During the fall semester of 2014 students in the Writing About Dancing Seminar at Wesleyan University have been documenting and archiving Associate Professor of Dance Katja Kolcio’s Fall Faculty Dance performance To Not Forget Crimea: Uncertain Quiet of Indigenous Crimean Tatars and have created a Facebook page with photos, drawings and writing about the various talks and dances that were a part of the event.
To Not Forget Crimea: Uncertain Quiet of Indigenous Crimean Tatars was done in collaboration with New York Crimean Tatar Ensemble Musical Director Nariman Asanov and Yevshan Ukrainian Vocal Ensemble Conductor Alexander Kuzma. It explores issues of historical memory, cultural narrative, and the quest for human rights, as they relate to the history of Tatars, native inhabitants of Crimea, and their complex relationships with Ukraine and Russia. The performance incorporated live music by the New York Crimean Tatar Ensemble directed by Nariman Asanov; the Yevshan Ukrainian Vocal Ensemble conducted by Alexander Kuzma and bandurists (plucked string folk instrumentalists) Olya Fryz, Larissa Krasij, Irene Kytasty Kuzma, Alina Kuzma, Joanna O’Flaherty, Luda Yurkevych, and Stefan Zaets; Julian Kytasty; the Wesleyan University student vocal group Slavei; and Wesleyan student dancers.
This project was co-sponsored by Wesleyan University’s Center for the Arts, Dance Department, Government Department, Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, and the Ukrainian Selfreliance New England Credit Union. Made possible in part by a grant from Wesleyan University’s Creative Campus Initiative, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Erinn Roos-Brown, the CFA’s Campus and Community Engagement Manager, discusses hip hop artist Meryem Saci’s residency as part of the opening week of the Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan program.
Last week, the Center for the Arts at Wesleyan University hosted the opening events for the Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan program. There was an fantastic Islamophobia panel discussion on September 18 as well as hip hop workshops and a performance with three women who either identify as Muslim or are of Muslim heritage. One of those women, Algerian-born/Montreal-based Meryem Saci, was in residency at Wesleyan for the entire week. I had the great pleasure of getting to know her when I escorted her to her class visits, lunches and dinners with students and faculty, and interviewed her for the documentary we are creating around the project.
Meryem had a busy week. She visited two Arabic language classes and a French literature course, “Negotiating Gender in the Maghreb.” She watched and discussed the film Battle of Algiers in religion course, “Muslim/Western Engagements in Film and Performance,” and shared her story in “World Music”. She had dinner with students at the Turath House, Wesleyan’s program house for students who identify as Muslim or are of Arab descent, and she was invited by the students in Wesleyan’s RAP Assembly to be part of their weekly freestyle rap cipher.
Why do we ask artists to do such extensive residencies? At the CFA we believe in giving our campus community more opportunities to engage with artists and in turn giving artists opportunities to connect with new audiences. This is particularly important for the Muslim Women’s Voices program because we want to give people an opportunity to question what they really know and their stereotypes on Muslim women.
This is something that Meryem definitely did.
She speaks three languages. She writes her own songs. She was raised by a single mother in Algeria. She is working on releasing her first solo album. She’s a relator. She grew up during her country’s civil war. She can walk for blocks in three-inch wedges. Her high school in Montreal had over 80 ethnic groups in attendance. She sang Whitney Houston and Maria Carey songs as a teenager. She tried to write love songs in English as a child before she even knew the language.
This project also gave Meryem an opportunity to question her own stereotypes of college students in America. She was surprised to learn that American students are studying the Meghreb and told us that she never would have thought that Americans would ever be studying the part of the world where she grew up. At Wesleyan she found students who shared her interest in languages, hip hop and just learning itself. She asked them as many questions as they asked her and never hesitated to be her most authentic self.
By the time she took the stage on Saturday night in Beckham Hall she had a loyal following of Wesleyan students whom she had met throughout the week. In their excitement to see her they closed the gap in front of the stage and danced away. And I was right there with them. I think many of them, like me, no longer saw a woman who grew up in an Islamic state in North Africa, but instead saw an amazingly cool, talented and funny twenty-something sharing with us her creativity and contagious enthusiasm.
University academic departments tend to work in silos. Center for the Arts Program Manager Erinn Roos-Brown explores how the arts bridge new collaborations across disciplines and inspire educational change in this entry from the ArtsFwd blog.
I recently attended the Innovations: Intersection of Art and Science symposium hosted by Wesleyan University, which explored collaborations between artists and scientists and the effects on scientific research, teaching and artmaking practices. The collaboration topics ranged from dance and biology to aesthetic choices in the evolution of bird species, and speakers came from MIT, Virginia Tech, University of Colorado, Yale University and Wesleyan, among others.While the symposium focused primarily on specific examples of collaborations, the larger question I found myself asking was: At a time when science and math education scores are staggeringly low and the goal and expense of higher education is openly questioned, how can the arts be at the core of educational change? It seems that creating deep connections between the arts and sciences at universities may be the answer.
Why should universities support these collaborations?
Alan Brown and Steven Tepper stated that interdisciplinary collaboration on college campuses “tends to be more open-ended – goals are often unclear, ambiguity is high, outcomes are unknown, and participants must develop shared language and ways of working together. Collaboration requires time, patience, openness and flexibility.” So why, if these collaborations are so challenging and time consuming, is it important for a scientist to develop a dance that demonstrates genetic sequence? My takeaway from this symposium answers it in this way – our most complex global problems require multiple intelligences and can’t be solved without engaging artists, scientists, engineers and others.
Where universities have an edge is that they employ experts from so many fields and could reward the development of cross-disciplinary teams that engage research questions through exploration, experimentation and collaboration. But this isn’t the case, according to the majority of the symposium presenters. They noted that instead of focusing on collaborative research, universities have trended to be siloed – the humanities, the arts and the sciences typically stay within their own cliques. Faculty without tenure regularly decline from participating in such collaborations for fear it may affect their tenure case. Collaborations at these institutions typically only happen on the individual level and are considered “extracurricular” by the university.
Two of the presenters, MIT and Virginia Tech, had a different story. These universities have already embraced arts-centered collaborations at an institutional level. MIT recently founded the Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST) and Virginia Tech is in the process of building a multi-million dollar art center. These technological-driven universities seem to understand the value of integrating arts into the core of their science-based curriculum. I found it particularly interesting that it was the technology schools, not the liberal arts ones, that have so quickly embraced the arts. It seemed clear to me that these schools, which benefit from new patents and products, understand that the arts serve a critical role – from promoting creative thinking to aesthetic design.
What is the role of the arts on campuses?
While there are arguably many reasons that the arts should be at the center of collaborations at universities, two points caught my attention at the symposium – the nature of the creative process in the arts and the way the arts communicate concepts.
Artists ask for the unexpected, which pushes scientific thinking during the research process. They are interested in creation, whether conceptually or via physical products, and this knowledge aids the principles of understanding for scientists. Artists are trained to take multiple ideas and perspectives, turn them into actions, evaluate failures and try again.
Artists are also skilled at communicating with audiences, an area where science is sometimes lacking. The arts express knowledge in a more universal way that connects with values, emotions and beliefs. By using these connective processes to communicate scientific knowledge, the arts can spread complex ideas to a wider audience.
How are universities uniquely positioned to foster collaborations?
These collaborations aren’t for everyone, but they would have value at every university. Universities would benefit from new ideas that challenged the current research and education models and used the faculty on campuses as resources for these collaborations. Art and science collaborations should be considered a first step, an experiment of sorts, to rethinking how we teach future generations and how we work towards solving the world’s major issues. By participating in cross-disciplinary collaborations alongside faculty, university students can be better prepared for the future. And, at the end of it all, it seems like the criticism of test scores and university education is really just about that: making sure the next generation is prepared in a way we are not.
 Alan S. Brown and Steven J. Tepper, Placing the Arts at the Heart of the Creative Campus: A White Paper taking stock of the Creative Campus Innovations Grant Program. December 2012.
Take a moment to close your eyes and listen. What do you hear? Take a quick inventory. Now what if you could take those sounds, mix them up and make something new with them?
That’s what we are doing with MiddletownRemix.
MiddletownRemix is a year-long, Middletown-specific sound project presented by the Center for the Arts at Wesleyan University in collaboration with numerous organizations in the community. MiddletownRemix invites everyone in Middletown to record sounds (up to one minute long each) and upload them to the MiddletownRemix website where they are geo-tagged on a Google map. For individuals who do not have access to a smart phone, 10 devices have been made available to checkout at the Green Street Arts Center, located at 51 Green Street. We want to hear the sounds that make up your daily life and create the soundscape of your city.
But you can do more then just record sounds – you can create new ones. After recording your sounds, you can remix them, and any of the other sounds on the site, with the tools on the website, or by downloading and remixing the sounds with your own software. Then, share it with your friends on Facebook or Twitter (@WesCFA #MTownRemix). By revealing the composer within us all, this project can challenge or change perceptions of Middletown. Every week, we are featuring one sound and one remix on our website so be sure to check back often to see if your sound or remix has been selected.
Since the project began in May 2012, Middletown community members have already recorded over 660 sounds and created 75 remixes, and we anticipate gathering over 1,500 sounds and remixes by the “MiddletownRemix: Hear More, See More” Festival on May 11, 2013. The Festival will celebrate the community’s work on this project. Stationed in the North End Arts District, the Festival will include commissions of local sound and visual artists, a flash mob, a gallery walk, a laptop orchestra commission [the world premiere of “MTRX” (2012) by Jason Freeman of UrbanRemix], live remixing and other sound related programming – all of which will be based on the recordings of MiddletownRemix. We believe that if people listen deeply, they will see more.
If you are interested in learning more about the Festival, join us at the Community Health Center, located at 675 Main Street, on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 5pm for a presentation and question and answer session.