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School of Music wins $85,000 grant for music education project

January 19, 2017

As part of the New American University, ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts aims to embed arts-based study throughout the communities it serves locally, nationally and internationally, including investing in K-12 education through community partnerships, initiatives and faculty research.

Within Herberger Institute, the School of Music’s Consortium for Innovation and Transformation in Music Education (CITME) not only invests in those communities by conducting research to help music educators and advance music education, but also hopes to broaden and deepen how music teaching and learning can impact society and contribute to positive social transformation. Current research includes supporting connected learning in music education.  Music Education ASU School of Music associate professor Evan Tobias (standing) collaborates with music education students and community members on beat making and jamming, two themes that will be addressed in the learning playlists. Photo by Tim Trumble, courtesy of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts Download Full Image

In recent years, educational leaders and organizations such as the MacArthur Foundation have promoted the idea of connected learning, which uses digital media to engage students and to enhance their learning by connecting their interests with their education. A report published by the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub said connected learning emphasizes issues of equity and capacity building to create opportunities for young people and encourages youth to learn with peers and adults by pursuing shared interests and goals. 

Now, with an $85,000 grant from the sixth Digital Media and Learning Competition, with support from the MacArthur Foundation, School of Music associate professor Evan Tobias and the CITME are using these ideas to create six connected music learning playlists for educating youth through musical inquiry and in the context of artistic problem solving.

“The competition was a great fit for the Consortium for Innovation and Transformation in Music Education and our work over the past several years in exploring the potential of arts inquiry, engagement and learning to make a positive impact on young people’s lives, communities and society at large,” Tobias said. “This project is an exciting opportunity to weave together strands of research and creative work around connected learning, participatory culture, digital culture, learning and teaching and the capacity of music as a medium for people to be creative and expressive.”

Connected learning playlists are a curated group of learning experiences and resources such as videos, websites, books, games, articles and more. The different experiences are connected together to create one playlist that focuses on a theme and combines online, in-school, out-of-school and employer-based learning. The idea is to create a network of learning experiences and collaborative playlists where multiple organizations and providers may contribute. As more and more playlists are built, the connections across all learning experiences will continue to grow that learning network.

“Just as iTunes or Spotify playlists allow users to easily remix content across albums, connected learning playlists offer similarly personalized learning experiences,” according to the Digital Media and Learning Competition website.

For this project, called “Sound Explorations: Creating, Expressing and Improving Communities,” playlists will feature multiple learning pathways around six themes:

  • Coding and programming music
  • Making beats
  • Building instruments and interfaces
  • Producing music
  • Connecting music and culture
  • Jamming (solo and groups)

Each playlist’s multiple pathways will guide youth along experiences addressing National Core Arts Standards of creating, performing, responding and connecting through interest-based musical practices. The goal of the playlist set is to provide rich musical contexts that connect formal learning environments such as school music programs with community or after-school programs and informal settings such as homes or libraries.

Changing communities 

Once the playlists are created, learners will use them to develop skills of inquiry, problem-solving and reflection from an artistic perspective relating to their interests. They will generate, develop, refine and share artistic ideas, and understand and evaluate music. In addition to emphasizing creativity and fostering musical inquiry, Tobias said the playlists will also encourage students to be change makers in society. 

The music learning playlists will show students how to relate music to personal meaning and socio-cultural contexts as well as strengthen the students’ sense of selves as musical people who make a difference in their communities and society. 

“While the focus of this initiative is curricular in nature, the goal of expanding access to music learning and supporting young people develop as creative expressive persons with potential to make a difference in their worlds serves as a driving force,” Tobias said.

Projecting all voices

“Sound Explorations” not only aims to inspire users to make a difference in their communities, but also plans to make sure those change makers include all voices.

“This project speaks to a key Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts aspiration of projecting all voices,” Tobias said. “The six music learning playlists will be designed to ensure that underrepresented people are featured so that all youth see places for themselves.”

The music learning playlists purposefully address aspects of musical engagement that are typically excluded from school music programs, according to Tobias.

“Our playlists will help music educators diversify opportunities for students in music programs and the approximate 78 percent of youth who lack access or opt out due to disinterest in the ensemble performance focus typical of most secondary programs,” he said.

Through the project partners, playlists will support after-school and community programs expanding access to musical engagement and learning opportunities, particularly in settings lacking access to experts or infrastructure.   


Collaboration is at the heart of this project. Approaching the design of the playlists with principles of digital culture and participatory culture in mind means developers are casting the widest net possible to inform the development of music learning playlists. They plan to use crowdsourcing to gain perspectives and resources from people who have a passion for the topics of the lists or identify as practitioners in these areas.

Other collaborators include Alex Ruthmann at NYU, who has expertise in developing large-scale community learning initiatives and interactive digital media for musical engagement; the local community music organization Rosie’s House, which provides youth with free music lessons; the non-profit music organization Today’s Future Sound, which supports after-school beatmaking programs; the small entrepreneurial venture Sew Bright, headed by Ryan Bledsoe, a current music education doctoral student who is developing e-textiles and related opportunities for youth; three-time GRAMMY Foundation Music Education Award nominee and local teacher Richard Maxwell, who developed Arcadia High School’s Creative Musical Arts and Sciences program; and other music educators, teaching artists, community organizations and young people.

“We are excited to work with so many stakeholders and connect across the multiple contexts where young people learn and do music,” Tobias said.

Sarah A. McCarty

Communications and marketing coordinator, School and Film, Dance and Theatre, Herberger Institute


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Q&A: 'La La Land' provides hope in a world of uncertainty

ASU professor: Musicals provide beauty, hope in a world of uncertainty.
January 9, 2017

ASU professor who starred in director Damien Chazelle's first film talks about her experience and the musical genre

Director Damien Chazelle’s hit musical “La La Land” has been nominated for 14 Oscars, tying the mark for the most in Academy Award history.  

It comes just weeks after the film snagged a record seven Golden Globes, praise that keeps the spotlight on Chazelle and the often-overlooked musical genre. It also gives ASU Now an opportunity to return to our conversation with Desiree Garcia, director of film and media studies at ASU, and the star of Chazelle’s first film, 2009's “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench.”

In the following Q&A, Garcia discusses what it was like to work with Chazelle, the history and function of the musical in American culture and why “La La Land” has resonated so strongly with audiences.

“We’re in a period where a lot of Americans feel very uncertain,” Garcia said, recently.

“‘La La Land’ speaks to this moment in a very unique way, in a way that only the musical can,” by providing “beauty, art, hope and social acceptance.” 

(Also, listen for her voice in the opening number of “La La Land.” A car is playing a song from “Guy and Madeline,” Garcia said.)

ASU prof

Desiree Garcia

Question: What was it like working with Damien Chazelle on his first film?

Answer: “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench” is an original musical that he wrote and filmed.

His idea was to meld a Hollywood musical — the classic “Singin’ in the Rain”-style musical — with a grittier, black-and-white documentary approach, which is very nonmusical.

So the germ of the idea sounds very strange, but what he ended up producing was something that felt quite modern at the same time that it harkened back to an earlier era. We didn’t have script, so a lot of it was improvised on the fly. Both me and my co-star Jason Palmer were nonactors. I think Damien wanted nonprofessional actors in the film so that it felt documentary-like, yet still had these glorious moments of song and dance. And in the end, it works quite well.

I would basically kind of show up and play myself. Damien would call me in the evening or the morning and ask if he could follow me wherever I was going that day. So I’d be going to the graduate student office to read a book, or I’d be walking downtown the streets of Boston on my way to a fabric store, or to get coffee.

It felt very organic, except for the musical numbers, which were highly orchestrated. For one number, we spent all night shooting at a restaurant where we could only shoot after it had closed, so we went all the way to 5 or 6 in the morning.

One of the things I really appreciate about Damien is that he has this almost scholarly, intellectual position about musical film. He’s thought about it very seriously, how it functions in society. He merges his love for the genre with a very educated understanding of how musicals function and why they work or don’t work.

Q: “La La Land” and “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench” are very different. What does it say about Chazelle’s abilities as a director that he’s capable of producing both?

A: They are remarkably different in style and tone but really quite similar in story.

The story lines have a lot of parallels. They’re basically these “boy and girl” stories where the girl is a waitress who’s aspiring to be a star, and the boy is a jazz musician who is struggling for his art. And the crux of the film is their relationship, whether or not they’ll be able to make it work in a modern, contemporary society.

Damien has said that he started thinking about “La La Land” about six years ago, which puts it right around the time “Guy and Madeline” was made. So the germ of “La La Land” was there.

He’s an incredibly risky filmmaker. He wants to be known for all kinds of film, beyond just the musical. I believe he’s working on a film about John Glenn, so that’s very nonmusical. When he first went to LA after “Guy and Madeline,” he was even working on some horror stories. So he’s very versatile.

Q: You’re the author of the 2014 book “The Migration of Musical Film: From Ethnic Margins to American Mainstream.” How did the role of the musical differ depending on the time period and the audience?

A: One of the things I was interested in with this book was why musicals appealed to audiences at specific times.

I was also interested in the relationship between what Hollywood was doing with the musical genre at the same time other filmmakers were making musicals outside of Hollywood.

There were Jewish filmmakers making Yiddish films and African-American filmmakers making films outside of Hollywood, largely because they had to at that time. And Mexican filmmakers were making musical films for Mexicans living in the U.S. — Spanish-language films that spoke to a diasporic Mexican population.

What I found is that all of those films were doing something quite different from what Hollywood was doing in the 1930s and '40s.

The former films were about community, and fostering tradition in the face of change. It makes sense because those communities were undergoing great transitions at that time, adjusting to new societies, new languages, etc.

So the musical served them very differently than the Hollywood musicals that featured Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in a boy-and-girl story. So this book was my attempt to historicize the musical. When we say “musical,” we’re talking about a very diverse group of films that have very different kinds of ideological problems depending on the time and the audience.

Q: Was there a golden age of musicals?

A: In the context of Hollywood, there most certainly was. Music came in right around when sound came in to Hollywood, about the late 1920s.

Scholars have pointed to the golden years of the musical as being roughly the same time as the golden age of Hollywood. So about the 1930s through the 1940s and '50s, when you had “Singin’ in the Rain,” and “The Wizard of Oz,” and films like those.

Q: Why do you think “La La Land” resonates so well with audiences? Do you think it has the potential to breathe new life into the musical genre?

A: Most certainly. One of the things that makes it so remarkable is that it is an original film musical.

The musical has never really died. It comes in fits and starts. It’s never really been absent from the screen. In the 1960s, Hollywood became very conservative with the musical, where instead of making original musical films, they were borrowing musicals from Broadway and elsewhere, where they have already been proven successful. That’s why in the 1960s you see “The Sound of Music” and “West Side Story,” which had already proved to be box office successes. …

That has largely remained the same up until now, with “La La Land” as an example. That’s one of the reasons it’s so exciting and why people are paying attention to it, because it’s been a very long time since original musicals have been made specifically for the screen.

“La La Land” is a very cinematic production. It’s the kind of film that would be hard to imagine moving to the stage because it’s so cinematic. There are things done with the camera, with editing, with sound, that just can’t be replicated onstage. So it’s a uniquely filmic product.

The musical has always done especially well in times of crisis in our society. It had its first moments of success during the Great Depression, where you had things like Warner Bros.’ “42nd Street.”

In the 1970s the musical did some interesting things, reflecting the darker moments of the recession with films like “Cabaret” and “Saturday Night Fever.”

Now, we’ve just gone through this horrific election cycle; we’re in a period where a lot of Americans feel very uncertain. “La La Land” speaks to this moment in a very unique way, in a way that only the musical can.

One of my pet peeves is that the musical is often referred to as an escape, as this highly unreal experience. My problem with that is it ignores the function of the musical, which is that it offers something to the audience that they’re lacking in their everyday lives.

It’s not what they’re running away from, it’s what they’re running toward: The musical provides beauty, art, hope, social acceptance.

In “La La Land,” there’s this great opening number, where everybody gets out of their car on an LA freeway and sings together, and they all feel as one for a moment.

That’s something that the musical provides that we’re not feeling right now. Some people are feeling alienated or marginalized, so the musical functions to provide us with something that fulfills us rather than allows us to escape reality.

Q: Do you have any favorite musicals from recent years, or can you point to any that have similarly resonated with contemporary audiences?

A: In recent years, I really like what John Carney is doing.

He made the film “Once,” which is an Irish musical, roughly around the same time as “Guy and Madeline,” which it is often compared to. It’s very bare-bones, low-budget feeling, and there are two people who come together and make music.

Carney has followed that theme with his second film, “Begin Again,” which is also about the process and joy of making music in a community. He also did “Sing Street” in 2016, which is set in the 1980s in Ireland, and it’s about a group of young boys who start a band and make music together.

He’s doing something very different than Damien; he’s exploring how people make music, and why, and what kinds of things come from it, what meaning it has in our lives.

I really appreciate what he’s doing, just as much as what Damien is doing, which is throwing all caution to the wind and making these musicals where you don’t need a stage, you don’t need to know where the music is coming from, you can just burst into song at the drop of a hat.

So they’re very different styles, but both are keeping musicals alive.

Q: You’re working on a book called “Show People: American Identities on the Musical Stage.” Tell me about it.            

A: I’ve been working on this book for about a year.

My interest in this book is the role of the musical stage, the role that it has played in American popular culture. Not just film but theater, television, literature and radio; to see where this idea about the musical stage as being the place where you can go and work hard and eventually become a star, where that idea came from.

It’s the idea behind “American Idol,” the idea that anyone can be discovered and become a star in American society. I want to trace that idea back as far as I can to find out why it developed and how it developed.

I’m also interested in who was allowed to access that success at specific historical moments. In the early 20th century, that narrative almost applied exclusively to young, white women. They could rise from the ranks of a chorus girl to be a star and marry a prince or something. Then after WWII, African-Americans began to be included in that rags-to-riches narrative onstage. So I’ll be exploring all of that.


Top photo: Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling dance in "La La Land." Photo by Dale Robinette

Emma Greguska

Reporter , ASU Now

(480) 965-9657

International theater project 'After Orlando' sheds light on national gun-violence debate

ASU associate professor helps bring project to Phoenix

January 9, 2017

When 49 people were killed this past summer at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, the theater world took action. OBIE (or Off-Broadway Theater Awards) award winner Caridad Svich created “After Orlando: An International Theatre Action” to explore the tragedy and issues surrounding it through art.

“After Orlando” is a collaboration featuring the work of more than 70 playwrights from around the world, and it has been produced and performed in more than 50 theaters and universities around the country. Now, this moving theater experience is set for Phoenix stages in January. After Orlando theatre production Download Full Image

The Phoenix edition of this international project will be under the direction and artistic guidance of Robert Harper, associate artistic director for Phoenix Theatre, and Micha Espinosa, associate professor of voice and acting in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre at Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

“As an institute of higher education, ASU is committed to forging strong community ties that enhance our ability to understand, question or investigate a person’s sorrow, anger or hopes in response to current events, in this case the Orlando tragedy,” Espinosa said.

The one-day theater event intends to provide a space where controversial topics, like gun control, can be facilitated through theater.

“‘After Orlando’ directly aligns with our mission, which aims to create an exceptional theatrical experience by using the arts to articulate messages that inspire hope and understanding,” Harper said.

The project will include the participation of more than 30 local artists and a keynote speech from State Rep.-Elect Daniel Hernandez, who gained national recognition for helping save the life of U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords in 2011.

“It is especially exciting to work with a professional theater company like Phoenix Theatre and many local artists I have come to respect over the years,” Espinosa said.

"After Orlando" is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 29, in the Hormel Theatre at Phoenix Theatre.

ASU Gammage completes fundraising for Elevate and Alleviate Campaign

January 6, 2017

ASU Gammage, its donors and the community helped raise more than $9 million during the Elevate & Alleviate Campaign as part of the 50th Anniversary Golden Gammage Initiative, to sustain the performing arts center for future generations and make improvements to enhance patrons’ show experience.

Renovations include expanding the venue’s restroom facilities, improving accessibility by building elevators and revamping the theater’s sound system. ASU Gammage auditorium renovations ASU Gammage, its donors and the community raised more than $9 million to help renovate the auditorium and ensure its use by future generations. Download Full Image

Construction on the new restrooms and elevators began over the summer and is set to be completed in March 2017.

The campaign began in March 2015 with a $3 million lead gift from The Kemper & Ethel Marley Foundation, which was matched by Arizona State University.

Fundraising capped off in December 2016 with an additional personal gift from ASU Gammage 50th Anniversary Board members and local philanthropists Laurie and Chuck Goldstein. Laurie is also an ASU trustee.

Other major gift donors include Susan and William Ahearn, Pat Langlin-Brazil and George Brazil Plumbing & Electrical and the Margaret T. Morris Foundation.

Rendering of upgraded restrooms at ASU Gammage

ASU Gammage Elevate and Alleviate contributions helped fund the renovation and expansion of the venue's restrooms, which are expected to be completed in March.


More than 1,500 donors contributed to the project, including significant investments from ASU Gammage as a result of the success of its last two seasons.

“We are grateful to all of the supporters who have shared our vision on this project,” said Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director for ASU Gammage and associate vice president cultural affairs for ASU. “Based on the extraordinary support and ticket sales the last few years, we’re able to turn this into a reality.”

Since 2006, ASU Gammage has created more than $500 million of economic impact for Arizona with its Broadway series, and provided nearly 5 million people with world-class arts experiences.

What started as former ASU President Grady Gammage’s idea to create a distinct university auditorium, is now a world-class presenting organization and a vital cultural and economic engine for Arizona.

The 50th Anniversary Leadership Board includes co-chairs Leslie and Jeff Rich, co-chair Mary Way, William Ahearn, Felice Appell, JO Finks, Grady Gammage Jr., Laurie and Chuck Goldstein, Pat Langlin-Brazil, Albert Leffler, Michael Manning, Sarah Nolan, Bill Way and the late Jerry Appell.

Marketing and Communications Assistant, ASU Gammage


ASU to host Bösendorfer and Yamaha USasu International Piano Competition

December 19, 2016

Forty-three exceptional pianists from around the world will converge on Tempe early next month when the ASU School of Music hosts the eighth Bösendorfer and Yamaha USasu International Piano Competition.

Scheduled to be held Jan. 2–8 at the School of Music in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts in collaboration with the Phoenix Symphony, the Arizona Young Artist Committee and the Arizona Piano Gallery, the competition is hailed as one of the best in the world and welcomes the public to experience great performances by these talented young artists. Bosendorfer Yamaha ASU International Piano Competition The eighth Bösendorfer and Yamaha USasu International Piano Competition will be held at the School of Music in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts Jan. 2–8. Photo by Baruch Meir. Download Full Image

A total of 183 pianists from 23 countries applied to the 2017 competition, with 43 selected to perform in the semifinal and final rounds for prizes including more than $50,000 in cash rewards, engagements with the Phoenix Symphony and a recital in Merkin Hall, Kaufman Music Center, New York.

“These competitors represent the top young pianists from some of the world’s greatest music schools and teachers, including The Juilliard School, Peabody Conservatory, New England Conservatory, Moscow Conservatory, Seoul National University, Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media, Northwestern University, as well as Arizona State University,” said Baruch Meir, founder, president and artistic director of the competition, and Bösendorfer Concert Artist. “We invite our community to experience these outstanding pianists at a top-tier competition.”

The competition will include a Q&A session in ASU’s Katzin Hall from 10:30 a.m. to noon, Jan. 7,  where the audience can interact with members of the jury, which includes Stanislav Ioudenitch, Van Cliburn gold medalist; Oxana Yablonskaya, who served on the faculty at The Juilliard School for 30 years; Asaf Zohar, Israeli pianist and pedagogue; Zhe Tang, vice dean and piano professor at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music; Robert Hamilton, internationally respected pianist, recording artist and ASU professor; and Baruch Meir from the ASU School of Music.

All solo performances of the Bösendorfer Competition (ages 19–32) are held at the ASU School of Music in Tempe, Jan. 2–7, 2017. The final round is held at Symphony Hall in downtown Phoenix at 17 p.m., Jan. 8, with showcased finalists playing a concerto with The Phoenix Symphony under the baton of Matthew Kasper. The announcement of winners and the presentation of medals will immediately follow onstage after the performance. Tickets can be purchased through the Phoenix Symphony Box Office.

The semifinal and final rounds for the Yamaha Senior and Junior competition will take place on Jan. 4–7 in Katzin Hall at the ASU School of Music. These rounds are open to the public. The winners’ recital and awards ceremony will take place on Jan. 7 at 7 p.m. in Katzin Hall. Tickets for all Yamaha and Bösendorfer live solo performances can be purchased through the Herberger Institute Box Office.

For more information about the competition, the schedule of events and how you might get involved, visit or contact the competition office by email at or by phone at 480-965-8740. For tickets to all the competition solo rounds, including the Yamaha competition winners’ recital on Jan. 7, visit

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December 19, 2016

Postcommodity group to show video piece on U.S.-Mexico border at New York exhibition

Indigenous arts collective Postcommodity — whose members include two Arizona State University alumni — has been selected to participate in the Whitney Biennial in 2017.

The invitational exhibition is the longest-running survey of contemporary art in the U.S., according to the Whitney Museum of American Art’s website. It will feature the work of 63 participants ranging from painting to activism to video game design. Key themes for 2017 include formation of self and the individual’s place in a turbulent society.

Being invited to take part is transformative for Postcommodity.

“It’s one of most gratifying moments of my creative life,” said collective member and co-founder Kade Twist, an alumnus of the ASU School of Art.

Postcommodity began in 2007 “to look at indigenous narratives of self-determination” and use them as "a place of creativity and a means of sharing knowledge systems," Twist said. 

For the Whitney Biennial, Postcommodity — made up of Twist, ASU alumnus Cristobal Martinez and Raven Chacon — will be showing a video titled “A Very Long Line.” The video consists of footage of the U.S.-Mexico border wall, filmed while driving alongside it, set to an original soundtrack composed by the artists.

The work is meant as a critique on “the ways in which nation-state borders have de-socialized us from one another,” said Martinez, an ASU alumMartinez also received a doctorate in rhetoric, composition and linguistics from the Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2015, after completing a master’s in media arts and science and bachelor’s degrees in studio art and painting, in the Herberger Institute’s School of Arts, Media + Engineering and School of Art, respectively. and postdoctoral fellow at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College Center for the Art and Science of TeachingThe Center for the Art and Science of Teaching takes a novel approach to developing teachers of the future, recognizing that teaching doesn’t happen only in schools, but in homes, museums, workplaces and through all kinds of media. CAST’s goal is to develop teachers as designers, guides and advocates of good learning experiences whether they happen in or out of schools..

Four-channel video installation “A Very Long Line,” by Postcommodity


It’s not the first time borders have been a theme in the group’s work. In the group’s 2015 “Repellent Fence,” they used 26 giant balloons (pictured at the top of this story) to create a 2-mile line bisecting a portion of the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Whitney Biennial runs begins in March in New York City. Follow Postcommodity at

ASU Letters and Cultures student wins Liberal Arts Dean’s Medal

Research on Alexander the Great's literary legacy earned Glenn Maur recognition

December 7, 2016

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2016 commencement. See more graduates here.

The last award Glenn Maur received was in 8th grade, when his classmates declared him “Most Likely to Become a Street Musician.” Now, at 30 and graduating college, he has received the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Medal, which is just a little more prestigious. Glenn Maur Glenn Maur has received CLAS Deans Medal for his research into the literary legacy of Alexander the Great Photo provided by Tyler Kilbourne/ASU Download Full Image

Nominated for the Dean’s Medal by professor Mark Cruse, Maur earned the award for his thesis on Alexander the Great’s literary legacy across different languages and cultures.

Maur’s thesis is titled “The Many Roads to Babylon: The Thousand Year Legacy of the Sun and the Moon in the Greek, Latin, Arabic and Medieval European Vernacular Texts of the Alexander Romance.”

“Alexander is such a monumental figure in ancient studies,” Maur explained, “but he had a really pervasive legacy in medieval Europe, in Christian literature, and he also has a very important legacy in Islamic literature.”

Maur saw value in the stories surrounding Alexander, especially in the way different texts adapted his image.  In Arabic works, including the Quran,  Alexander is almost a religious figure called “The Master of Two Horns” who battles evil. French texts describe Alexander as a knight and Western conqueror, hosting banquets and setting an example for the Crusades.

Maur had the chance to present parts of his thesis at multiple conferences, including the ACMRS Conference, typically reserved for faculty and graduate students.

When Maur initially transferred to Arizona State University, he started work for his French major, but through the School of International Letters and Cultures he also studied Latin, ancient Greek, German and Arabic. For his honors thesis, he also worked with Old French, Old English, and Syriacc.

“If you like literature, if you like books, learning a foreign language is just really important,” Maur said. “It’s difficult, especially with the ancient languages. You’re trying to sound out these bizarre words that people haven’t actually spoken in a thousand years, but it forces you to look at the world in different way … it forces you to empathize with another time, another place, another culture. It makes you a better person.”

When he found out he won the Dean’s Medal, Maur was obviously excited and was surprised to receive congratulations from faculty he had never even met. He felt that sense of community throughout his time at School of International Letters and Cultures.
“I’m a fairly reserved person, but for me the big moment was just meeting my teachers in office hours,” Maur said. “Making a point to get to know your teachers better, once you do they’re really supportive and really helpful. If you just fly under the radar you’ll never know.”
In his nomination letter, Cruse calls Maur, “one of the most gifted, mature and motivated undergraduates” and “intellectually omnivorous,” describing his thesis as, “unlike anything the committee had ever seen … compelling throughout and succeeds in making a real contribution to our understanding of one of the most significant works of world literature.”

“When I approached [professor Cruse] with this idea, he really supported me and all these big ideas that I had. I had a really great experience with the faculty here,” Maur said. “They were really supportive, even when my ideas sounded crazy.”

Maur covered one thousand years of multilingual literary tradition in about two years. He appreciated that different cultures pulled value from the same story over and over. 

“We’re all connected, that was kind of the big thing I wanted to explore,” Maur continued. “Even though Christians and Muslims, and the East and West in general has had this kind of conflict that we’re obviously still living with, that we all look back to a common past if you look hard enough.”

After graduation, Maur has a job lined up teaching Latin at a junior high and plans to continue studying classics in graduate school.

Gabriel Sandler

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ASU's Rosemarie Dombrowski "ecstatic" to be Phoenix's inaugural poet laureate.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton: "We need [poetry] now more than ever."
December 7, 2016

Rosemarie Dombrowski will act as city's first official ambassador of literacy and art under newly announced appointment

The city of Phoenix has selected its first community poet, appointing ASU lecturer Rosemarie Dombrowski, who welcomed the nod, saying poetry represents a “recognition of the human struggle and a celebration of the human form.”

The choice was announced at a news conference Wednesday at South Mountain Community Library, attended by Arizona poet laureate Alberto Rios, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and other city officials.

Dombrowski’s two-year appointment as the city’s ambassador of literacy and art will begin in January, with responsibilities that include giving public readings and composing poems for special occasions.

She also will work on a special project, which likely will focus on education. In the past, Dombrowski has hosted writing workshops for teenaged girls at Changing Hands Bookstore. She said in an interview Tuesday with ASU Now that she hopes to do something similar with elementary school children.

“Poetry is such a wonderful avenue for self-expression,” Dombrowski said, adding, “I hope I can convince people of all ages that it’s a vehicle we can use to express ourselves.”

Rios, Regents’ Professor of English at ASU, said Wednesday that Dombrowski “finds the beautiful no matter what it looks like. This is what a great poet does.”

Stanton, meanwhile, said there is a vital “role arts play in the health and well-being of our community.”

Originally from Kansas, Dombrowski grew up in Missouri and moved to Mesa, Arizona, with her family at 14. After high school, she settled in Phoenix and never looked back.

“I feel like I’ve been a Phoenician my whole life,” she said.

A self-described perpetual writing machine, Dombrowski also serves as an editor for the independent Phoenix-based literary magazine Four Chambers Press; co-founder and host of the Phoenix Poetry Series and Get Lit, two separate monthly gatherings of local poets and artists in downtown Phoenix; and founder and editor-in-chief of the local Rinky Dink Press, which publishes micro-poetry in micro-zine form.

Her love affair with Phoenix began as an undergraduate at ASU when she and fellow classmates would set up card tables in dirt lots near Roosevelt and 7th Street, selling copies of a student literary publication “for two bucks a pop” as downtown was still largely empty and First Fridays starting to grow in popularity.

“I remember when it was dusty and desolate, and I loved it then,” Dombrowski said. “It’s so emotional for me to see the evolution that’s taken place there in the last decade.”

After receiving her doctorate in American Literature from ASU in 2007, Dombrowski said a stroke of “wild luck” resulted in her first post-doc teaching gig at the university’s Downtown Phoenix campus. It was there she helped found the campus’ undergraduate writing journal Write On, Downtown, and has served as its editor-in-chief ever since.

Dombrowski called Phoenix an “omnipresent” influence on her work, both on the page and in her human interactions, something Gail Browne, executive director of the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture, said the selection panel noticed.

Browne said Dombrowski’s appointment is “a way for our city to articulate who we are through poetry and literature, a way of advocating for the importance of language, literacy, reading and writing.”

Over the past few years, a number of cities throughout the U.S. — including Los Angeles, Houston and Key West, Florida — have appointed poet laureates. “We thought it would be an interesting time for Phoenix to do that as well,” Browne said.

Dombrowski’s writing has appeared in Columbia Review, Anthro/Poetics, Nano, The Review Review and elsewhere. She has received four Pushcart Prize nominations, was a finalist for the Pangea Poetry Prize in 2015 and was nominated for the Best of the Web Anthology in 2016. Her collections include The Book of Emergencies (Five Oaks Press, 2014) and the forthcoming The Philosophy of Unclean Things (Finishing Line Press, 2016).

For this “amazing windfall of happenings” Dombrowski made sure to thank ASU for “the immense opportunities” given to her throughout her education and as a senior lecturer in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts.

“I’m ecstatic to take on this role as your community poet,” she said. “I hope to do right by the city of Phoenix and everybody who’s interested— and disinterested — in poetry. Because we’re gonna change that!”

In 2012, Dombrowski penned “A Love Letter to Phoenix” for the Huffington Post. You can read it here.

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ASU team hits Miami seeking sustainable future

ASU team talks sustainable design at international design, art conference.
December 6, 2016

ASU team shares design strategies at Design Miami — an influential, international conference for design and the arts

Led by Herberger Institute faculty, a team of ASU students has recently returned from an international conference for designers, architects and developers where they discussed how to hit United Nations goals for prosperity and sustainability.

ASU’s group — including Dean Steven J. Tepper and students from journalism, film and sculpture — presented a series of talks at the Design Miami conference from expert speakers, discussing sustainable design strategies, which are part on the United Nation's landmark Paris Agreement and increasingly important as the world’s urban population grows.  

According to a U.N. talking-points paper: “The way in which cities, buildings and shelters are built today is highly unsustainable and needs to change. The decisions made about how these cities are built and how industries grow, thrive and employ will impact generations.”

Design Miami, held alongside the Art Basel international art fair each December, touts itself as “the premier venue for collecting, exhibiting, discussing and creating collectible design.” It features panel discussions, gallery shows, lectures and networking opportunities. Tepper saw it as a key opportunity to introduce the U.N. sustainable development goals, calling on the influencers in attendance to build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.      

“Transforming the way in which infrastructure is designed and built — with a focus on low-emission and resilient construction — will require a new level of commitment from designers, architects and developers,” the U.N. talking points read. 

The Paris Agreement’s 17 goals to transform the world by 2030, include eliminating poverty, hunger and gender equality while increasing access to  affordable energy, clean water and sanitation, and responsible consumption and production.

According to the U.N., the majority of the world’s population lives in cities today. By 2050, over 65 percent of people are projected to be living in urban areas. The paper said “design infrastructure and industries will determine the future of not only environmental health in these cities, but also the health and safety of the residents who live in these cities.”

Assisting Tepper deliver the message were three ASU faculty and four students, who interned with CNN Style, the official media sponsor of Design Miami. In addition to helping CNN with their coverage of the event, they also produced a 90-second digital video, which will be aired next week on CNN’s website and Facebook page.

Andrew Noble, a graduate 3-D and virtual reality sculpture in ASU’s School of Art, said the video couldn’t be more timely or relevant.

“We have someone entering office who doesn’t necessarily believe in climate change and the environmental impacts currently taking place,” Noble said.

Sustainability, journalism student Jiahui Jia said, can mean much more than impacts to the environment.

“It can be expanded to bigger ideas like gender equality and poverty,” said Jia, a graduate student in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “It’s good for a journalist to be exposed to a wide variety of experiences. Now I can apply the concepts of sustainability when I do a story.”

For film major Rebecca Wilson, her week in Miami turned out to be a cornucopia of contacts.

“I took the initiative to network and that was a priceless experience,” said Wilson, who is a senior in ASU’s School of Film, Dance and Theater. “I met some pretty amazing designers and architects who are looking forward to hearing from me after I graduate.”

Tepper said the Miami trip produced several good outcomes. He specifically cited the student experience with CNN; a deepening relationship with the senior leadership at the UN and plans to explore partnerships with other foundations around art and sustainability.


Photo: Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts Dean Steven J. Tepper. 

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100-year-old warehouse turns into a creative, inspiring space for ASU students.
Public can tour Grant Street Studios during First Fridays art walk.
November 30, 2016

Downtown Phoenix warehouse reborn as state-of-the-art Grant Street Studios, where ASU artists create and inspire one another

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. To read more top stories from 2016, click here.

Ceramic cows are taking over an old warehouse in downtown Phoenix where artist Elliott Kayser has his studio: small, painted cows spotted with little bumps in contrasting colors, medium-size cows giving birth to shiny golden calves, a large terracotta relief of cows on a modern cattle farm.

In a different part of the same historic building, Alvin Huff works on a massive steel sculpture threaded with and entangled by rope. He says he’s inspired by existence in macro and micro scales, the ecological view of things vs. DNA and the way things are structured.

The two artists are graduate students in ASU’s School of Art, and although their work doesn’t look anything alike, both say they’re influenced by the place where they produce it: Grant Street Studios. Once destined to become rubble, the 100-year-old structure now serves as the state-of-the-art center of activity and production for graduate fine arts programs in ASU’s Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts. And the public is invited to see the space from 6-9 p.m. the first and third Fridays of each month, including during this week's First Friday's art walk.

Kayser calls it “a beehive of sorts. The creative energy around here is buzzing, and there’s an opportunity for dialogue with artists from other disciplines.”

Huff agrees, saying: “I like that we have all the different departments together. It’s good to be inspired by other people, and I like to see them grow. We kind of mentor each other.”

A sampling of artists at Grant Street Studios; see their fuller video stories later in this story. Videos by Deanna Dent/ASU Now


Originally constructed by Paul Litchfield's Southwest Cotton Company in 1917-18, the sprawling two-story building at 605 E. Grant St. later housed Karlson Machine Works. By 2004 — when artist and developer Michael Levine bought the warehouse — it was, in his words, “bulldozer bait.”

Three years of restoration led to the building receiving the grand prize in the 2007 Governor’s Heritage Preservation Honor Awards: “Levine achieved a standard of rehabilitation that is rarely met,” judges wrote, “due to his skill in blending the contemporary with the historic fabric.”

Recognizing an extraordinary and extraordinarily well-situated space, ASU School of Art Director Adriene Jenik arranged to move graduate programs in painting and drawing into the building in 2014, along with the Step Gallery, and a critique space.

In their new home, the MFA students enjoyed spacious individual studios with high ceilings and natural light, wireless internet connections and the flexibility to accommodate special needs and equipment. Almost immediately, Grant Street Studios became part of the thriving downtown Phoenix arts scene, linking students with established professional artists and downtown gallery spaces.

Jenik says that Herberger Institute Dean Steven J. Tepper, who arrived at ASU a few months after the first programs moved to Grant Street, “got the vision that was being put forward, and he supported it 100 percent.” 

In fact, the School of Art’s presence in downtown Phoenix dovetails with Tepper’s vision for a design and arts corps that will serve the city, an initiative designed both to invigorate Phoenix and to give students the real-world experience they need to realize their ideas in a practical setting.

Between 2014 and 2016, other School of Art graduate programs in fine arts also migrated from Tempe to Phoenix, including intermedia, sculpture, fibers and photography, together with the Northlight Gallery, which showcases photographic work.  

In the spring of this year, ASU purchased the building from Levine, which made it possible for the ceramics program to move into the space as well. The printmaking program, meanwhile, is scheduled to make the move downtown in 2017.

At the ceramics program’s grand opening in the new space on Nov. 19, visitors toured the students’ new studio spaces; viewed “Exchange: A Group Ceramics Exhibition” at Step Gallery, featuring works by ceramics graduate students from ASU and San Diego State University; and admired the new Blaauw kiln, one of two that ASU received thanks to a grant from the Windgate Foundation. 

According to Susan Beiner, recently named Joan R. Lincoln Endowed Professor in Ceramics, Blaauw kilns have been internationally recognized as some of the most sophisticated and efficient kilns in the ceramic field.

“These kilns are state-of-the-art and can be controlled either manually or via computer to provide exceptionally precise firing conditions,” Beiner explains. “With their higher efficiencies due to better insulating material, zone control and burner technology, we are able to consume significantly less natural gas, thus reducing energy use and expense. The kilns are also designed with a safer burner system and produce much less heat loss to the kiln exterior, resulting in a safer environment for our students.”

Another resource Beiner points to proudly is the glaze room, which she says “helps stimulate problem solving and creative thinking of glaze chemistry.”

“There’s no other institution in the country with a diverse array of resources quite like ours,” said Garth Johnson, curator of ceramics for the ASU Art Museum, noting that the ASU ceramics program was already one of the top ceramics programs in the nation before the move. In addition, the photography program is ranked ninth in the country and the printmaking program fifth. U.S. News and World Report ranks the ASU School of Art 20th nationally among fine arts schools.

One important aspect of the ceramics move is the access to various kinds of equipment in the same building, Beiner says, which allows students alternatives for mixed-media works. A new 3-D printer lab opened to students this semester.

Touring the new facilities, Greg Lehmann, who heads the ASU Art Museum board, called ASU “a trailblazer in the development of creative spaces in the Valley. The fact that ASU stepped up to anchor itself in the arts district shows real vision.”

Ceramicist Kayser, meanwhile, says the space has allowed him to make his work bigger — he nods to the large terracotta ceramic frieze of cows, in progress, that takes up a good part of one of the studio’s walls. More than that, Kayser says, is the effect of having the whole community of graduate students from other programs such as sculpture, photography and painting in one physical place.

“It allows for impromptu conversations,” Kayser says. “Those ideas percolate, and they end up having a big impact.”

Jenik says that students being able to get together across practices is one of the most important aspects of the new space. The other, she says, is “the interchange with the public. You can see how it raises the bar for the students. And the public gets to see the students’ talent, which was somewhat hidden before. Now, we are in a space made for us, a space with an open door to the community.”

A closer look at artists in the studio

Four ASU students explain the inspiration behind their work.

Elliott Kayser, ceramics artist (follow him on Instagram here)


Alvin Huff, sculptor (follow him on Instagram here)


Molly Koehn, environmental artist (follow her on Instagram here)


Andrew Noble, intermedia artist (follow him on Instagram here)


Top photo: The exterior of Grant Street Studios in downtown Phoenix. Photo by Craig Smith

Deborah Sussman Susser

Communications and media specialist , Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts