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New ASU visualization and prototyping lab to be dedicated in memory of geometric modeling innovator Gerald Farin

Public invited to Friday ceremony at Grant Street Studios in downtown Phoenix

April 20, 2017

When Gerald Farin worked with colleagues to establish the Partnership for Research in Spatial Modeling (PRISM) center at Arizona State University, he showed how design and the arts at ASU, as well as other disciplines, could benefit from geometric modeling. This Friday, more than two decades later, a new visualization and prototyping lab at the School of Art’s Grant Street Studios in downtown Phoenix will be dedicated in his memory.

“He was a trusted colleague and legendary teacher who guided a generation of students at ASU from 1987 until his death in 2016,” said Dan Collins, one of the founders of the PRISM lab and a professor of intermedia in the School of Art, part of the Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts.  Binded Gypsum 3D print "Michael Just shaved his beard and has been second guessing since," by ASU grad student Andrew Noble. This Binded Gypsum 3-D print, titled "Michael just shaved his beard and has been second-guessing since," was created by graduate art student Andrew Noble using resources from the 3DVP lab. Photo courtesy of the Gerald Farin Lab for 3D Visualization and Prototyping Download Full Image

In addition to founding the PRISM lab with Collins and colleagues Anshuman Razdan and Mark Henderson, Farin was a computer science professor for 29 years in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and considered a visionary.

“He was a brilliant computer scientist, educator and interdisciplinary thinker who was instrumental in establishing research in visualization and prototyping on the ASU campus and fostering an international dialogue around geometric modeling,” Collins said.

Just as the PRISM lab is a center for interdisciplinary research involving 3-D data, modeling, visualization and analysis, the new Gerald Farin Lab for 3D Visualization and Prototyping (3DVP) promises to be a space where researchers, students and collaborators will benefit from its resources.

Thanks to a generous one-time grant from ASU President Michael Crow, the lab will have five systems — four 3-D printers and one small CNC router, which will be on display during Friday evening’s dedication ceremony. The event will also include the unveiling of a new high-resolution, handheld 3-D scanner as well as DIY-type body scanners built with students. Artwork, forensic models from ASU West, medical teaching models from a collaboration with the Phoenix Children’s Hospital and more will be on hand at the dedication.

In addition, local engineer Steve Graber is in the process of building a large-scale “deltabot”-type machine for the lab that will be capable of creating a printed object more than 4 feet tall.

The School of Art, Fulton Schools of Engineering and the PRISM lab will dedicate the 3DVP at 7 p.m. Friday, April 21, at Grant Street Studios. The event coincides with Third Fridays, when the university community and the general public are invited to visit galleries, and the lab will be open from 6 until 9 p.m. 

Sarah A. McCarty

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


Kotoka Suzuki

April 18, 2017

Kotoka Suzuki, assistant professor of music composition, won first prize for her composition “In Praise of Shadows” in the Musica Nova 2016 competition in the compositions for acoustic instrument/voice/ensemble and electroacoustic media.

“In Praise of Shadows” was inspired by Junichiro Tanizaki’s essay “In Praise of Shadows” (1933), written at the birth of the modern technological era in imperial Japan. The essay describes the ways in which shadows or emptiness are integral to traditional Japanese aesthetics in music, architecture and food, right down to the design of everyday objects. ASU School of Music Faculty Kotoka Suzuki Download Full Image

Suzuki is also a finalist for the same work in the Canadian Section of the International Society for Contemporary Music - World New Music Days 2017 competition, which takes place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in November 2017.

“In Praise of Shadows” was commissioned by the ASU Prisms Contemporary Music Festival and premiered by Arizona Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) in 2015.

Lisa Von Hoffner

April 18, 2017

Lisa Von Hoffner, who received an MFA in painting from the School of Art in 2016, will be showing in one of California’s top emerging artists showcases at the Torrance Art Museum.

The showcase, called Bakers Dozen 6, “is a survey of 13 artists whose work has made an impression upon the museum over the last year,” according to the Torrance Art Museum website. The show runs through May 19. ASU School of Art alum Lisa Hoffner Download Full Image

ASU Pave Symposium to focus on entrepreneurship in the community

Fifth biennial Pave Symposium on Entrepreneurship and the Arts to be held May 5–6

April 17, 2017

Arizona State University will host the fifth biennial Pave Symposium on Entrepreneurship and the Arts from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 5–6 at the Tempe campus. This year's symposium will focus on "Art Entrepreneurship In, With and For Communities."

The symposium connects across multiple Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts initiatives, including "Projecting All Voices" and "Creative Placemaking." Framed by an interactive workshop on "Critical Response Process" by Liz Lerman and John Borstel and anchored by keynote speeches by Carlton Turner, executive director of Alternate Roots, and Steven J. Tepper, dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, the symposium will include concurrent sessions on theory, practice and pedagogy for arts entrepreneurship, especially as it relates to community engagement and creative placemaking. ASU student at the 2015 Pave Symposium Participants in the 2015 Pave Symposium discuss the relationship between entrepreneurship and the arts. Download Full Image

Special sessions include Maria Rosario Jackson in conversation with Michael Rohd, and Barbara Schaffer Bacon and Pam Korza on aesthetic frames for evaluating social impact. The schedule also includes field excursions to downtown Phoenix and downtown Mesa to tour creative placemaking initiatives with artists and arts administrators. 

“One of the goals of the symposium is to get students, professors, artists, business leaders and the arts policy community together in one room and start talking about how arts entrepreneurs engage in and with communities,” said Linda Essig, director of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Programs in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

Registration is required for this event. The cost is $135 for the general public and $50 for ASU students. The fee covers all events on May 5 and 6, including a light breakfast and lunch both days. 

For additional details about the symposium or to register, visit

The Fifth Biennial Pave Symposium on Entrepreneurship and the Arts is sponsored in part by Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation and The Kresge Foundation and presented in collaboration with the UW­‐Madison Bolz Center for Arts Administration.

ASU dance students to perform new works by renowned choreographers at SpringDanceFest

April 17, 2017

This year, ASU's School of Film, Dance and Theatre’s annual SpringDanceFest concert will not only feature the choreography of dance students, but also the choreography of three recent guest artists, who created new works for students while visiting Arizona State University.

“This has been an incredible year for us with the guest artist program,” said Mary Fitzgerald, assistant director of dance in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. “Three renowned choreographers with quite distinct aesthetics based in urban and postmodern dance forms created new works for a total of 35 students. Each artist was on campus for two-to-three weeklong residencies and taught a range of classes in the dance and theatre areas for more than 100 students.” ASU's SpringDanceFest poster Download Full Image

These artists include MacArthur Award recipient Kyle Abraham, urban dance artist Teena Marie Custer and postmodern/experimental choreographer Jesse Zaritt. Each choreographer created large ensemble pieces that use a range of aesthetics to explore spirituality and politically charged issues about race, identity and oppression.

“Their works represent some of the most cutting-edge dance-making in the field,” Fitzgerald said. “I am really impressed by the range of voices represented and by the very different ways that these choreographers challenged our students artistically."

SpringDanceFest also features choreography from several students, who continue that range of representation and who found inspiration in various places, from feminist literature and dance films to the desert and “Romeo and Juliet.”

First-year graduate student Laina Carney’s piece “Untitled: Part II” is the second part of her Untitled Series.  

“This series was inspired by the book ‘Bad Feminist’ by Roxane Gay as well as by the contextualization of popular culture’s perspective of the ‘modern’ female through time,” Carney said. “The piece for SpringDanceFest features five dancers and uses blended aesthetics of contemporary modern dance and pedestrian sub-cultures to challenge notions of identity, gender and body attitudes through movement.”

In the piece, lighting designer Lacee Garcia uses visual counterparts to take the audience through a timeline of socially constructed modes of female complexities, Carney said.

“I hope that the work will stick with the audience for longer than the duration of the piece, and also, that it allows them to reflect upon gender roles in today’s society in a new way.”

Michelle Marji, a senior studying dance and psychology, used her surroundings and her dancers to choreograph “Desert Dance.” 

“When creating this piece, I drew inspiration from the desert and the emotional experiences of my dancers,” Marji said. “We used meditation and imagery to create intention in the piece. Ultimately, the desert acts as a symbolic representation of our emotional experience – dancers are affected by the environment they live in (the desert), their emotional human existence, the sound and each other. They affect each other's experience and go through a tumultuous journey before quenching their thirst in the desert.”

Jordan Klitzke’s “This Is Only Temporarily New” is a contemporary look at the “Romeo and Juliet” balcony scene.

Danced by two undergraduate female students, the duet brings the experience of the body to the forefront and lets the text become secondary, allowing a “look at the power dynamics of young relationships and how those are primarily established through subtle and not-so-subtle actions of the body,” Klitzke said.

“I hope the audience gets lost in the world the dancers so beautifully established through their strong, intimate connection with the text, the movement and each other,” Klitzke said. “I'm not looking for the audience to understand something specific I'm trying to say – I am interested in presenting a world on stage where people appreciate the intense beauty before them and enjoy themselves in unexpected ways.”

Other pieces in the SpringDanceFest program include “Holding On” by Arielle Lemke, “Adieu” by Yingzi Liang, “Listen” by Alexus Purnell, “beauty: /ˈbyo͞odē/ noun 1.  a state of being” by Mac Allen and “The Time is Now” by Shelley Jackson in collaboration with dancers.

SpringDanceFest runs at 7:30 p.m. April 21–22 and 2 p.m. April 23 at the Paul V. Galvin Playhouse. For more information and to buy tickets, visit ASU Events

Sarah A. McCarty

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


Taking the museum out for a walk

Visitors invited to help dismantle ASU's 'Fathomings' exhibit; exhibition one of a handful looking at walking from different angles

April 13, 2017

In 1988, longtime collaborators and partners Marina Abramovic and Ulay began walking toward one another from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China. Ninety days later, the performance artists met in the middle and then went their separate ways, severing their relationship with a series of steps.

Like Abramovic and Ulay, visual artists of all disciplines have been incorporating walking into both performative and non-performative art practices since the 1960s, if not before. Museum of Walking Annex at ASU Art Museum Photo by Lamp Left Media ASU Art Museum visitors explore "Museum of Walking Annex," an exhibition at ASU Art Museum that is part of projectWALK. Photo by Lamp Left Media Download Full Image

“Walking is a defining human activity,” explained ASU Art Museum curator and interim director Heather Sealy Lineberry. “Walking can be practical, moving the body from place to place; ceremonial, such as religious and secular processions; spiritual, a pilgrimage or hike through a wilderness; social, a stroll with a friend in a park; or political, positioning the body in and through a contested zone.”

Museum of Walking

ASU School of Art Professor Angela Ellsworth co-founded the Museum of Walking (MoW) inside her office in ASU’s Tower Center Building in 2014 with fellow artist and ASU School of Art alumnus Steve Yazzie to explore the intersections between walking and art.

Ellsworth has said the initial idea for a museum of walking came from a conversation she had with curator Bruce Ferguson years ago. (Ferguson curated the exhibition "Walking and Thinking and Walking" at the Louisiana Museum in Denmark in 1996.) But both Ellsworth and Yazzie always hoped MoW would have the ability to move from place to place.

“MoW travels light,” said Ellsworth. “MoW is a somewhat itinerant museum. We are not a collecting institution, so we can relocate easily and quickly.”

This semester, MoW did move to a new location — ASU Art Museum Project Space in downtown Phoenix — where Ellsworth’s intermedia class mounted their own version of Ferguson’s 1996 exhibition.

The whole thing seems a bit clandestine, but it’s all part of a bigger initiative spearheaded by MoW and ASU Art Museum this semester called projectWALK, a city-wide series of events, exhibitions and walks that aim to address the larger role of walking within art, literature, culture, history and place.


“Heather Lineberry and I had been wanting to work together, and MoW and the subject of walking created an excellent foundation for our collaboration,” Ellsworth said. “Professor Ron Broglio in the ASU Department of English was also a key collaborator in projectWALK. Ron’s interest in walking and sustainability in addition to the literary history of walking was immensely helpful in our project.”

“The project is also a part of the museum’s Spotlight series, looking at innovative research projects by faculty members across disciplines in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts,” Sealy Lineberry said. “The Museum of Walking and its goals align with our mission to gather artists, students and the public to explore new art forms, often process-based and performative, which deeply connect with human experience and daily life.”

In total, there are currently four exhibitions at ASU Art Museum that fall under the larger projectWALK series, in addition to the Museum of Walking show at ASU Art Museum Project Space.

“Some of the artists in the projectWALK season we have been watching for a long time, like Francis Alÿs, and looking for an opportunity to introduce his work to our students and audiences,” Sealy Lineberry said. “He is one of the best-known artists utilizing walking in his art practice, usually in contested zones and fraught environments, to explore social and political realities. Some of the artists and works in the season are new to us, like Hannah Barco, a young artist from Chicago who creates engaging installations based on ideas and experiences of moving the body through urban space.”

At first glance, “Hannah Barco: Fathomings” looks like a giant kitchen counter installed in the museum gallery. Upon closer inspection, the counter is also a sidewalk.

“The ‘Fathomings’ installation uses formal shifts of scale to re-create in some sense this dynamic between individual and environment that I experience while walking,” Barco said. “The kitchen counter serves as a bit of a substitute for the physical act of walking as an embodied practice, because I believe the kitchen counter is very explicit and familiar in how it choreographs our bodies.

“As a disruption in the space, it perhaps helps us become aware of our bodies in the gallery as we are forced to walk around it and default into postures and gestures that we might usually only do at our kitchen counters at home, but are suddenly drawn out of us in the gallery by this object. I’ve tried to make a work that gets at the core vitalities and tensions of walking (for me), despite being manifested as a static physical installation in an underground gallery.”

‘Voices other than my own’

As part of her piece at the museum, Barco invited community members to be a part of creating the work. She spoke with ASU scholars, who also helped to complete the physical installation; Grady Gammage Jr. helped her tile the counter. But she also hosted a larger chewing-gum party, where ASU students and community members literally placed chewed gum on her “sidewalk.”

“This part of the project came from a very simple impulse to expand the perspective that is being represented within the installation and include voices other than my own in this exploration of the position of the individual in the greater world,” Barco said.

“Museum of Walking Annex,” another exhibition at ASU Art Museum that is part of projectWALK, takes a more historic look at walking, using pieces from the museum’s collection, ranging from an Andy Warhol photograph to a double-sided Reginald Marsh painting. But the idea of ASU community members contributing to the work remains.

Last week, there was a brand-new element introduced into the gallery: “One Small Step” is an electroacoustic piece composed by School of Music student Adele Etheridge Woodson in direct response to the artwork in the exhibition.

“I spent about an hour in the ‘Museum of Walking Annex’ just looking at each piece of art,” Etheridge Woodson said. “I didn't write anything down, I just sat and took it all in. I visited it again a week later, where I wrote down some common themes and ideas that jumped out at me.”

Now, visitors can scan a QR code to get a direct link to this new piece of music while they view the art in the gallery. Etheridge Woodson said she hopes the sound will add another layer of depth to the exhibition.

“The piece was intended to be listened to while in the gallery, so my hope is that the listener will be able to comprehend the themes not only visually but audibly,” Etheridge Woodson said. “It is as if the pieces of art and my music are playing a duet — they complement each other, playing differently, but still coming back to the same themes. And overall, creating a whole piece of work that I hope will inspire the listener, spark their curiosity and leave them thinking about the installation even after they leave the museum.”

‘Out into the world’

For the final act of “Hannah Barco: Fathomings,” the artist is returning to ASU Art Museum to physically dismantle the exhibition, and she’s asking the public to walk with her carrying pieces of the rubble.

“If the ‘Fathomings’ project was in its most basic sense a collection of different perspectives collected as a unified installation of materials, then the next step is to take those perspectives out into the world — and use my walking practice to further test them out,” Barco said.

Viewing artwork about walking is one thing, but Barco’s final performance, “Sounding Line: An Urban Walk,” will give visitors the chance to take part in a form of walking art themselves.

“I do feel connected to an amazing line up of walking artists, from the surrealists to the minimalists, from activists and street performers to the conceptual artists,” Barco said. “I’ve never affiliated myself with a particular brand of walking art, I’m always more interested in how a process that you engage through time, in this case walking, can have bundled into it all of these different histories. And as each step draws the body forward in repetition, there is the opportunity for the meanings to emerge — a stroll becomes a pilgrimage with glints of a parade, a picket line and a second line all embedded possibilities within the act of walking.”


Visit ASU Art Museum’s exhibitions page or events page for more information on projectWALK and its related programming. Hannah Barco’s “Sounding Line: An Urban Walk” will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, April 15. Visitors are invited to meet at the ASU Art Museum to help physically carry pieces of the exhibition out of the gallery and into the world. Participants will depart for the walk at dusk and conclude by sunset.

Communications Program Coordinator, ASU Art Museum


SILC student earns chance to bring love of Russian literature to Russia

April 13, 2017

Lexie Vanderveen, a junior at the School of International Letters and Cultures, will participate in the prestigious Critical Language Scholarship Program for Russian. After a day of orientation in Washington, D.C., Vanderveen will study in Vladimir, Russia, from June 18 to Aug. 19.

“I started taking Russian because my favorite authors are Russian,” Vanderveen said. “I just fell in love with it. ... Dostoyevsky was my first favorite author, and now I’ve started to read more Tolstoy and Chekhov and Pushkin.” Vladimir, Russia Vladimir, Russia. Download Full Image

These authors can be a challenge to read even when translated into English, but Vanderveen felt fulfilled experiencing the texts as they were written. She actually started as a literature major, before switching to Russian and English literature.

She has also studied Latin and Greek, working on translations of the Odyssey and Aeneid.

“You learn more about a language, but you also learn more about the culture, even just idioms and phrases — words that might not have as much importance in the English language,” Vanderveen said.

While studying in Vladimir over eight weeks, Vanderveen will take the equivalent of one academic year of Russian language studies, in addition to living with a host family and going to cultural excursions and lectures. This will be her first time out of the country.

The CLS website boasts Vladimir as “home to culturally important architecture, religious art and historic churches and kremlins. Excursions may include trips to see UNESCO World Heritage sites, museums and monasteries.”

The program also points out the professional benefits of studying Russian, including a “foray into careers as diverse as speech pathology, comparative literature and international trade.”

When Vanderveen came to ASU, she “didn’t know anything about the Russian language, didn’t know anyone else who knew about it.” SILC offered her a strong entry point. She has especially enjoyed the Russian electives, such as Russian media, and challenged herself through Russian for Heritage Speakers as a non-heritage speaker.

“We talked a lot more about the history, the literature, the culture,” Vanderveen said, “the culture of young people as opposed to old, the different emphasis on friendship in Russia, how it differs in America. A lot of comparisons.”

Vanderveen has also participated in a variety of SILC’s cultural events, volunteering at Night of the Open Door to represent the school’s Russian department. She appreciates that within the department, she can always get advice, recommendations and support for her ambitions.

Vanderveen is enrolled in a course through which she translates Chekhov short stories and interns at a literary magazine. This suits her.

“It would be just my dream to be able to have the proficiency to translate Russian poetry and literature into English, and get it published,” Vanderveen said. “I would love to become a translator for Russian literature and share that across different cultures.”

Gabriel Sandler

Dance films to screen during college film festival at Sun Studios of Arizona

April 12, 2017

Eighteen short dance films will be featured at the fourth annual Dance Shorts: College Film Festival this Friday, April 14 at Sun Studios of Arizona.

“The festival provides an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students all over the country to share their short dance films,” said Sharon McCaman, artistic director for the festival and a graduate student in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Katherine Dorn dance MFA in dance student Katherine Dorn’s short film will screen at the Dance Shorts: College Film Festival this Friday, April 14. Photo by Tim Trumble, courtesy of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Download Full Image

McCaman started the festival in 2013 as an undergraduate student in Florida.

“When I came to ASU to work on my master’s degree, I brought the festival with me,” she said. “Screendance work has the potential to be extremely collaborative, especially in an environment like the School of Film, Dance and Theatre.”

The festival spotlights dance films that are between two and six minutes in length. These films can be narrative, experimental or abstract and incorporate any combination of music, lights, costumes and location with dance and today's film technology. 

This year’s festival received 47 submissions from 29 different schools throughout the United States. All of the films were viewed and adjudicated by professionals within the dance and film community, according to McCaman. Films with the highest scores were selected for the festival gala screening. Twelve different schools will be represented at this year’s gala, including ASU.

“All the Things I was Told I Couldn’t Do,” a film created by third-year MFA in dance student Katherine Dorn, will be one of the featured shorts.

“Katie shot and edited her short dance film herself, and it features several ASU dance students,” McCaman said.

This year's festival gala will take place at 7 p.m. April 14 at Sun Studios of Arizona. The gala is free and open to the public. Register for the event online.

Sarah A. McCarty

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


Design industry leader Jason Schupbach to head ASU's Design School

April 12, 2017

Jason Schupbach, one of the founding leaders of the national creative placemaking movement and the person charged with representing all of the design disciplines at the federal level, will join Arizona State University's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts as the new director of the Design School.

Creative placemaking is “a relatively new name for a very long practice of supporting the role of design and the arts in making great communities,” Schupbach said. It's what happens when designers and artists work with community-development groups to make arts and culture a player in community revitalization — making design and the arts as much a part of the conversation as transportation, housing, land use and public-safety strategies. Photo of Jason Schupbach, who will lead ASU Herberger Institute's Design School Jason Schupbach, director of design and creative placemaking programs for the National Endowment for the Arts, will lead the Design School at ASU. Download Full Image

Schupbach, who will start at ASU on July 3, currently serves as the director of design and creative placemaking programs for the National Endowment for the Arts, where he oversees grantmaking and partnerships, including Our Town and Art Works grants, the Mayor’s Institute on City Design, the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design and the NEA’s federal agency collaborations related to community development.

“We’re eager to have a leader like Jason, who can really drive design and design thinking across the university and in our communities and cities,” said Mark Searle, executive vice president and university provost at ASU.

“His creative insights, combined with his commitment to collaboration with tech and creative businesses, government and education, will advance the university’s connections with national and international partners in interdisciplinary research, community development and new models for teaching.”

Schupbach said he’s looking forward to getting to know the community, culture and environment of Arizona.

“I am enormously honored to be joining the Design School at the Herberger Institute,” Schupbach said. “ASU's reputation as a place that is on the cutting edge of experimentation with higher education makes it an amazing platform for growing the next generation of designers. I'm very excited to work with the students, faculty and the local design community to grow design's innovative ability to address issues pertinent to ASU, Arizona and the world. Together, we will build the next great American design school at the 'New American University,' a school that at its core is equitable, relevant and collaborative." 

Schupbach has spent much of his life working to improve the infrastructure and support that creative people need in order to help them succeed. Of his position at the NEA, he said that “every day I got to ask myself: How I can make life better for designers, and how can I make American design better?”

Before taking the position at the NEA, Schupbach was the creative economy director under the governor of Massachusetts, tasked with growing creative and tech businesses in the state and coordinating efforts that leverage the power of design for the good of economic development. He also served as the director of ArtistLink, a Ford Foundation-funded initiative to stabilize and revitalize communities through the creation of affordable space and innovative environments for creatives. In addition, he has worked for the mayor of Chicago and New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs.

Schupbach holds a BS in public health from the University of North Carolina and a master's degree in city planning with an urban design certificate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he has written extensively on the role of design and the arts in making better communities.

“Jason has a broad interdisciplinary approach to design, as well as a long history of thinking about design and cities,” said Herberger Institute Dean Steven J. Tepper. “Last May, President Crow tasked me with recruiting a big-time design leader, someone who could take our talented faculty and students to new heights of impact and visibility. Jason is that person, and we are thrilled that he will bring his talents and connections to ASU. Moreover, as we build our national work in creative placemaking across the university, Jason’s experience as one of the founding leaders of the movement will solidify ASU’s growing reputation in design and arts-led community development.” 

Deborah Sussman Susser

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


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ASU poet and lecturer advises: Every person with autism is different.
April 11, 2017

About 1 in 68 children have autism and face difficulties that range from socialization and communication problems to restricted and repetitive behavior. At ASU, efforts to better understand and help those who live with the disorder include President's Professor James Adams’ autism research program, the Teachers College’s Curriculum and Instruction: Autism Spectrum Disorders degree and a recently formed student group, Autistics on Campus.

Still, it causes endless uncertainty — which ASU English lecturer Rosemarie DombrowskiDombrowski was recently named the City of Phoenix’s first poet laureate. understands as well as anyone. A poet, Dombrowski has chronicled ambiguity, shared joy and vented frustration as the mother of a nonverbal autistic son in the collection “The Book of Emergencies.”

In recognition of Autism Awareness Month, ASU Now sat down with Dombrowski to talk about her experience and gain insight into the sometimes-misunderstood disorder.

Question: What’s the meaning behind the name of your collection of poems?

Answer: When I began to parent — not just a child, but a child with autism, and in what I would consider to be the dark ages of autism awareness, because my son is 17 now — I felt like I needed a certain kind of handbook to handle the emergencies that came up on a daily, if not hourly, basis.

And no matter how many memoirs I read that were authored by mothers who had children with autism about the same age as my son, I never seemed to find the scenarios that I was looking for, or the ones that had applicable anecdotes.

So I think that’s sort of what the poems became for me — they became like a handbook for the uncertainty. And there certainly aren’t any answers there; it’s just a kind of an ethnographic handbook that allows a glimpse into the kinds of emergencies that arise as part of daily life.

Q: How did the collection come into being?

A: I had just started a reading series, and I had done a few feature readings around downtown 10-plus years ago. They were just the poems I had because that was the fodder that I had.

And then a couple years into that kind of rebuilding of the downtown poetry community process, I had a lot more of those poems … and people started asking me about them and started referring to them as a collection. And they weren’t really; in my mind, they were just the poems that I was writing.

But probably around that time, I started taking them and putting them together in a larger file that was entitled “The Book of Emergencies.” And at that point, it just kind of became my go-to space for processing and expression and some modicum of relief and healing.

Q: What was it like to become known for your poetry about autism?

A: Probably around 2011 or 2012 I just decided that I didn’t want those poems to define me anymore, that I had read them too much in the community, and I’d written too many of them.

I felt like I needed to be my own poet for a while, and not be “the autism poet.” It’s really easy to become the poet representing otherness or marginality, whatever that otherness or marginality is, and I think sometimes you just want to be a human being, and you just want to be your unique self with your unique perspective on the world in your poems. You want to talk about other things that are important to you.

And then when the opportunity for the book came up [in 2014], that was kind of when I started revisiting the pieces and thinking about how I might write a couple more from my 2014 perspective, which was really interesting. And now I’m working on an appendix to the book for a second edition, which I’m really excited about; I’m writing a section of poems that’s going to be called “Seventeen Letters, an Appendix to Emergencies.” I’m writing them all from my present-day perspective, and it’s literally seventeen epistolary poems to my son.

I still am working on other poems and other things but I think I’ve taken enough of a hiatus, and now I want to be back in the world of autism. I’ve spent a lot of time lately presenting about the medicalization of poetry, and I’ve been looking at it from a more academic perspective and seeing how important the autism poetry is to that conversation. I think I’ve become more of an advocate for medical poetry and disability poetry, or disability poetics, if you will, and the poetics of illness. … I’ve just realized the centrality of that to who I am as a poet and who I am as a scholar, and it’s OK to be the autism poet. So I definitely have embraced it more, and I’m excited to get back to it.

Q: Your son is nonverbal. Is that frustrating for you as someone who deals daily in language?

A: It certainly was in the early years. I really felt like we were the most mismatched mother-child pair that could have ever existed. Now I feel like we’re perfectly suited for one another. We go to concerts, we go to music festivals, we go to the beach, we go hiking together, we go for bike rides. He likes to do everything I like to do. Oh, and he loves antiquing. We get so much joy from the things that we do together.

He’s very exploratory, he likes looking at interesting things, he likes looking at interesting people. And then there are times when he just wants to sort of revel in a thing or a sound, and he can kind of shut the people out around him. Which is also how I am, as a poet. I’m good at, and I need to, in fact, shut out a lot of the people noise in order to get at the heart of the thing that I’m seeing, or the event, or the action. And he’s really, really good at that, and I love that about him.

Also he really responds to the language of music. He really responds to the language of movement, he responds to the language of sound, like the sound of objects. He flicks things and he taps things to hear their resonance and has different responses to them based on their pitch and their resonance and their register. That’s why he likes antiquing, because there’s so much interesting stuff and materials.

So I think, ultimately, the language thing, for me, doesn’t really feel like a barrier anymore. It’s taken me 15 or 16 years to get to this point, but I really love the way that he communicates. And I really value it. … I feel like our connection is deeper because we don’t have to use language to understand what we’re feeling about each other or a situation. For me, it’s just more special because it’s a kind of communication that I don’t have with anyone else.

Q: Do you have any advice for interacting with someone with autism?

A: Every person with autism is different. There’s a famous quote, “If you’ve met one person with autism, then you’ve met one person with autism.” There’s certainly not one way to interact with all of them. You really need to let the person with autism dictate how the interaction is going to go. … I think the most important thing is give them their space and let them dictate what they want from you and what they’re comfortable with. And then, if you’re comfortable, just follow suit.

Q: What’s one thing about autism you think everybody should know?

A: Brendan was at a gallery with me on Sunday and there was a little girl there and she wanted to hang out with Brendan, and they sat on these patio chairs across from each other and she just asked him questions for, I don’t know, 30 minutes. And he didn’t say anything, but he sat there across from her. And she was just relentless in her questioning, which was adorable.

The one thing that I would want people to know, because this is what I tell kids, is to not take it personally. … It’s not that he doesn’t want to be their friend, he just doesn’t go about it the same way that you do. And I think that advice is good for adults, too, when you’re interacting with anyone with autism, whether it’s a small child whose love you’re trying to engender, or affection you’re trying to engender, or it’s an adult with autism who you’re trying to forge a connection with. You just can’t take it personally because they just don’t operate on the same emotional register as we do. And they don’t operate on the same sort of social protocol register as we do. And that’s really, really important.


Top photo: ASU English lecturer Rosemarie Dombrowski at a December ceremony in which she was named the city of Phoenix's first poet laureate. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now