UArts Awards Inaugural Round of Creative Research & Innovation Grants

March 28, 2022

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.

Lauren Bakst 

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 

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.”

Jennifer Greenburg

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.

Courtney Henry

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.

Jungeun Kim

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. 

Julius Masri

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.  

B. Proud

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. 

Ellis Rovin

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. 

Savannah Reich

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.

Rebecca Sack

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. 

Fadi Skeiker

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.