, iLAB gathers emerging and mid-career artists in Anderson Hall on South Broad Street as a way to accelerate their contributions to our broader cultural dialogue. The artists also become critical members of the university community, demonstrating new pathways and forging new connections with students, faculty and artists across the greater Philadelphia region.
This second cohort of artists includes two UArts alumni, an adjunct faculty member and individuals who explore critical concepts of race, identity and justice through writing, painting, video, installation and performance. All 10 residencies will span the university’s entire academic year, from Aug. 25, 2023, to May 31, 2024, and each artist will receive access to dedicated studio space and UArts’ cutting-edge workshops and labs. Those include Albert M. Greenfield Makerspace and Laurie Wagman Recording Studios, and the Center for Immersive Media, which contains one of the largest motion-capture stages in an academic setting on the East Coast.
The committee that selected 10 artists from an international pool of 111 applications comprised Sherly Oring, dean of UArts’ School of Art; Nicole Pollard, independent curator; and James Claiborne, curator of public programs at the Barnes Foundation.
About the 2023–2024 artists
Pap Souleye Fall
Improvisation and installation
Pap Souleye Fall BFA ’17 (Sculpture) is a Senegalese American artist who explores the transmedia potentials of sculpture, installation, performance, cosplay, digital media and comics. Much of his work reflects his growing up within the Diaspora. Being of two worlds, Fall realized that through art he had the ability to construct his own worlds. As such, he became fascinated with the ways art could be embedded in everyday life, activating common materials and encounters to explore themes such as diaspora, post-apocalypse, utopia, identity, notions of masculinity, Africanisms and Afro-futurism.
Video and installation
The work of multidisciplinary artist Rami George spans photography, video, installation, text and, more recently, music and sound. They remain motivated and influenced by political struggles and fractured narratives. George’s work has been presented at Philadelphia’s William Way LGBT Community Center, MIT List Visual Arts Center, Anthology Film Archives, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and many other venues.
Jezabeth Roca González
Video and multimedia installation
Jezabeth Roca González is a multidisciplinary maker and educator who works in collaboration with their family. Their installations incorporate video, soil and plans to explore the ever-shifting movement of people between the U.S. and Puerto Rico, known colloquially as El Va y Ven.
Yikui (Coy) Gu
Painting and mixed media
Born in Nantong, China, Yikui Gu moved to Albany at age seven. He received his BFA from Long Island University and his MFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He has shown his work internationally and lectured at Tyler School of Art, Gettysburg College and Fontbonne University. He has been reviewed in Hyperallergic, the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Denver Art Review and Yale Daily News.
Video and installation
Le’Andra LeSeur is a multidisciplinary artist whose work encompasses a range of media including video, installation, photography, painting and performance. LeSeur’s body of work—a celebration of Blackness, queerness and femininity—seeks to dismantle systems of power and achieve transcendence and liberation through perseverance.
Writer, editor and translator
Anni Liu is the author of Border Vista, winner of the Lexi Rudnitsky Prize and a 2022 New York Times best poetry book. She has received an Undocupoets Fellowship, a Djanikian Scholarship from the Adroit Journal and residencies at the Anderson Center and Civitella Ranieri. Additionally, Liu is an editor at Graywolf Press, a nonprofit publisher based in Minneapolis.
Electronic experimental music
Ana Lopez is a Mexico City–based composer and producer, and her music is based on the digital processing of voices, acoustic instruments, everyday sounds and electronic beats. Her solo project, Nnux, is emotional and vulnerable, while remaining experimental and imaginative. She released her EP Distancia independently in 2017 and her debut LP Ciudad through Mexico City’s label VAA in 2020.
Performance and fashion
Based in Philadelphia, artist and maker Andrew Smith BFA ’19 (Sculpture) explores the beauty and love held in the human form through fashion, dance and the written word. Through their studies and practice, Smith has cultivated their body as a site for the dialogue of forms moving between somatic research, product development, poetry and most importantly, imagination and dreams.
Performance and installation
Arien Wilkerson/Tnmot Aztro considers the complexities within art that derive from the alienation of objects, identities, the body, sounds and humans and is rooted in repurposing and redefining meanings of “fine art” and its attachment to colonialism, white supremacy and institutionalized racism. Their practice articulates epistemology and ontology by producing large-scale performance installations, through which audiences are submerged into an immersive experience that populates multiple meanings and multiple engines.
Ritual performance and theater
Nia Witherspoon is a Black queer multidisciplinary artist and healing justice practitioner who investigates the metaphysics of Black liberation, desire and diaspora as they track across the quantum time-space continuum. Through writing, performance, sound and installation, Witherspoon creates portals for communion, witnessing and healing into the ancient future.
Kerry Walk, PhD, currently president of Marymount Manhattan College (MMC) on New York’s Upper East Side, will become University of the Arts’ fifth president and CEO on Aug. 1. Walk, a champion of student learning and success, is the first woman to assume the UArts presidency.
“Kerry is a proven dynamic leader in higher education who espouses the values that shape UArts’ extraordinary university community,” said Judson A. Aaron BM ’81 (Saxophone), chair of the university’s Board of Trustees. “As a highly experienced college president passionate about arts education, she is the perfect person to capitalize on our momentum as UArts embraces its next chapter. Perhaps more importantly, it is clear she believes deeply in our cross-disciplinary educational imperative, which aims to nurture our students’ ability to think, adapt and innovate in preparation for professional success and a rich, creative life.”
“UArts’ mission, to advance human creativity, has never been more important and relevant than it is today,” said Walk. “As UArts students and alumni have constantly demonstrated for nearly 150 years, artists and creative thinkers are at the forefront of innovation and meaningful change in our society, striving for a more just and equitable world. It is an honor to be chosen to lead the university at this pivotal moment.”
Walk received her Bachelor’s degree in English from Wellesley College and her Master’s and PhD in English Literature from University of California, Berkeley. She focused on Shakespeare, both on the page and on the stage. Prior to her presidency at MMC, where she has served for eight years, she was provost and interim president of Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles and spent more than two decades teaching and leading major initiatives at Harvard University, Princeton University and Pitzer College.
“What stood out most to me was Kerry’s superior understanding of the workings of a private arts-based university—the challenges we face, as well as the need to work collaboratively with and support the faculty and staff,” said Search Committee member and Interim Director for Creative Writing Steven Kleinman. “As she has demonstrated throughout her career and across numerous institutions, she will be an inspirational president with the ability to lead our university into the future.”
At MMC, Walk has led the college through a critical time for higher education through her abiding belief in building strong, inclusive communities and engagement in proactive and collaborative long-range planning. Through her leadership, the college has focused on the convergence of creative practice and critical inquiry infused with social justice, diversity and innovation. She has secured significant funds, including a $25 million gift, the largest in MMC’s history, to support scholarships and the creation of the Judith Mara Carson Center for Visual Arts, a transdisciplinary hub of creativity built to support its students’ creative endeavors. The Judy, as it is better known, is a perfect emblem of Walk’s philosophy that sits at the intersection of the liberal and creative arts and guides innovative work that spans disciplines. Walk also recently launched MMC’s Center for Health, Human Development and Creativity, which encourages students and faculty to pursue opportunities for creative research and collaboration as students prepare to enter and transform health and well-being professions.
Walk’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility, a fundamental UArts value, has been a hallmark of her long career. Among her first actions when arriving at MMC was to appoint the college’s first DEI officer and form a presidential council to coordinate DEI efforts across the college, centering the work within the President’s Office. In 2021, amidst the pandemic, the college opened the Intercultural Center, a welcoming space to provide a safe, educational and social justice–oriented environment for students across marginalized groups.
Walk also launched CityEdge, a signature program that aims to broaden the college’s educational avenues by immersing students in New York–focused coursework, internships and other career-preparation programs. With $1.7 million in funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Walk built BRIDGE, a unique prison education initiative that strengthens the bonds between the college’s students on campus and those incarcerated at two correctional facilities for women in Westchester County, New York.
Beginning in July 2022, a search committee comprising students, faculty, staff and trustees conducted the presidential search with executive search support from the firm Isaacson, Miller. The committee considered a pool of distinguished candidates from across the nation before the Board of Trustees unanimously elected Walk to the UArts presidency. Walk will succeed President and CEO David Yager, who has led the university since 2016 and is retiring on June 30. Board Chair Jud Aaron will serve as interim president for the month of July.
News & Events
On Thursday, May 18, University of the Arts celebrated the accomplishments of the Class of 2023 during the university’s 145th Commencement with a unique blend of tradition, music and revelry. A total of 406 students received degrees during the ceremony, the last to be overseen by UArts’ President and CEO David Yager before his retirement in June.
Led by hardworking Philadelphia band Snacktime and Associate Professor of Fine Arts Mark Campbell, who served as the grand marshal, the procession of students, faculty and honored guests strode down Broad Street Thursday morning to the city’s celebrated Academy of Music, where family and supporters awaited its arrival. Once the graduates were seated, the university opened the proceedings with a new tradition recommended by the university’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Committee: the reading of a land acknowledgment that recognizes that UArts sits upon the ancestral homeland of the Lenape people.
The committee’s suggestions for enhancing Commencement also included a moving rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a hymn written by former NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson in 1900 that is widely regarded as the Black national anthem. It was performed by graduating seniors Shawn Bobien BM ’23 (Instrumental Performance) and Aaron Hill BM ’23 (Vocal Performance).
The university’s work in pursuit of a more inclusive campus was the focus of President Yager’s remarks, and he urged the graduating class to carry the ideals instilled within them during their time at UArts and to be catalysts who enact the change they wish to see in their world. He also invited Stephen Cirino, director for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility to join him at the podium to present the university’s recently approved Inclusion and Diversity statement.
“Among the many accomplishments we have achieved as a community, through our shared values of compassion and collaboration, the incredible work we have engaged in to make University of the Arts a welcoming place for everyone is perhaps the most meaningful,” President Yager said. “Every person in this room, whether they are seated on stage, helping behind the scenes, or among our audience, has played a critical role in supporting the most vulnerable members of our community.”
Jeanne Dickenson BFA ’23 (Illustration) was selected to serve as this year’s valedictory speaker. Reflecting on identifying as the “art kid” during high school, Dickenson spoke at length about finding a community at UArts and the joy of entering the creative world with fellow graduates.
“There will be a day in the future when a prospective student is choosing which art school to attend. They’ll see us listed as the accomplished alumni of the University of the Arts, and that will be the deciding factor,” Dickenson said. “We have spent our time at this school looking to the future, and now we are the future. I look forward to what’s to come of all of us ‘creative kids.’”
The presentation of honorary degrees, a tradition that dates back centuries, continued at Commencement, and three influential figures were honored with Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts degrees. This year, the university recognized alum, artist, curator and author Deborah Willis BFA ’75 (Photography) as well as Michael Forman and Jennifer Rice, the husband and wife team who founded the Forman Arts Initiative to support the Philadelphia region’s artists.
In addition, the university presented students and alumni with a number of awards. Nine students received the President’s Awards for Excellence in recognition of their academic and artistic excellence, each of which carries a $1,000 prize. Faculty members Krista Apple and Lauren Whearty also received distinguished teaching awards, which were presented by Vice President for Academic Affairs Carol Graney.
Following a warm welcome from the Alumni Association delivered by Nijel Taylor BFA ’14 (Graphic Design), who is a creative director at New York–based strategy and design firm Siegel+Gale, Silver Star alumni awards were presented to Dotty Attie BFA ’59 (Art Education) and Clayton Reilly BM ’06 (Instrumental Performance), MAT ’21 (Music Education).
In typical UArts fashion, Commencement ended with the turning of the graduates’ tassels and an energetic performance by a samba band and dancers, who led the crowd back to Hamilton Hall. The sea of sequins, colors and carefully decorated mortarboards along Hamilton’s famous exterior staircase caused Philadelphians from all walks of life to stop along Broad Street and join the celebration. Spotted among them was former Philadelphia 76er Matisse Thybulle, who just happened to be riding by on his bike.
In recognition of her global contributions to dance, Donna Faye Burchfield, dean of University of the Arts’ School of Dance, was awarded the rank of Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters from the French Ministry of Culture. The recognition, one of the primary distinctions from France’s ministerial orders, is bestowed upon those who have distinguished themselves through their creativity in the cultural realm and their dedication to advancing the distribution of arts and culture.
The Order of Arts and Letters (Ordre des Arts et des Lettres) was established by the Republic of France in 1957 to recognize eminent artists and writers, as well as people who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts in France and throughout the world. The Order of Arts and Letters is awarded three times annually under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Culture. American recipients of the award include Paul Auster, Ornette Coleman, Agnes Gund, Marilyn Horne, Jim Jarmusch, Robert Paxton, Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman.
“Traveling to France over the past three decades has shaped my career in profound ways,” Burchfield said. “The relationships I have formed there over the years have helped me to understand the great lessons bound up in lifelong, loving friendships in dance. I am humbled by this honor.”
“Collaborating with Donna Faye, sharing ideas, and learning from her experience in dance and education is as joyful as it is elevating. It makes you wish you were a student again, and students of Donna Faye are fortunate indeed,” said Gaëtan Bruel, director of Villa Albertine and Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy in the United States.
Donna Faye Burchfield, professor and dean of the School of Dance, arrived at University of the Arts in 2010. Before her arrival, she served as dean of the American Dance Festival (2000–2010) and professor of dance at Hollins University (1993–2010) in Virginia.
While at UArts, in 2019, she worked alongside Lauren Bakst to develop the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage–supported platform The School for Temporary Liveness, which premiered that fall at the Philadelphia Art Alliance. In summer 2018, she launched the university’s internationally situated MFA program in Montpellier, France, situated at the ICI-CCN (International Choreographic Institute). That was coupled with the inaugural Study Cycle, Dancing Politics, Moving Performance: Conversations at the Edges of Choreography, which took place at the CND (Centre National de la Danse) in Paris. She formed a three-year-long working relationship with the artistic staff at the Painted Bride Arts Center as an artistic advisor to guide the Bride’s 2016 Re-PLACE-ing Philadelphia Project with support from the Pew Center. Returning to Seoul for the fourth time, she was a juror for the 2016 Seoul International Choreography Festival. She also served on the Dance/USA Philadelphia’s Advisory Committee and as co-chair for the national conference for Dance/USA (June 2013), and she co-chaired and hosted the Society for Dance History Scholars conference: Dance and the Social City (June 2012) at UArts. In May 2014, she received a distinguished honorary fellowship from Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance in Israel. The award is given to distinguished artists whose artistic and educational visions have made a remarkable contribution to the fields of music and dance. She was awarded the esteemed Balasaraswati/Joy Ann Dewey Beinecke Award and endowed chair for distinguished teaching at the 2011 American Dance Festival (ADF) at Duke University. In 2006, she received the North Carolina School for the Arts Outstanding Teacher in Performance Award for contributions to the dance program at University of North Carolina School of the Arts and to the state of North Carolina.
While at Hollins, she authored and directed the Hollins MFA program in collaboration with the ADF (2006–2010). She also hosted the American College Dance Festival on two occasions and the 2008 Congress on Research in Dance conference: Dance Studies and Global Feminisms. She received the Hollins Herta Freitag Faculty Legacy Award for Distinguished Service in 2009.
She has worked generously across the U.S. and around the world as an educational leader in the field of dance, developing curriculum, managing international programs, and hiring and recruiting faculty, as well as leading national and international recruitment efforts. Her service to the field extends to decades of work on a multitude of panels and organizations around the globe in support of dance and students. Her in-depth work and teaching of dance in countries around the world include China, Hong Kong, England, France, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Tunisia, Italy and Cuba. She taught, managed, designed and curated the teaching platforms for the ADF International Linkages in Moscow (U.S. State Department supported, 2000), Seoul and Shanghai. Burchfield holds a BFA and an MFA from Texas Christian University, where she studied with Jerry Bywaters Cochran.
Supported by $5 million in Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grants from the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, University of the Arts’ new Student Center opened on April 4, 2023. The new center is the university’s first-ever centralized hub for student activity, occupying the first floor of historic Gershman Hall at the intersection of Pine and Broad streets in Philadelphia. Its realization delivers much-needed gathering and learning spaces on the university’s Center City campus.
More than 65 percent of UArts’ student body already accesses Gershman Hall’s classrooms and services every week, and film lovers regularly gather there for screenings presented by Lightbox Film Center at University of the Arts. Not only does this new space serve as the heart of student activity, but it also bolsters the university’s mission, to advance human creativity, in Philadelphia and beyond.
“At UArts, we believe creativity is a fundamental and profound catalyst for social and economic change,” said UArts President and CEO David Yager. “That ideal is embedded into all of our educational programs, allowing us to equip tomorrow's artists with one of the most essential skills needed for success in today’s global, technology-driven society. We remain deeply appreciative of the support that allows us to construct this forward-looking center and eagerly anticipate an innovative new sector of our campus that better supports our students.”
The project was also supported by a lead gift from Harriet and Larry Weiss to establish Harriet’s Place: a gift from Larry. Also located on the first floor of Gershman Hall, Harriet’s Place includes a collaboration hub, a cafe, a school store and other compelling features. Both Harriet and Larry Weiss have been longtime supporters of UArts and patrons of the arts in Philadelphia. Additionally, Harriet Weiss currently serves on UArts’ board of trustees.
“Our wish is for our students to have a great college experience, a place to meet, enjoy each other’s company, form new friendships, and share dreams and creative ideas,” said Harriet and Larry Weiss. Harriet and Larry noted that they wish they could sing, dance and draw like UArts’ students.
These new creative spaces will also allow the university to attract new and exciting talent from around the world and enrich the student experience for future generations. The forthcoming phases of the Student Center project will also include a state-of-the-art screening room, an expanded and modernized dining hall, and an improved accessible building entrance.
In addition, the patrons who visit the university to explore exhibitions and productions will boost Philadelphia’s entertainment and restaurant industries. Throughout construction, this project has created dozens of new jobs in Center City and has given Philadelphia’s hard-hit restaurant and entertainment industry a significant boost. UArts has also ensured that at least 25 percent of workers are from minority populations and at least 40 percent are based in Pennsylvania.
Rendering courtesy of JacobsWyper Architects
Laurie Wagman Recording Studios
These state-of-the-art 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.
Rentals at UArts
Host your next event in the heart of Center City on Philadelphia’s Avenue of the Arts. Discover our unique venues and facilities and treat your guests to a one-of-a-kind experience.
#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.
Equal Opportunities and Nondiscrimination at UArts
In order to create the conditions necessary for human creativity to flourish, University of the Arts is committed to fostering individual and artistic integrity and inclusion by promoting and respecting self-expression, a wide range of ideas, and diversity in all of its forms. UArts does not discriminate on the basis of age, color, disability, gender identity, marital status, national or ethnic origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, veteran status, and family medical or genetic information, in any of its programs, activities or employment and admission practices.
Questions and complaints pertaining to UArts’ commitment to its nondiscrimination policies and its Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility initiatives can be directed to the director for Title IX, equity and compliance at 215-717-6362 or firstname.lastname@example.org.