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CAST program grants $2,000 to promote art and social change

By Hannah Schuster

Section: News

March 6, 2015

The faculty committee of the Creativity, the Arts and Social Transformation (CAST) minor awarded four grants of $2,000 to faculty members exploring the relationship between the arts and social change. The grants seek to promote interdisciplinary discussion, social justice and peace building through creative projects at Brandeis. The grants were awarded to Professors Azlin Perdomo (ROMS), Adrianne Krstansky (THA), Ilana Szobel (NEJS) and Judith Eissenberg (MUS).

Dr. Cynthia Cohen, co-chair of the faculty committee, explained that they decided to award grants to projects exemplifying “themes of the minor” after receiving a donation from the Max and Sunny Howard Memorial Foundation. Cohen believes each project “explores a very interesting point of intersection among creativity, the arts and social transformation.”

Perdomo will create a website called “My American Girls” highlighting undocumented women, specifically a group of cafeteria workers to whom she became close while teaching at Boston College. Perdomo will manipulate photos of her and her daughter to look like dolls, representing the women. Each will have a biography and accessories manifesting their unique identities, parodying the American Girl Doll website.

Of her inspiration Perdomo said, “Being an immigrant myself, I’ve realized there are a lot of people who, because their status is not legal in this country, they live in the shadows.” She explains all immigrants grapple with identity, but these women questioned their very right to exist. Her goal is to “be the voice of these women and bring these stories to light.” Perdomo asked, “What’s the difference between these women and any other important American citizen like, say, Hillary Clinton.”

“I love the fact that [the grant] deals with social issues and how you can creatively present an issue that is contemporary, that’s pressing, that needs our attention,” said Perdomo, who also hopes to use her work in the classroom in discussions on immigration or human rights. She would assign “tasks” to each doll—including a mother’s desire to bring her kids to the U.S.—to help students understand the challenges they face.

Eager to produce her website this summer, Perdomo explained the grant allows her to contract graphic and web designers.

Szobel’s project centers on Tamar Borer, an Israeli dancer who continues to perform though her legs were paralyzed in a car crash.

“She is such an inspiring human being and artist that she made me think about so many issues related to the juxtaposition of disability and political change and dance and the body and gender,” said Szobel who attended Borer’s shows and participated in her workshops in Israel. She will also explore how Borer’s work relates to the political climate in Israel, hoping “to see what kind of change we can create.”

“I have a lot of faith in art,” said Szobel.

She plans to return to Israel in search of more footage of Borer’s dancing, perhaps a video of her first performance post-accident. With the grant money, Szobel intends to employ Brandeis students to help analyze her research.

“The idea is not just to teach [students]…but mainly to get their perspectives,” said Szobel.

Krstansky will develop a syllabus exploring theater and race. Her inspiration lies with a student who approached her to relay the need for such a class and ask whether she would steward it.

“That need and particular question, whether I, a white professor could teach a class on race and theater is the inspiration for my project—to explore the particular ways the theater can open the conversation around race,” wrote Krstansky in an email to The Brandeis Hoot.

For Krstansky, the grant was “the perfect opportunity to understand the community engagement piece of theater making.” This summer, she will work with Cohen to analyze the “Acting Together” anthology from the Ethics Center’s Program in Peacebuilding and the Arts and Theatre Without Borders of which Cohen is principal investigator. It explores the role of peacebuilding theater in violent areas and will help shape the course. Krstansky explained that her admiration for Cohen’s work encouraged her to apply for the grant.

She hopes her class will address the complexity of the subject, incorporating her knowledge as well as students’ cultural understandings of race and will explore this through the art of theater.

Eissenberg will analyze birdsongs in correlation with environmental action. Working with Professor Dan Perlman (BIOL/ENVS), composer Kurt Rohde, birdsong expert Don Koodsma and Brandeis students, Eissenberg will compose music using songs from birds on the verge of extinction, thus bringing those species to the forefront of people’s minds.

“I … have been feeling the need to express my concern with the loss of diversity in the natural world,” said Eissenberg of her project’s origins in an email.

An NPR segment on the book “The Great Animal Orchestra” by Bernie Kraus “ignited a spark” within Eissenberg. A scientist recorded birds in a forest, but after some time, returned to the same woods and found evidence of deforestation in the stifling of birdsongs.

Eissenberg will use the grant money to employ composers and musicians, stating the grant is “a strong encouragement to go ahead.” Through her work, Eissenberg seeks to challenge herself artistically, to connect art and science, and wield the power music to expose what is happening in nature.

The professors relate their honor to have been selected for the CAST award and are excited to work in conduction with the unique program and have their work recognized as meaningful. They agree that a community has formed between them, providing support and allowing them to discuss their projects. They have met once already and will meet again this spring.

Of their first meeting, Szobel explained, “The amount of enthusiasm is just overwhelming…It was really great to be exposed to the other projects and to see that such amazing things are happening at Brandeis.”

Krstansky stated the women form “a wonderful group of people who are extremely supportive of each other’s projects.”

She continues to praise the “support and expertise” of Cohen, who the recipients respect and admire, writing “[Cohen] has the ability to ask the most profound questions of the work and is an incredible guide.”

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