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Research from two University of Utah College of Fine Arts undergraduate students was recently published in the university's 2020 Undergraduate Research Journal. The Undergraduate Research Journal collects and celebrates the contributions our undergraduate students from all over campus make to scholarship in their fields.

Sydney Porter Williams from the Department of Art & Art History focused her research on the outcomes and benefits of a collaborative mural project in Murray, while Amelie Bennett from the School of Dance examined the role of dance therapy in improving empathy and emotion recognition in non-clinical adults and children. 

We encourage you to learn more about these important student projects, as well as discover the work of many other undergraduate researchers from across campus disciplines! 


THE MURRAY MURALS PROJECT: CONNECTING LIVES ON CANVAS -- Sydney Porter Williams, Department of Art & Art History
Faculty Mentor: V. Kim Martinez

"The Murray Murals Project is a collaborative effort between University of Utah art students and thousands of Murray youth and community members. These groups worked collaboratively over the course of the fall 2018 semester to create community-engaged, portable murals for nine Murray elementary schools. These murals now hang in the halls of these schools, giving students ownership of their artwork and of their communities." 

Faculty Mentor: Kate Mattingly

"This work examines the commonly accepted notion of dance/movement therapy that mirroring another person’s movement will increase both participants’ levels of empathy. Mirroring involves a participant creating expressive dance; in a therapeutic setting, the therapist mirrors their movements to establish a relationship and gain insight into their physical and emotional experience."



Published in Finer Points Blog

The College of Fine Arts is delighted to present the 2020 Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher award to Alicia Ross from the School of Dance.

In 2015, The Office of Undergraduate Research established the Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award to recognize an outstanding undergraduate researcher from each college. Faculty mentors are invited to nominate students, and awardees are selected by committee. The criteria for the Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award include: a record of sustained commitment to developing research skills and knowledge under the supervision of a faculty mentor, evidence of independent and critical thinking, active participation in research-related activities on campus, and positive contributions to the research culture of the department, college, and university.

Alicia's impressive accomplishments as an undergraduate researcher and student leader in the College of Fine Arts center around her commitment to her work as a movement researcher and performer.  In the last three years, Alicia has engaged in 14 research related activities, as a performer, collaborator, choreographer or participant.  These include her being selected to participate in work by internationally recognized artists Doug Varone and Anouk van Dijk.

“Alicia is the first undergraduate artist-scholar that I can remember who has made such a compelling case for movement research as a valid form of critical inquiry. Her proposal for the Outstanding Researcher Award articulated the multifaceted modalities that artists draw on at all times when creating and dancing in movement—physics, musicality, psychology, design, spatial-awareness, history, physicality, kinesiology— all at the neuromuscular level. Her work in the department has exemplied this multiplicity, as she has shone as a performer, maker of dances, and writer/scholar. It was a joy to see her synthesize all of this vast body-mind knowledge at receive this deserved award.”
-Satu Hummasti 
Associate Director for Undergraduate Programs and Associate Professor, School of Dance


In Her Own Words 

Name: Alicia Ross
Major: Modern Dance
Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada
Three words that describe you: imaginative, passionate, intuitive 
Favorite CFA class or teacher: My favorite College of Fine Arts class is improvisation because I get to explore all kinds of movement and the infinite possibilities of the body.   
Most memorable moment at CFA: My most memorable moment here was performing "CLEANSLATE" by Satu Hummasti. It was a significant work that encouraged kindness and equality in today's world. 
One thing you learned at CFA: The most important thing I've learned at the College of Fine Arts is that I can make a difference as an artist. I have a powerful voice as a dancer and choreographer that can be used to enact change in society.  
What inspires you: I'm inspired by all of the courageous and graceful women in my life.
Summary of major accomplishments both on and off campus: On campus I have performed in works by Stephen Koester, Anouk van Dijk, Satu Hummasti, Eric Handman, and more. I have also choreographed and performed a solo entitled Introspection, and showcased two of my dance films in our Modern Student Concert. Off campus I have participated and performed in programs such as the Ririe Woodbury Summer Intensive and the Doug Varone Summer Workshop. Lastly, I look forward to continuing my off campus performance career after graduation in a local show at Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.    
One sentence that describes your work: My work aims to convey the beauty, complexity, and intensity of the human experience through movement and emotion.

“Throughout my four years here I have been able to explore the potential of the body for creating art that is meaningful and alive. Studying the creative process with my professors has allowed me to make discoveries and figure out what it means to be a movement researcher and performer. Each professor has taught me a new way to study dance and produce material that conveys a message to the audience… Being able to physically create and feel movement that portrays intellectual thoughts and ideas is complex yet fulfilling. Through my corporeal research I have found a deep understanding and appreciation for the creative process and the expression of the dancing body within my discipline. The guidance I have received from my professors and mentors to develop that will definitely impact my future projects and long-term artistic career.”
-Alicia Ross, Class of 2020

Published in Finer Points Blog

We are about to graduate a class of brilliant, creative and remarkably resilient students during a global pandemic. This is a first. And it’s not without sincere disappointment and loss. While this moment presents unique challenges, as artists, we are no strangers to creative thinking, and the leadership of the College of Fine Arts is undeterred in our drive to celebrate the momentous achievements of the graduating class of 2020!   

What will make these celebration powerful is if you participate — as students, faculty, family and friends.
We will be rolling out a full week of celebrations starting on 4/27 on our blog, our social media, and via email.  

To our graduating class, if you haven’t already, please send us a photo or video of your favorite moment, people, or place at the U.
Upload your memory to this UBox or send to this email address by Monday, 4/20 to be included in the virtual celebrations.
Click 'Join Folder' on the top menu bar to access the 'Upload' feature.
Please include a brief description of your memory when you upload your file. Descriptions can be added under “File Properties” section on the righthand side of the window once your file is uploaded.

You have been making us proud for years now, and we can’t wait to see how you continue to shine.

Published in Finer Points Blog

By Anastasia Briana Drandakis

We don't know what life looks like on the other side of this, but we do know, specifically about the arts, is that the arts persist. 
-David Eggers, assistant professor 

David Eggers, experienced Broadway professional and new assistant professor of musical theatre at the University of Utah, had planned to spend the spring 2020 semester organizing the Senior Showcase and teaching acting scene work. However, when the U switched to online courses and all on-campus performances were canceled or postponed for the remainder of the semester, his priorities changed, just like many other College of Fine Arts educators. The following responses are his thoughts on the shift to online courses within his field, what he’s done to help his students get the most from their remaining courses, and how he’s balanced life for himself. In a time of change and uncertainty, he’s leaning on the arts.

When the transition to online courses happened, what were your first priorities?

My first priority when we shifted to online classes was really to figure out how I could pivot our focus with the senior class so that they would feel like they were still going to graduate in the spring, having gotten a lot of value out of their Studio 4 class. We were grieving the loss of the senior show, and I wondered if there could be any way we could preserve our work. Ultimately, I concluded that we wouldn’t be able to honor the fine work that we had done because it was all choreographed and staged. So really, my first focus was to try to figure out, “Okay if we can’t do that show, how can we cram in as much value as possible for these seniors in the ultimately 5 ½ weeks of classes left, so that they feel like they have grown and are even more prepared to leave the university setting and move out into the real world and the job world?

What was it like to grieve the loss of a show with your students? 

This is a new experience for all of us, but personally, I have been through something that this reminds me of. I have worked on shows in the past in the professional world, in New York City as a creative artist. One day, we were working on the show and preparing the staging and the choreography, and then the next hour, it was taken away because funding for the show disappeared. It was an immediate loss -- it upheaves your sense of security, because you’re suddenly facing something that’s out of your control, and everybody responds to that differently. For our seniors, some of them were quite devastated by that show, that they had already worked so many months on, to be taken away. Some of the others were more quickly able to decide that although it was sad and upsetting, it was ultimately the best option in order to stay safe. They were grateful for the work that we had already accomplished on the show, and they were already finding positive things that they had taken away from the experience. I felt a whole range of emotions for certain individuals in my class. For certain seniors, this was their big performance opportunity. We had worked so closely on crafting those performances, their characters, their vocal work, their staging, their acting, and we were looking forward to that next step in terms of crossing the finish line. The grief really is different, depending on who you talk to, but all of us, collectively, are facing a loss of normalcy that none of us could have foreseen. 

How were you best able to support the students during this time as their professor? 

We quickly pivoted to online teaching on Zoom, which gives us a chance to all see and hear each other, and I’ve only ever done live classes since we switched. Because of this sense of loss, I really wanted to keep communication open with everyone and give them a chance to express themselves. I literally say, “Okay how’s everyone doing? What’s going on?” Then I’ll try to dive deeper and see if there’s anything that’s been challenging someone or see if they need help and try to be a resource for them. If it’s something beyond what I’m qualified to support, then I connect them to resources from the U. I’ve also created dialogues outside of the online classes where I’ve posted links to resources from the U where they can get counseling, support, and can reach out to advisors, just so they know that they have these tools at their fingertips. Because some days are harder than others. I think that just having another person in your life who cares about you and supports you has been really valuable for my students. So, I’m trying to show up for them. Not just as a professor, but as a person offering support and being of service to them any way that I can. 

Now, when we’ve got both video screens open the whole-time side by side and they’re the only two things on my computer screen, I can see both of these young actors close up for the entire scene. It’s almost like putting their work under a microscope. Some of my actors are now revealing a deeper level of work, that I wasn’t able to necessarily see in the larger classroom environment. 

What was the shift in curriculum and how have the students received the most out of it?

Some things that have worked really well in the studio or classroom setting, just don’t work as well, even on a live video call. But some of the core basics of what I was trying to achieve as an acting teacher, I’m still able to achieve even in an online setting. We’re finding that with live video classes, other things that weren’t part of the classroom are now adding to our work. In the scene work that we’re doing with the sophomores, in the classroom, you weren’t able to always see both actors in the scene close up enough to see what was going on emotionally with each person.  Now, when we’ve got both video screens open the whole-time side by side and they’re the only two things on my computer screen, I can see both of these young actors close up for the entire scene. It’s almost like putting their work under a microscope. Some of my actors are now revealing a deeper level of work, that I wasn’t able to necessarily see in the larger classroom environment. With Zoom, my students figured out that they could change the background that is behind them. Some of them have been able to use new backgrounds to do their scene in an environment that totally changed their work, and it was magical. It was a different form of creativity, where they were actually able to show us what they envisioned that environment to look like, and that was exciting for us to see.

For the seniors, we ended up focusing on getting them ready for the real world. I come from the commercial theatre, New York City, Broadway, all of that, so I found resources and connections that could help them prepare and shed light on the profession that awaits them. I brought in several guest speakers to meet the students virtually, make connections and give insight into auditions, casting, what it means to be a good employee in a show, and what kinds of things directors and choreographers from Broadway today are really looking for. The students responded that this is the kind of stuff that they wanted, in addition to putting together a show. Now they’re able to ask professionals all these questions. It took away so much mystery for them, and shed light on what they need to focus on, how they can best represent themselves and how to start stepping into auditions.

The following list of topics were covered by the top tier guest artists for Eggers’ senior class:

Kathleen Marshall (Tony Award-winning Broadway choreographer & director) 

-Best practices for auditions and being a valued member of a show once cast

Michael Kirsten & Diane Riley (A-list agents in NYC with the agency Harden-Curtis-Kirsten-Riley (HCKR))
- Getting an agent, self-marketing, reels, and video submissions

Kate Reinders & Andrew Samonsky (Musical theatre actors with credits on Broadway, national tours, and TV & film)
-Making it in the business and the differences in all the various opportunities

Lorin Latarro (Broadway choreographer ofWaitress, Doubtfire and other high-profile shows)
-Auditioning for shows  and how to best present yourself

Kirstin Chavez (Accomplished singer and actor, known for her portrayal of Carmen)
-Managing finances for the artist

Michael Lavine (In-demand vocal coach in NYC for Broadway leading players)
-Working on material for auditions and performances

How would you say your life as a professor and a parent is being managed at this time, and do you have any supportive advice for fellow educators in that position?

We are all figuring this out together. I think one of the things that has helped me is to practice some patience and some self-kindness. I always try to practice self-care, and it involves a whole routine, but it’s even more important now that we take care of ourselves. Physical health, mental health, and all the individual tools that a person may use for each of those areas of health are extremely important. We also model that behavior. If you’re a parent, you can model that behavior for your children. If you’re a professor, you can model that behavior for your students. I shared a prototype of a journal that I do as part of my daily practice with my sophomores, and about 6-10 of them wanted to imitate it. Because I’m modeling behavior for these younger people, I’m offering up things that they can do to be productive and that they can do to support their own mental wellness. I also speak to how energy and enthusiasm is a choice, and I always remind my students (and myself) that what I bring to each moment of every day is up to me. 

Tips from Eggers' daily routine to support mental wellness include:

  • Do something physical every day.
  • Meditate every day, even if it’s only for five minutes.
  • Create a mission statement for yourself and your life that you write every day. 
  • Writing three promises to yourself that change every week that you promise to accomplish to contribute to your own sense of success and self-reliance.
  • Practice a random act of kindness at least once a week.

They’re not afraid to be who they are and bring what’s going on with them to the classroom. I feel like I’ve tried to foster a safe place for them so that they know that that’s okay. They are keeping an open mind. They are exploring with me these new ways of meeting, these new ways of communicating. These new ways of telling stories as actors, and we’ve found those silver linings. 

How do you feel your students are handling the current events? 

They’re showing up and I am super proud of them. The grief could be so extreme, the feeling of loss could be so extreme, the fear of the unknown could be so extreme that it could be debilitating. But they are all showing up, and they’re also showing up with these emotions. They’re not afraid to be who they are and bring what’s going on with them to the classroom. I feel like I’ve tried to foster a safe place for them so that they know that that’s okay. They are keeping an open mind. They are exploring with me these new ways of meeting, these new ways of communicating. These new ways of telling stories as actors, and we’ve found those silver linings. The cool things that are only available with a live online class that we didn’t have in the classroom. And they’re not blowing this off, they’re still showing up, being there for each other, turning in their assignments and they’re still applying themselves. The thing is, we don’t know when this will all come to an end, but we are all together just supporting each other through each day and each class, and making the best of it. 

What are your thoughts on the future of the arts? 

We don’t know what life looks like on the other side of this, but what we do know, specifically about the arts, is that the arts persist. The arts have been a pillar of society from time memorial. Look back at the Greeks, look back through the Middle Ages, look back through every time period of humanity and the arts remain a constant. And it will remain a constant through this time period as well. What we don’t know, which is both scary on one hand and exciting on the other, is how the arts will keep evolving through this. There will be new expressions of theatre and of storytelling that come out of this experience. There will be new plays, new films, new musicals that are written addressing this whole experience. We don’t know how we’ll tell those stories, necessarily, on the other side of this, because we don’t know exactly what and how our society will thrive on the other side, but we will find a way. Those art forms will reveal themselves as we move forward, and some of our colleagues will be the creators of those pieces of art and they will also be the leaders of those new forms of expression. 

So, the arts persist. That’s something that I feel needs to be shouted from the rooftops and everyone needs to remember that. We need to take confidence in that and be proud of our own position in this moment in humanity, in our history as a people. Another way to look at it, is not so much about being scared about what is no longer with us right now, but focusing on what could come out of this. I try to remind myself that, this wasn’t the moment we expected, but this could be the moment that we were born for. 

Published in Finer Points Blog

By Anastasia Briana Drandakis 

What do University of Utah theatre students do in the wake of canceled and postponed performances amidst a call for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic? They brush up on their Shakespeare through video conference calls. 

Self-Isolation Shakespeare is a collaborative, student-led effort to read through Shakespeare’s canon on Zoom three times a week, with an open invitation for the community to watch actors of all levels participate. The talent range includes theatre students, department faculty with impressive resumes, and even professionals working outside of the university that come together to perform these pieces while socially isolating. All the readings are recorded for YouTube and the shows vary between Shakespeare’s tragedies, comedies and historical shows to make each genre available to their growing audience. 

Connor Johnson, a junior in the Department of Theatre’s Actor Training Program, was inspired to start Self-Isolation Shakespeare after viewing a similar project that Professor Sarah Shippobotham shared with his class during the early rise in global quarantining. “The Show Must Go Online” created by Robert Myles are weekly readings on Zoom of the complete plays of Shakespeare by a global cast, in the order they were believed to have been written. Johnson thought there was no reason why the students of the University of Utah couldn’t undergo a similar project, and through the support of fellow students and department faculty, he was able to create a social media presence for the performances so that anyone in the theatre community could access the series. 

 “I realized the other thing this could be is a great opportunity for students to act alongside professionals or professors,” said Johnson. “People who students can’t always easily work with just because of the nature of professional productions.”

The professional theatre faculty of the University of Utah has already participated alongside their students in several of the show readings, including Robert Scott Smith who played Prospero in "The Tempest," Alexandra Harbold who played Mark Antony in "Julius Caesar," and Sarah Shippobotham who played Richard III in "Richard III." Johnson has also seen a mix of outside interest in the project, including actors with working credits from local professional theatres, New York, the West End of London, and The Globe Theater. 

“People have said that it was actually great to be able to ‘look over my script last night’ or 'to prepare for this role the other day, because I was thinking about something other than the news.’ They really latched onto the project, and have really given their thought and time and creativity, which has been wonderful to watch.”

While this series helps to bring the University of Utah theatre community closer during this time, it’s also an opportunity for those involved to broaden their familiarity with a genre of classic works that are continuously produced in the modern entertainment industry in various forms.

“There’s something about Shakespeare that is endlessly entertaining and brings endless variety in ways that most other plays don’t,” said Johnson, who believes that knowledge of this material can be generally useful as a theatre student. “Somehow his plays have managed to maintain interest for hundreds of years, and I think in a more pragmatic sense, for any actor that’s going out into the acting world, Shakespeare is a huge percentage of work that you might get. Even if you don’t want to be a classical actor, every regional company does Shakespeare once a season or once every two seasons." 

In addition to practicing classical theatre, this series is also a practice session in performing for digital cameras, microphones, and the general process that it takes to produce a successful piece of live web content. 

“It’s freeing in some ways that you can do things with your voice that you can’t really do on stage,” said Johnson, describing the new acting possibilities he’s observed that performing scenes via Zoom can spark. “It picks up much more subtlety than your allowed to have when you're on stage in a big auditorium. It’s also really fun to see other people doing that, and picking up on that, and it kind of adds this new layer of possibility and creativity.”

Johnson gives credit to an entire team of peers that have volunteered time to shape the current state of the production, including a designated “stage-manager” for the productions (Kiersten Farley), social media managers (Lexie Thomsen and Liam Johnson), and an assistant producer (Jessica Graham). romeo and julietPoster design Lexie Thomsen

Self-Isolation Shakespeare performances are scheduled every Tuesday at 10 a.m. (MST), Thursday at 10 a.m. (MST), and Sunday at noon (MST) through a Zoom conference link posted on the official Facebook page the day of the scheduled production. Show and cast lists are announced a week in advance on the official Facebook page, and anyone can submit to be cast in the Zoom performances by filling out a Google Doc form asking their preferred contact information, acting background, and familiarity with Shakespeare’s works. The recorded performances are archived on the official Self-Isolation Shakespeare YouTube page as the series progresses.

“I think that something this project made me realize is that we’re all kind of in this together,” said Johnson, reflecting on the support that has been felt by the theatre community for the project so far. “People have said that it was actually great to be able to ‘look over my script last night’ or 'to prepare for this role the other day, because I was thinking about something other than the news.’ They really latched onto the project, and have really given their thought and time and creativity, which has been wonderful to watch.”

Published in Finer Points Blog

MAKING ART WORK is a series that taps into the knowledge and experience of seasoned creatives from our community and beyond for the benefit of our students. 

Erica MacLean is a photographer, choreographer, director, and performer based in Brooklyn, NY. Originally from Phoenix, Arizona, Ms. MacLean began training at the start of college, where faculty and staff encouraged her to pursue dance as a full-time career. Since then, she has received training in Ballet and Modern Dance at Glendale Community College, Arizona State University, and the University of Utah School of Dance, where she received her BFA. She has performed in the works of Mariah Maloney, Ihsan Rustem, Guy Thorne, Eric Handman, Rebecca Rabideau, Quitalyn Cheramie, Katie Noletto, Elijah Labay, Brianna Lopez, and Patrick Delcorix to name a few. Along the way, MacLean stumbled upon an interest in photography as she attempted to document her choreographic work. She now photographs many fashion and fine art projects/editorials, and has published work in Harper’s Bazaar Poland, Vogue Poland, Vogue Italia, Theme Mag, Floated and many others. She has also recently photographed NYFW FW20 for several designers, including Claudia Li, Collina Strada, and Kim Shui. For all of her projects,  MacLean hopes to combine the landscape of human architecture and fashion in an attempt to allow others to create a subjective narrative. 

Have you always been equally interested in photography and dance? What affected your decision to get your bachelor's degree in dance? 

I haven’t always been interested in both dance and photography, and I’ve definitely never focused on either in equal ratios. When I really love something, I’ll spend 70% of my time on it and the 30% left over gets taken up by other distractions. When I was at the University of Utah, I mostly worked to develop choreographic projects and dance, and photography was just something I picked up to enhance what I was already creating. I wanted to do the best I could to document my work, so I picked up a camera and started shooting. 

I got my degree in dance because at the time, it was what made me happiest. I, of course love movement, but the closeness and support of the community was what really made me shift over. I felt secure knowing everyone around me was on a similar path.  When I look back, the most valuable things I gained from the U was how to openly view/respect art from all angles, and to stop making work for the sole purpose of pleasing other people. I really learned how to vocalize why I did/didn’t like certain work, why/how a work is important, and if you made something it’s okay if someone didn’t like it. You made choices based on what was important to you, not them. Don’t sweat it so much.  

How do dance and photography blend in your everyday life now? erica1

Currently, dance comes into my life as choreography in photographs. I’m mostly photographing for creative fashion and editorial content, and less “dance” type photos. When I’m developing these types of images, it’s literally in the same way that I’d create a choreographic work. I turn on some music, think it up, and focus on texture, color, light, shapes, and mood. I always think of this thing my professor, Ellen Bromberg, once told me. She said “You are creating the world we are going to live in for a little while. What goes into it?” This informs almost all of my work. 

To be clear, at the moment, I’m not dancing all of the time. Dance in NYC is VERY expensive, and I only take class when I can afford it. In a way, I’ve blended the two because I love and want to do both, but also I’ve had to make sacrifices to sustain a living. 

When I look back, the most valuable things I gained from the U was how to openly view/respect art from all angles, and to stop making work for the sole purpose of pleasing other people. I really learned how to vocalize why I did/didn’t like certain work, why/how a work is important, and if you made something it’s okay if someone didn’t like it. You made choices based on what was important to you, not them. Don’t sweat it so much.  


What prompted your decision to move to New York City? What has been the most unexpected aspect of your life and career there?

I moved to NYC because there was a huge opportunity for both dance and photography. I was interested in photographing fashion, but I also wanted to live in a city with a large dance community. It was a pretty obvious choice.  The most unexpected aspect of moving to NYC was that it’s actually pretty affordable to live here. That’s about it! Everything, for the most part, is as expected.  

How did you get connected to Ballet West as an intern? What did you gain there? 

When I was at Ballet West, I was working alongside Beau Pearson specifically as his photography intern. I was a follower of his on Instagram, and loved the technical lighting aspects of his images, so I reached out. I basically worked with him on whatever projects he had going on at the time, and this happened to be “The Shakespeare Suite” and various portraits of dancers from the company. I shot alongside Beau for many rehearsals, promotional photoshoots, and dress rehearsals at the Capitol Theatre. Because of this, I gained a ton of insight in retouching images in photoshop. I learned to apply the techniques he uses ( frequency separation/dodge&burn) in my own photos, and still use them when working various editorial projects.

What were the key steps in building your portfolio of photography clients, and what was the most challenging or intimidating job you have taken on?

When I was building my portfolio, I really had to think about what it was that I wanted to do in my career and go from there. In this case, I like photographing people, extravagant clothes, movement, and some sort of narrative. So it made sense for me to create a book with fashion and editorial in mind. My biggest dream is to photograph/creative direct for Rodarte and Gucci, and for this to manifest, I have to show them that I’m very capable, versatile, and have a very clear sense of personal style. I’m always in the process of developing my book, but a key step to get here was to shoot as much as I possibly could to develop my style. I’d write down a shot list/concepts, pick up some cool clothes from the thrift store, and force my friends to shoot with me(they didn’t mind too much). Over time, I’d just add or get rid of relevant photos, and always keep track of the overall style. 

The most intimidating job I’ve taken on so far was very recent. I shot photos at three official shows during New York Fashion Week for Claudia Li, Collina Strada, and Kim Shui. I worked primarily on backstage images for Claudia and Kim, then shot portraits of Hayley Williams from Paramore for Collina Strada. It was pretty scary because I’ve never had to do anything remotely like this. There are people running around everywhere, stylists quickly forcing models into outfits, and production crew shouting left and right. It was also challenging because although I was a house photographer and working specifically for the designers, there’s unfortunately a lot of misogynistic attitudes toward female photographers in the industry. I found myself often pushed around, and stepped on or in front of, by a sea of male photographers while I was just trying to do my job. I learned pretty quickly that if I wanted to get a good shot, I had to take up a lot of space, and be extremely vocal with them. And although it was difficult, I really did have an incredible experience.

Follow Erica's work on Instagram at @erica_maclean or at https://www.ericamaclean.com/.

Published in Finer Points Blog

By Emeri Fetzer

When Utah’s K-12 schools closed in response to COVID-19, graduate students in the U’s Masters of Arts in Teaching - Fine Arts (MAT-FA) program wondered how to move forward with the projects they and their young students were already hard at work on: things like team murals, original music collaborations, and movement activities. The arts are inherently social, interactive, and tangible.

In this new and developing community challenge, how could they push forward, and ensure their students didn’t lose progress, as well as their connection with one another? 

In a time of increasing isolation, the U’s community of fine arts educators leaned on each other for strength and innovation. To brainstorm solutions, MAT-FA graduate students turned to faculty members in the College of Fine Arts who were facing the same complex challenges in taking their university courses online. What resulted from these collaborative conversations were numerous smart solutions, and an abundance of encouragement.

When the pandemic hit, MAT-FA educator Laura Decker and her students at Monticello Academy in West Valley City were working on developing sculptures about culture and identity. In such a hands-on experience, it is difficult to instruct without referring to a physical example. Also, students at home do not have the access to art supplies that they would at their schools.

So, last Monday, on the first official day of online learning for the state of Utah, Monticello Academy students and families came to the school to pick up art project kits along with a piece of clay and art making instructions that Ms. Decker had prepared. The students were incredibly excited to see her and to be back in the school building even for a brief period during this time of uncertainty. Students were thrilled to collect their art kits and for the opportunity to complete their sculptures at home.

By Thursday, three days later, over 50% of the students had finished their sculptures and sent back photos. But Decker wanted her class to see each other’s work and discuss the finished projects as a group. To this end, she is now asking them to take thirty-second, 360° videos of their sculptures and answer a few questions about their process and inspirations, which they will then share collectively. 

Eric Spreng’s middle school band students at The Open Classroom in Salt Lake City were in the midst of writing original musical compositions on the theme of climate change when they were asked to stay home. They were very much looking forward to performing their pieces for each other and their families this April. But like all other live performances nationwide, this was no longer in the cards for this spring.  Spreng MATFA 3Some of Eric Spreng's middle school music students at work, prior to distance learning

After meeting with Jared Rawlings, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the School of Music, Spreng, another standout MAT-FA candidate, is inspired to take a new direction that he hopes will still unite his student musicians. With their own instruments from their private homes, each student will call into a live Zoom session where Spreng will conduct them all together. They hope to send footage of their online concert to the legislature, sharing their climate change ideas and reflections with their local leaders. 

Examples of adapting education to a format for social distancing abound: theatre students in secondary schools discovering and self-taping monologues related to their current emotions, visual art teachers creating tutorials to follow on YouTube tutorials, or live-streaming the painting of a class-planned mural while students to comment on its direction and progress -- the list goes on and on.

One thing is certain, the arts in schools are not going anywhere.

And even while they are digital, their value is deeply felt, by both Utah's young people and our community at large.

To learn more about the U's Master of Arts in Teaching - Fine Arts program, click here. 

Published in Finer Points Blog

Since last week's announcement that classes at the University of Utah would be conducted online for the remainder of the semester, many College of Fine Arts students have risen to the challenge with positivity, compassion and drive. Susannah Mecham, a second-year student in the Department of Art & Art History majoring in painting and drawing with a minor in sculpture, decided to start a unique Instagram account where her fellow U students could connect around their creative work.

To foster new connections as well as provide support in an unsteady situation, Mecham established @coronaartcollective where she encourages University of Utah fine arts students to connect and share what they are creating. 

Here's what she had to say about it: 

"Over the course of the last week I was camping out of range of cell service with a group of fellow University of Utah students. It was a very surreal experience to drive home with our phones exploding as we passed signs flashing pandemic hotlines on the freeway, with the person next to me reading through updates from family, friends, government and the university. Everything seemed like it was happening all at once -- because it was for us. I was deeply saddened that I would miss creative opportunities and time within a community that I love.  

"I fully intend to have a prosperous educational experience despite the current COVID-19 situation. I also know that by staying connected to the U I will continue to have the support of those colleagues and educators who have supported my education and the education of so many others. The U as a community has many tools for us to utilize right now, and with a little creativity and togetherness (from a 6 foot safe distance) everyone can move forward."

"I received an email from my sculpture professor, Kelsey Harrison, who suggested that we find ways to connect with other art students to continue critiquing and discussing work. Kelsey also suggested that we continue to be informed about what other people were making and what drives their art practices while our own creative practices as students are being challenged and imposed upon by social distancing and quarantines. IMG 75BCA33FC5F0 1

"After sharing some of my feelings about the situation with my mom, she suggested that I get online and start making things happen! I decided Instagram would be a good platform as it is used widely by creative communities. Since then I have enjoyed watching the creative community respond to the COVID-19 situation by continuing to make art, music, and more. In a time where everything is put on hold and becoming more stagnant, creativity is beginning to flourish and it is very exciting. 

Staying connected to the University of Utah is important to me during this time because I fully intend to have a prosperous educational experience despite the current COVID-19 situation. I also know that by staying connected to the U I will continue to have the support of those colleagues and educators who have supported my education and the education of so many others. The U as a community has many tools for us to utilize right now, and with a little creativity and togetherness (from a 6 foot safe distance) everyone can move forward." 

Follow @coronaartcollective on Instgram to see student work and share your own! 

Do you have a resource you'd like to share with fellow students? Tag us on Instagram at @uofufinearts.

Stay well and stay connected. 

Published in Finer Points Blog

By Sara Kenrick

Hello, College of Fine Arts students! In January I had the chance to sit down and chat with Camille Washington about graduating with an arts degree and getting work in arts administration after college. Currently, Camille works as the marketing and box office manager at Onstage Ogden and co-directs at Good Company Theatre, a theatre she started with her sister.

Camille told me that for her it has been important to keep an open mind when it comes to artistic pursuits. “Right out of college I thought I was going to get a Ph.D. because that’s all I thought you could do.” She explained that opening herself up to different opportunities has been important when creating a successful career in the arts.


“Having a real sense of intellectual curiosity has been really important to me…keeping myself open and thinking about the ways my background...could be good in different fields.”

This rang true to me since it seems that every artist I meet has taken a different path from school to career. I asked Camille if she had ever felt barred from doing her art. She described that while she was completing a fellowship at Walker Art Museum, she noticed much of the art on display seemed driven by getting well-known names on the walls and therefore big crowds through the door. Although this may be an environment many would thrive in, she explained that it wasn't quite perfect for her. Now that she’s involved in smaller arts organizations, she feels “much more comfortable because the decision making is quicker, there’s more collaboration, and failure doesn’t feel like such a disaster.” Exploring a lot of different artistic environments can help you find what works best for you.

Finally, I asked Camille what she would tell her younger self. Camille paused before saying, “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” I was happy to hear this response since all of the students I know are working themselves to the bone, getting no sleep, and doing amazing work, myself included.

I know I should take more moments to be compassionate towards myself and know that not everything that goes “wrong” is going to be my fault.


A few ArtsForce Takeaways

  • Keep yourself open to new paths and opportunities.

  • Figure out what environments help you thrive.

  • Don’t be so hard on yourself.

 It was an absolute delight to talk to Camille about her experiences and insights. I hope you can take into account some of her advice. Click here to learn more about Good Company Theatre and see their upcoming season! 

ArtsForce is working on bringing you more advice from local artists so stay tuned for more! If you would like to join ArtsForce and come to our upcoming events, check out this link! 

Author Sara Kenrick is a Film and Media Arts Major with an emphasis in Film Production and a minor in Theatre. She is an Emerging Leaders Intern at ArtsForce.

ArtsForce is a student-led organization dedicated to articulating the value of your artsdegree and helping you transition from college to the workforce.

Published in Finer Points Blog

MAKING ART WORK is a series that taps into the knowledge and experience of seasoned creatives from our community and beyond for the benefit of our students.

Rod Davis is the vice president of Music Business Affairs for Sony Pictures Entertainment. In this role, Davis is responsible for handling music transactions from negotiations for composers, musicians, and music supervisors, to recording artists and soundtrack album agreements for feature films, television series, game shows and interstitial works. Davis earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Utah School of Music, his master’s in Music at University of Southern California, and his J.D. at Southwestern University School Law School. Prior to his work at Sony Pictures Entertainment, Davis acted as senior counsel to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, handling music rights and transactions for the studio.

What was your early relationship to music? What were your initial career ambitions?

I have played piano since I was seven years old. Initially, I was planning on becoming a concert pianist, but I quickly realized that I was going to enjoy teaching music rather than living the life of a professional touring musician. Eight hours a day of practicing alone in a room is a big commitment -- there are people that can do that, but that life was not for me. So, when I went to the University of Utah, I sought a degree in music education, with the goals to teach high school music and then eventually teach at the university level.  

However, all of a sudden you can come to a divide in the road and take a different career path. Fortunately for me it was not a true diversion, because I have always stayed in music. 

Who were your most impactful mentors at the University of Utah?

I had some wonderful professors while at the U: specifically, Dr. Newell Weight, the conductor of the University of Utah A Cappella Choir and music education professor, Dr. Ed Thompson who replaced Dr. Weight conducting the A Cappella Choir and later became the chair of the music department, and Betty Jeanne Chipman who was an amazing voice teacher. I accompanied Chipman’s students in their voice lessons and performances.

The traits and similarities about these three people were: they had a real passion for music, they were musically gifted, and they diligently worked to accomplish their goals. You could tell they loved music, it was in their souls. They had a desire to teach and to share. That combination inspired me. It is why I continued on in music education and eventually was hired to teach music at Bountiful High School, a job I truly loved.

When did law come into the picture?

I wanted to teach high school music and then move to the university setting, so the career path looked like: get a master’s degree and then my doctorate. Dr. Weight had earned a graduate degree at the University of Southern California.  I truly admired him, so I decided that’s where I would go. I went to USC to get my master’s in music. And that’s where I first became aware of music law and music attorneys, careers I had never heard of before.

In high school I had two real passions: music, and speech & debate. Even back then, I was thinking of pursuing music education, or possibly law. All of a sudden in midstream of my music teaching career, when I found out there were attorneys practicing music law -- it was like a lightbulb was turned on. 

This was a way to combine my two passions – Music and Law.
I love my job. I love what I do, and it’s music continually, every day.

What do you consider your first big break?

I had just graduated from law school, passed the bar exam, and was looking for a job. On the back page of Variety, the motion picture entertainment magazine, there was an ad placed by MGM studios (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer). They were seeking an attorney for their Music Affairs group with at least two years’ law firm experience. Well, I was right out of law school. But, while I was there, I was a legal intern with Warner/Chapell Music, one of the largest music publishers in the world, and with ABC television. Therefore, I had some legal experience in entertainment, and a lot of experience in music. I sent in my resumé. Shortly thereafter, they asked me to come in for an interview and then another interview.  It was a really coveted position with numerous applicants. When they offered me the job, it was just like a dream come true.

I knew there were so many candidates from law firms that had applied. When I asked MGM  why they had chosen me for the job, they said they wanted a music attorney that could do all the legal work and analysis, but also truly knew music as a musician. 

We’re in the business of creating tremendous amounts  of music for our motion pictures. There could be situations where we find out that someone is infringing  one of the studio’s music copyrights, or someone makes a claim that someone else’s music has been used in one of our motion pictures without authorization. At this point there are  two steps of analysis that need to be done: first, music analysis (  Has there been copying with the harmonic structure, melody, or rhythm, etc.?) Secondly, legal analysis (Are these two pieces of music substantially similar in a legal context?).  Because of my background, I was able to do both types of analysis. And that’s why the studio selected me.


The thing I want to share with students is just how big the music industry is. It’s not just performance -- of course without performance, writing and composing, you wouldn’t have music. But whether you are talking about all of the record labels, film and television producers, music publishers, managers, agents, and all of the products that require music, the industry is quite expansive.


What are some highlights of your work so far?

I was able to assist in the music legal affairs transactions for several “James Bond” movies, which was exciting, and also “Men in Black,” “Jumanji”, “Spider-Man”…

But I have to say that one project that I really enjoyed and stands out was being the music affairs attorney on the television series “Breaking Bad”. For all its seasons, it was such a complex show, and the music was so unique. From the music by the composers, to what they were licensing, they were finding music in the strangest places and I had to make sure it was all legally clear. It was really something I was so proud to have been a part of.

Another project is the “Outlander” series which season 5 is currently airing on Starz. I love “Outlander”.  It's such a great property and handling the music affairs for it is really rewarding.

What advice would you give undergraduates? 

The thing I want to share with students is just how big the music industry is. It’s not just performance -- of course without performance, writing and composing, you wouldn’t have music. But whether you are talking about all of the record labels, film and television producers, music publishers, managers, agents, and all of the products that require music, the industry is quite expansive. Music is pervasive in our society, it’s around us all the time, and there are many players making it happen. The world is wide open. The most important thing is honing your skills and becoming the best person you can, and the best musician or artist you can. When you strengthen those skills, you put yourself into a marketable position. There’s so much out there to be part of in music and the fine arts.

You might think that there’s one thing you want and that’s the only option for your career. When music law became available, in my case, it opened up so many new and wonderful opportunities for me. There are music scenes all over -- from classical to popular, to hip hop, jazz, symphonic orchestras, video games or even the music you hear on your phone when you’re on hold, or in the restaurant, or in a movie theatre. There are organizations out there to help collect income for the writers, and the performers. To be part of it, where every day you have contact with music, if you have the passion for it, there are so many avenues that you can pursue.

I started as a music teacher at Bountiful High School with 120 students in the choral department and within five years I built up the department to where I was teaching 500 students a day — almost half of the students at the high school were participating in music courses. People enjoy being a part of music. To leave what was a successful teaching career and change direction, it had to be something that would be just as rewarding, stimulating, and exciting, and it was! I’m glad I took that leap of faith.   

Published in Finer Points Blog