musician with children

The creative spark

At Emory, the arts intertwine throughout the disciplines to lead students to discover their own creative passions and lives enriched by art.

The long, clear notes of Neeladri Ghosh's sax punch through the air, followed by Logan Miller's drumming that eases in underneath. The tension builds for a few bars before Dishan Harper on double bass and John Paul McGee on piano pile in with a fury. These student members of the Emory Jazz Quartet take cues from each other, breathing and moving together, weaving in and out of an American jazz tune, setting the rehearsal hall on fire.

Their conductor, Director of Jazz Studies Gary Motley, hovers to the side, tapping his foot and listening intently. "You don't find this quality of student jazz performance in most liberal arts settings," Motley says during a break in the rehearsal. "We are starting to make other schools notice us."

In June, the group traveled to Colombia as one of only three U.S. university quartets invited by the Centro Colombo Americano to perform and teach young people there about American jazz and improvisation. Motley, himself a seasoned world-class jazz artist, sees the trip as one opportunity to give back to others who don't have the musical resources "to get that spark happening."

One thing that has encouraged that spark at Emory for the past decade is the emphasis on creativity and the arts mapped out in the strategic plan, Where Courageous Inquiry Leads. The Creativity: Art and Innovation framing principle has extended from creative writing to film and media studies, from theater to dance, from music to the visual arts. It has blended arts-related academic coursework with cocurricular opportunities to develop a deeper appreciation of the role of the arts in a liberal education. It has supported fellowships for those who want to combine research in the arts and other disciplines and scholarships that recognize superior artistic contributions. Likewise it has nurtured reading and film series and important arts venues such as the Michael C. Carlos Museum.

It also has made Emory a destination where students don't have to give up their passion for the arts while pursuing studies in other disciplines such as business, law, or medicine, says Edward Goodwin Scruggs Conducting Chair Richard Prior. "We deliver the arts at the same level as we do, say, chemistry or psychology," he says.

Build it, and they will create

At the beginning of each school year, the Creativity and Arts Soiree opens the doors of the Donna and Marvin Schwartz Center for Performing Arts to new students. During this event, students might engage with the Emory improvisation troupe Rathskellar or sit in on coaching of an opera student. They could wander the back hallways, hearing music students practicing for auditions. In the theater lab, they could attend a rehearsal or hear recent alumni discuss how they are using their theatrical toolkit in current careers. In the dance studio, they could see the choreography for the fall show being developed, and down the hall, they might wander into a video screening of the latest works produced by Emory undergraduates.

Since its opening in 2003, the Schwartz Center has raised the visibility of the arts on campus, attracting world-renowned performing groups to Atlanta. It serves as home base for artists in residence such as the Vega String Quartet and cellist Matt Haimovitz or visiting professors such as Atlanta Symphony Orchestra conductor and composer Robert Spano. More importantly, the Schwartz is a daily working classroom with practice, rehearsal, and performance spaces for Emory students participating in music, theater, and dance programs. The 800-seat Cherry Logan Emerson Concert Hall -- based on concert halls in Vienna, Amsterdam, and Boston -- often solicits a common one-word response from first-time student visitors, according to Prior: "Wow."

"The building makes an important physical statement that the arts are valued on this campus," says Leslie Taylor, executive director of the Center for Creativity & Arts (CCA) and professor of theater studies. Her role is not only to communicate about the arts events taking place at the Schwartz but also to promote the work the departments are producing and support programming for arts opportunities.

"We want to integrate the creative artistic life and the value of that into the Emory student experience, whether students are making art or participating in it," Taylor says. For example, the CCA supplies incoming students with the Emory Arts Passport, which gives them free entrance to most ticketed arts events on campus for the year. The idea behind the passport is to engage students in the arts, Taylor says, whether they are practicing artists or novices with little or no previous experience.

The CCA also oversees the Stipe Society Fellowships, which come with an academic tuition scholarship. The fellows (nominated from each area of the creative and performing arts) bolster enthusiasm for art across campus, staff community events such as Emory's partnership with the Decatur Book Festival, and volunteer to help with annual campus happenings like the Art Lock-In. They also are eligible to apply for grants for their own personal creative projects.

In 2015-2016, in addition to dance, music, film and media, creative writing, and theater, the Stipe fellows will also include a nominated student from the new Integrated Visual Arts Co-Major (IVAC). Spearheaded by Taylor and art historian Walter Melion, the co-major allows undergraduates to explore artistic studies alongside those in another academic department. To apply, students must write an essay on how they see their primary major interrelating with the visual arts co-major, and Taylor says the five current students are making interesting connections. Jaquelin Galinski, for example, is a student in the Goizueta Business School who wants to pursue a career at Sotheby's, and she wants to know what it is to make the art. During 2015-2016, Emory alumna Megan Watters returns to campus as an artist in residence in the Visual Arts Gallery, bringing her experience as a scenic artist and designer at The Flea Theater in New York City, the Westport Country Playhouse, and Theater Emory to share with the IVAC students.

"The interdisciplinarity of the co-major recognizes that so many creatives can't be put into strict boxes," Taylor says. "Students in the sciences can be interested in drawing too."

Making theater happen

Over three weeks in the spring of 2015, 13 playwrights and a cast of professional Equity and student actors came together at Theater Emory to present 16 staged readings in a series called Global Voices. In the spirit of Where Courageous Inquiry Leads, the material covered in the works was courageous in itself -- race as seen through an unconventional comedy that confronts tensions through minstrel vaudeville; romance that springs up between a Palestinian and a Jew, between a Muslim and a Catholic; a reversal of historical events, in which English-speaking white male students are forced into a Native American boarding school and must give up their native language; the tragedies of human trafficking and slavery told through the stories of three young women.

"The whole point was to crack open in three weeks how we view American theater," says Artistic Director Janice Akers. "Theater Emory wanted to tap that fresh perspective on what it's like to live in this country now; in essence, to present a microcosm of what's going on in national theater."

The theater faculty and staff think of their charge as "making theater happen." They are doing so for an increasingly diverse group of students who study theater at the university, including significant numbers of African Americans, Southeast Asians, and Chinese.

More than half of the students who discover theater at Emory came to the university to study something else. As with music and dance, the theater department and its professional Equity company allows students to take advantage of a thorough grounding in the theatrical arts (acting, directing, design and technical theater, dramaturgy, and playwriting) while simultaneously pursuing studies in other fields. Linguistics and theater alumnus Alec Fox, for example, now recruits on college campuses for Google, and he says he uses the confidence and skills that he got from his theater training every day on the job.

Spreading the spark

The emphasis on creativity and the arts at Emory has nurtured collaborations between disciplines. As one example, in the fall of 2014, Theater Emory produced a semester-long festival of work by Harold Pinter with two full productions, six staged readings, the showing of four films with Pinter screenplays (in collaboration with Film and Media Studies), and a three-day symposium on the life, work, and politics of the author. Participants in the symposium included not only Emory faculty and students but also guest playwright Lucas Hnath and Emory Playwriting Fellow Edith Freni, in a conversation live-streamed on HowlRound; scholars from the University of Michigan and University of California at Irvine; and the editor of The Letters of Samuel Beckett. Adding to the collaborative exploration were theater professor Michael Evenden on Pinter and his Proust screenplay; Miriam Udel of Emory's Tam Center, Deborah Vidali of Anthopology, Ken Hornbeck of the Emory Issues Troupe, and Joe Conway and James Steffen of Film and Media Studies. A performance by The Weird Sisters Theatre Project, an Atlanta performance group, rounded out the fest.

In February 2014, Emory Dance and Emory Disability Studies teamed up to bring contemporary dancer Alice Sheppard to campus to perform two solo pieces from a wheelchair. In the accompanying conversation, Sheppard described why she left academia to pursue dance, studying ballet and modern techniques for disabled dancers, and considered the importance of beauty, disability history, and disability arts and culture. Creation Stories -- funded by the Mellon Foundation and a collaboration between the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Emory, and the Georgia Humanities Council -- has led to the commission of a new symphonic work and other artistic programming on Emory's campus such as exhibits at the Michael C. Carlos Museum in 2015 and an upcoming show at the Schatten Gallery that draws on thousands of recycled catalogued cards from Emory's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, which can be reassembled into new works of art and poetry into a giant, communal work.

No better example of collaboration across the arts is the commemoration the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birthday by scientists, artists, and students across Emory as well as universities from other countries. The play, Hominid, co-written with Emory alum theater company, Out of Hand, drew on the research of Emory primatologist Frans de Waal, and it was only one of a portfolio of conversations, conferences, film screenings, and exhibits that drew on perspectives from dance, chemistry, music, economics, psychology, anthropology, and others.

Neither are these sparks and collaborations being contained on Emory's campus. Rather a conflagration of creativity is spreading back and forth from Atlanta to destinations worldwide and from those global locations to Emory. For example, the World Music Program at Emory offers students academic courses on ethnomusicology and opportunities to play with the Korean Percussion Ensemble, the North Indian Classical Music Ensemble, and the Emory Gamelan, which specializes in the musical traditions of West Java.

In 2015-2016, Theater Emory will perform playwright Zhu Yi's work, I Am a Moon, which grew out of its staged reading during the Global Voices week, and Yi is building bridges between theater at Emory and Nanjing University, where she serves as an adjunct professor. Spring 2015 saw the first production in Chinese of Athol Fugard's work in Shanghai, thanks to collaborations between Emory Chinese students and the Shanghai Theater Academy.

The Emory University Symphony Orchestra has had opportunities to perform in New York City, most recently at Lincoln Center. During the 2015-2016 academic year, the Emory Youth Symphony Orchestra, founded in 2005 with an annual enrollment of approximately 100 high school students, is planning to tour abroad. Emory's Concert Choir has taken its 50 student voices to venues including St. Paul's Cathedral in London, the Berliner Dom in Berlin, Karmelitow Bosych Church in Krakow, and St. Nicholas Church in Prague, and in a once-in-a-lifetime event, part of the choir recently performed with the Rolling Stones.

Lessons learned from such experiences abroad do change lives, not only of the students but also of the people they encounter. Take the Emory Jazz Quartet's stay in Colombia, where they received standing ovations from enthusiastic audiences, picked up new polyrhythms from the local musicians, and ignited a passion for music in children living in some of the country's most impoverished neighborhoods. "To navigate the English-Spanish language barrier through jazz was really powerful," says saxophonist Ghosh. Drummer Miller adds, "The world is an amazing place with unique cultures. It was amazing to get to experience a piece of that and share some of ours in the process."