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Knight Foundation Champions Bring Art to Life


UM News

Frost School Dean Shelly Berg, at the piano, performed with outstanding Frost School students at the December 4 awards gala.

The University’s MusicReach program, Lowe Art Museum, and Flaming Classics film series are all beneficiaries of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s 2017 challenge grants and arts champions—thanks to Frost School Dean Shelly Berg, Miami-based artist Sebastian Spreng, and the manager of the Bill Cosford Cinema, Trae DeLellis.

Berg and Spreng are among the 25 arts and civic leaders the Knight Foundation honored as Knights Arts Champions this month for their vision, courage and tenacity in building Miami’s cultural community. As part of the recognition, each champion receives $10,000 to contribute to an artist or organization of their choice. Berg chose the Frost School’s Donna E. Shalala MusicReach Program, which pairs underprivileged school children and teens with music mentors, while Spreng chose the Lowe, which is planning to exhibit his Sebastian Spreng: The Dresden Files next year.

DeLellis and Flaming Classics co-creator Juan Barquin, a film critic and co-editor of Dim the House Lights, were awarded a $25,000 Knight Arts Challenge grant for their curated film series that pairs classic films from the queer canon with live performances from local drag artists. Under the requirements of the grant, they must find matching funds to continue building community, entertaining, and educating with their project.

The Knight Foundation established the Knight Arts Challenge Miami 10 years ago to enable Miamians to bring their artistic ideas to life. This year’s 43 winners, who hail from an array of backgrounds and disciplines across South Florida, will share a total of $2.5 million for projects aimed at making art general in Miami—allowing it to be seen, felt and heard throughout the city’s many neighborhoods.

DeLellis, who is a graduate student in the School of Communication, said he and Barquin are ecstatic that such a prestigious organization identified drag as a legitimate art form worthy of its investment.

“Over the last 10 years, the Knight Arts Challenge has palpably changed the cultural landscape of the city, and it’s an immense honor to now be a part of that narrative,” DeLellis said.

Berg, who performed with a combination of outstanding Frost School jazz students at the December 4 event where the awards were announced, called the Knight Foundation the true arts champion. “Over the last decade they have identified, nurtured and helped to sustain the viability of a great many deserving artists and arts organizations in Miami and elsewhere. During that time, the Frost School’s success has been substantially fueled by the generosity of the Knight Foundation,” he said.

A longtime admirer of Spreng’s, Jill Deupi, director of the Lowe, said she looks forward to featuring the Argentine-born visual artist and music journalist’s haunting mediations on the destruction of the iconic German city of Dresden during World War II next year.

“Created using cutting-edge digital technology, these evocative and captivating images bridge the present and past, and remind us of humanity’s power to both create and destroy,” she said.

And building bridges, Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibargüen said, is what the winners of the 10th anniversary Knight Arts Challenge are all about. “They embody what the arts do: they inspire and create common experiences that connect us to each other and to home, Miami,” he said.

View a full list of the winning ideas and the arts champions.

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ACCelerating UM Creativity and Innovation


UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (September 30, 2017)—With dozens of national championships in multiple sports, members of the Atlantic Coast Conference, including the University of Miami, are known for their athletic prowess. But like UM, ACC institutions are also leaders in creative exploration and research occurring at the nexus of science, engineering, arts, and design, a fact that the first “ACCelerate: ACC Smithsonian Creativity and Innovation Festival’’ will highlight this month.

ACCeerate-LogoTaking over all three floors of the west wing of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., October 13-15, ACCelerate will showcase 15 dramatic and musical student performances and 47 interdisciplinary projects developed by the ACC’s 15 universities to address a host of global challenges.

Chosen by an ACC steering committee and through a peer-review process, the projects include three from UM: the Rehabilitative Lower-Limb Orthopedic Analysis Device (ReLOAD), which uses music to help amputees and others regain or correct their disrupted walking patterns; the Echo Earth Experience, an immersive game that employs virtual reality to enable players to simulate how different species use echolocation to survive; and Digital Mapping of Informal Settlements, which combines drone-based aerial photography and computational methods to document communities that are literally off the map.

For the performances, the Frost School of Music Jazz Band and Jazz Voice Department were selected to perform two tributes to Ella Fitzgerald, commemorating the legendary vocalist’s 100th birthday. Presented in partnership with the Ella Fitzgerald Foundation, the concerts also coincide with the Smithsonian’s recently opened Ella Fitzgerald Exhibit.

The Frost School’s Lab Top Ensemble, comprised of Contemporary Media students who create dynamic electronic music via laptops and other electronic controllers, also were invited to perform at a private reception for the festival.

“This unique event will be a wonderful opportunity for us to exhibit the skills and talents that make UM unique,” William Green, senior vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, said. “We are grateful to the Frost School of Music, the School of Architecture, the School of Communication, the Center for Computational Science, and the Department of Physical Therapy for their participation in this distinctive event.”

More than a year in the making, the first-of-its kind festival will precede the annual meeting of the ACC Academic Consortium, the academic arm of the ACC, from which the idea germinated. At his first ACC meeting as Virginia Tech’s new provost and executive vice president, Thanassis Rikakis proposed the festival, which is being presented by Virginia Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology and the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation.

“The ACCelerate festival is perfectly aligned with the ACC’s vision of being at the forefront in educational achievement and innovation,” said ACC Commissioner John Swofford. “I applaud this outstanding initiative that showcases the incredible work taking place at our 15 member institutions.”

Free and open to the public, the festival’s installations, performances, and talks center around six broad themes: Civic Engagement, Arts and Technology, Sustainability and Environment, Biomimetics, Health and Body, and Making and Advanced Manufacturing.

Part of the Health and Body section, the ReLOAD installation showcases the collaborative work of researchers, students, and clinicians in UM’s Departments of Physical Therapy, Music Engineering, Athletics, and the Miami VA Hospital. Together, they developed a patent-pending device that captures and analyzes the walking patterns of a people who are recovering from a lower-limb injury or amputation, and corrects their gait with bio-feedback and music.

Part of the Biomimetic section, the Echo Earth Experience will feature the virtual reality game that School of Communication students helped develop for Samsung Gear VR. Wearing the virtual reality goggles, players transform into a beluga whale and try their hand at navigating and foraging by using echolocation. Once they master listening to find food, players advance into the next level—avoiding threats.

Part of the Civic Engagement section, the Digital Mapping of Informal Settlements showcases the work of the School of Architecture and the Center for Computational Science, which teamed up to map Las Flores, a sprawling slum outside Barranquilla, Colombia, that was not on any map, or on the minds of community decision makers, and to document historic structures in Nassau, Bahamas using drone-based aerial photography and computational methods.

For more information, visit acceleratefestival.com.

 

 

 

 

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Renowned Photographer Shares Talents

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Renowned Photographer Shares Talents


The University of Miami welcomes renowned photojournalist and documentarian Susan Meiselas as a Distinguished Presidential Fellow and 100 Talent.

By Andrew Boryga
UM News

S

Susan Meiselas

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (February 10, 2016)— Susan Meiselas has traveled the world as a documentary photographer for over 40 years.

Her photography has transported people to the rubble and destruction of lower Manhattan on 9/11, to Nicaragua’s popular insurrection during the late 1970s, to a village in El Salvador destroyed by the country’s armed forces in the early 1980s, and to witness the photographic history of Kurdistan, which was presented in book and exhibition form in 1997.

Meiselas said she believes documentary photography is “an engagement with the world.” Now she will share that engagement, her experience, and her talent with the University of Miami community as one of its 100 Talents, one of the University’s Roadmap to Our New Century initiatives,introduced by President Julio Frenk.

As a Distinguished Presidential Fellow with the College of Arts and Sciences, Meiselas is actively engaging and interacting with students and collaborating with faculty across multiple disciplines. Her visit will culminate in a public lecture at the Newman Alumni Center on March 21.

So far, Meiselas’s time on campus has found her in photography and sculpture classrooms in the College’s art department, where she has shared her expertise on topics such as the history of war photography and how to make a living as an artist.

Meiselas said she hopes to help inspire photography students by answering questions and sharing her own experiences. But above all, she hopes to encourage them to get out, take risks, and not be afraid to make mistakes, while moving from skills training to working on their own in-depth projects.

“You only truly learn by doing it yourself,” she said.

The challenge for photographers, she added, is to help viewers of their work become engaged with people and issues that may be foreign to them.

To welcome Meiselas to campus, the College and the School of Communication hosted a special screening of her 1991 documentary Pictures from a Revolution, which  features the photographs Meiselas took during the Nicaraguan popular insurrection and follows her search a decade later to find and hear from the people in the photos.

Seventy-one of those photos were published in her hardcover book, “Nicaragua June ’78—July ’79,” which was published before she returned to the country and co-produced and directed the documentary with Alfred Guzzetti and Dick Rogers.

“It all begins with the photo and the relationships with the collaborators with whom the film is created. Filmmaking includes more collaborators, where photography is more of an isolated experience,” Meiselas told the nearly  100 students, faculty, staff and community members who attended the screening.

Her photos captured the fall of the Somoza regime and the revolution subsequently won by the Sandinistas in 1979. Since the images represent the various factions and lives of people who participated in the revolution in and out of battle, Meiselas wondered how they fared post-revolution. The film tells the story of those she could find, with Meiselas showing them their photo and asking about their lives since.

After the screening, Meiselas, Tom Lopez, professor of art and art history, and Bill Rothman, professor of cinema and interactive media, had a lively discussion about her process. “The film was constrained by trying to find only the people in the photos of the book,” said Meiselas.

This fall, Aperture re-issued the book to coincide with the 40th anniversary of her first trip to Nicaragua in 1978. The third release includes an augmented reality (AR) function, “Look and Listen” app which allows the reader to experience some of the images via two-to-four minute clips from Pictures from a Revolution as she returns to the same locations with the people she photographed. The AR app will be shared when she explores her work in professor Kim Grenfeder’s interactive class at the School of Communications in March.

What other activities Meiselas will be involved with is still evolving, but she plans to continue to engage students and faculty across departments in the hope that some of her experiences can complement their studies.

Miami has not been a subject for Meiselas; most of her previous encounters with the city have been  traveling through it to get to destinations throughout Latin America.

However, Meiselas said she is honored to be joining the University of Miami and is excited to dig deeper into the “multiplicity of lives” that she said Miami’s vibrant immigrant community cultivates.

Meiselas got her own start while teaching photography in an elementary school in the South Bronx during the 1970s. During that period, she became intrigued by a traveling “Girl Show” and the women who performed a striptease at small town carnivals and fairs in the Northeast. For three years during her summer breaks, Meiselas followed the women and the men they performed for from town to town. Her photographs evolved into her first book, Carnival Strippers, with images and stories she recorded at that time.

Her work has been published in The New York Times and Time Magazine, and she has had solo exhibitions in Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam, London, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. She is a winner of the Robert Capa Gold Medal and in 1992 was named a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow. Her work is included in American and international collections.

Alexandra Bassil contributed to this report.

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Illuminating Moonlight: President Frenk and Tarell McCraney Discuss the Playwright’s Academy Award-Nominee


A screening at the Cosford gives UM President Julio Frenk an opportunity to talk to one of the creative forces behind the Academy Award-nominated ‘Moonlight’

By Robin Shear
UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (January 30, 2017)—The evening after Moonlight received eight Academy Award nominations, the University of Miami hosted a special screening event at the Cosford Cinema, with a Q&A between UM President Julio Frenk and Tarell Alvin McCraney, the playwright and Miami native whose largely autobiographical work inspired the critically acclaimed film.

McCraney has been a professor of theater and civic engagement in UM’s College of Arts and Sciences since 2015. During that time he also launched an arts leadership project for young women of color at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center in Liberty City, one of the local resources that gave McCraney a rare refuge from the poverty, crime, and bullying he struggled with growing up in the neighborhood.

After last Wednesday’s screening of the 111-minute drama, currently slated to run at the Cosford through February 9,  a visibly affected audience paused briefly before breaking into applause.

Moonlight, already a Golden Globe winner for Best Picture-Drama, tells the story of Chiron, also nicknamed “Little” and “Black,” in three gripping acts. Chiron lives with his drug-addicted mother in Liberty City during the turbulent 1980s. With troubles at home and school, the quiet but intense Chiron (pronounced shy-rone) traverses dangerous terrain, buoyed by fleeting moments of sanctuary and support from a drug dealer named Juan, based on a significant figure in McCraney’s youth. Unlike Chiron, McCraney took another path and went on to become a renowned playwright, recognized in 2013 with a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant.

“This is a stunning example of how artists can move us to new understandings of our world,” Frenk said during his introduction of McCraney, who has “story by” and executive producer credits on Moonlight. “Tarell is a son of Miami. He is an artist of Miami. And he is an advocate for Miami. The film we just saw is such a beautiful, poetic, loving portrait of our incredible city in all its dimensions.”

But it is a story that might never have been widely known. When McCraney was 22, his mother died of AIDS-related complications. Trying to make sense of his life up to that time, he wrote In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. Though never staged, almost a decade later the work came to the attention of director and screenwriter Barry Jenkins, also raised in Liberty City. Their collaboration has garnered a powerful response that has pushed the self-described “painfully shy” McCraney into a new kind of spotlight.

Among Moonlight’s eight Academy Award nominations are Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director. At the Q&A on January 25, McCraney spoke openly and eloquently about what it was like to be part of such an intensely personal project and why he thinks it has resonated with audiences and critics as one of the best films of the year.

Crediting the authenticity Jenkins brought to the screen and a “one-of-a-kind” ensemble cast, McCraney said, “There hadn’t been this kind of storytelling in a while, specifically about people of color from this part of the world. I think there was an appetite for it.”

He also credited School of Communication lecturer Rafael Lima, who taught playwriting at McCraney’s high school, with the words of wisdom that helped him begin to share this poignant and intimate piece.

“I had tried to figure out ways to create the story before and didn’t really understand how to do that,” said McCraney. “He said, ‘If a story keeps coming to you visually, then it’s a film. If you hear it, then it’s a play.’”

Asked by Frenk what he would tell young people who live in a world where they, like Chiron, may face violence in terms of their race, sexual orientation, or any other dimension of their identity, McCraney replied, “I don’t know if I would tell them anything, to be fair. Having sat in that chair and having to listen to adults figure out how to fix an ill of society by telling you something feels counterintuitive. The thing I often try to do in those circumstances is show them where they actually belong. One of the initiatives I’ve appreciated since I’ve been here at the University is the Culture of Belonging because it’s a powerful tenet. We have work to do here, but that’s where it all starts. One of the things that Juan does in the film for Little is he says, ‘You belong somewhere, you’re a part of something.’ And that’s what I would try to show rather than say.”

Praising Moonlight, School of Communication Dean Gregory Shepherd asked McCraney to expand on the character of Juan, complexly portrayed by Academy Award nominee Mahershala Ali. McCraney started with an anecdote about walking up to Ali backstage after seeing the movie with an audience for the first time in Toronto. “My tie was askew and [Ali] started fixing it,” recounted McCraney, “and I burst into tears because for me he had just sort of transformed into this person I had not seen since I was 6 or 7 years old.”

The character of Juan, he explained, was based on his mother’s boyfriend, a man named Blue. “He was a drug dealer, and he was every bit of a hero to me,” McCraney said. “He taught me how to ride a bike. He taught me how to swim. He told me that I was good enough. He often stemmed my mother’s abuse from affecting me in many ways. I was the best-dressed kid in Liberty City for a long time. I always wanted to honor that memory but not expunge it of any of the things that, actually, he did.”

Thanking McCraney for coming to speak to one of his classes previously, UM student Jeremy Penn asked him to discuss the bullying and violence portrayed in the film and how the “school and police fail to address the systemic issues that are going on.”

McCraney said that in his own life the system didn’t fail him. “At some point the bullying stopped because I was led out of danger,” he explained. He was offered free classes at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center and attended the New World School of the Arts, “so I could be in a place that was just a little bit more accepting of who I was.”

But that’s not everyone’s story. McCraney notes that Chiron’s story doesn’t follow his own trajectory of success. “One of the reasons I wrote [the story] in that way was, what if I took that one missed step to the left? And both things cost. No matter what school I’m at, no matter what instructor I’m with, I still carry the scars of that time.”

President Frenk concluded by thanking McCraney—who will be returning to his alma mater, the Yale School of Drama, in July to serve as chair of the playwriting department—for his artistic creation, his work at UM, and his service to the greater Miami community.

“Obviously on Oscar night all your friends and family at the U are going to be rooting for Moonlight. We hope it does very, very well,” said Frenk. “We wish you well—and you know this will always be the home where you truly belong.”

The evening was sponsored by the Office of the President, the Office of Civic and Community Engagement, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the School of Communication.

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Surveys Explore Sad State of Water in Cuba

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Surveys Explore Sad State of Water in Cuba


By Barbara Gutierrez
UM News

MIAMI, Fla. (January 17, 2017)—When Evaristo lived in his native Cuba, hardly a day went by where he wasn’t dealing with water-related problems such as contaminated drinking water, leaky pipes or streets flooded with raw sewage.

The 60-year-old emigrated to the United States two years ago, leaving those problems behind. But when he returned to Cuba recently to visit his daughter in Havana, he discovered matters hadn’t improved but worsened—he still had to drink bottled water, shower late at night when the water pressure was sufficient, and avoid swimming in dirty rivers and streams.

“Everything in the island needs refurbishing,” he told University of Miami student Nancy Mendoza while waiting for a friend at Miami International Airport (MIA). “Water is no different.”

His story is a recurring one for Mendoza, a Miami Law student who for the past year has been conducting surveys of newly arriving travelers from Cuba to document the water problems on the Communist island.

Her work is part of an interdisciplinary study by College of Engineering Professor Helena Solo-Gabriele, School of Communication Professor Joseph Treaster and Catholic University of America sociologist Enrique Pumar to determine the state of the water in Cuba.

“The information we have on Cuban water is old and the data that is available is not peer-reviewed,” said Solo-Gabriele, who is of Cuban descent but has not visited the island. “We wanted to know the state of the water on the island.”

Initially funded by the UM Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) and the School of Communication, the study hopes to quantifythe availability of water, its quality and the impact it may have on people’s health, said Solo-Gabriele.

So far Mendoza and other UM students participating in the study have logged 500 interviews through a 43-question questionnaire. They hope to finish 100 more for the study to be completed. The interviews are taking place at Miami International Airport so as to avoid the restrictions Cuba would impose on external scrutiny of thecountry’s infrastructure, said the scholars.

Cuba water issues stem from an obsolete and deteriorating infrastructure. The original water and sewage systems on the island were installed prior to the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Very little maintenance has been done on the system in the five decades since, said Solo-Gabriele.

Daily water shortages, leaky pipes, non-working toilets and contaminated water is common. This may surprise many people, especially tourists who are visiting the island by the thousands since renewed relations between the U.S. and Cuba were established in 2014, said Treaster, who has worked on other water-related projects and visited Cuba several times in the ‘80s as a reporter for the New York Times.

“First thing I thought was Cuba has a great reputation for public health, what water problems could there be,” said Treaster, but then he remembered that as a visiting journalist in the ‘80s he only drank bottled water.

Tourists who visit the island encounter a very different reality with water issues. Hot baths and potable water is available around the clock for those who visit Cuba and stay at hotels, said Solo-Gabriele. But for every day citizens the reality of dealing with water issues can be daunting.

A large part of the problem in Havana stems from the aquifer underneath the Almendares River, said Solo-Gabriele. “The river is receiving all of the sewage and river water infiltrates into the aquifer, putting the drinking water at risk.”

Among the initial findings of the study:

  • Water scarcity affects Cuban citizens almost daily.
  • The outdated pipes are so corroded that often the water is contaminated.
  • Most Cubans have cisterns or water tanks in their yards to store water because official water systems usually provide running water for a few hours a day.
  • Water pressure is an issue in many buildings, requiring residents to use buckets to bathe themselves.
  • Disposal of garbage is spotty. Often, the trash ends up in the water, causing health problems.

Pumar, who was born in Cuba, and has visited the island in the ‘70s and ’80s, said that he was surprised by the extent of the water problems, noting that their interviews of newly arrived visitors cover folks who have come from several cities on the island.

“We have even heard of people getting sick from bottled water that they bought on the black market,” he said. “One journalist got sick because he ordered ice in a restaurant.”

Often, water bottles sold on street are filled with tap water and sometimes ice cubes are made with purified water, but they become contaminated by bartenders and waiters who failed to wash their hands after using the bathroom, said Treaster.

The scholars have an invitation to present at the Miami Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas at UM in the spring. Their study will be published in the journal Cuba in Transition, and they will write an article on the study for the journal Cuban Affairs.

Pumar said the scholars presented their findings at the July 2016 conference of the Study of the Cuban Economy in Miami.

They plan to launch a website with all the data to help organizations and businesses interested in investing in the island to become acquainted with the challenges.

On the practical side, the researchers want the website to be useful to the Cubans on the island and Cuban-Americans who visit their families and friends. Pumar believes that a push to educate both populations with tips such as how they should boil water and store it and the use of water filters would be very beneficial.

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