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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


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Sweeping entrepreneurial programs at ASU nurture student entrepreneurs.
ASU provides everything from advice and workspace to thousands in investments.
November 28, 2016

Classes, mentorship, cash prizes help launch range of ventures; programs make university ideal spot for turning ideas to businesses

One company makes nanoparticle coatings and another creates theater for young children. Other ventures include a nonprofit that cleans water for poor villages, a gig economy of English-language speakers and an app that makes charitable donations easier.

These wide-ranging projects were all launched by Arizona State University students and nurtured by the university’s sweeping entrepreneurial programs, which provide everything from expert advice and workspace to thousands of dollars in investments. And every year, more high-level competitions pump more money into student-driven ventures.

The programs make ASU a magnet for innovators at every stage of entrepreneurship, from freshmen with a wild idea to community business owners who want to expand, crossing disciplines and putting students together with people who have succeeded — and failed — at creating new businesses.

This sprawling model allows ASU to reach more potential innovators, said Christie Kerner, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship in the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU.

“We have a highly distributed model for entrepreneurship at ASU, and it’s quite powerful,” Kerner said.

“By having several pockets of entrepreneurship, we keep the concept of innovation and the entrepreneurial mindset much closer to the technical thinker. If it lived solely in the business school, we would have a lot of business people talking about how they would change the world. But we wouldn’t have the nursing student or the journalism student.”

Like a sport

Brent Sebold compares entrepreneurship to a sport.

“We’re all fans of building something that will change peoples’ lives for the better, but there’s only a small percent who are actually willing to engage in the hard work of building a product or service that will deliver that impact,” said Sebold, director of the Startup CenterBoth Kerner and Sebold are also on the executive team at ASU Entrepreneurship and Innovation within the Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development. in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU. He and Kerner are cross-appointed to the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Sebold as executive director of venture development and Kerner as executive director of ASU student entrepreneurship.

There are currently about 200 student ventures at ASU, Sebold said.

“We have 600 student-athletes at the university, and I feel we should have at least 600 student entrepreneurs.”

One of the first places that students encounter the entrepreneurial mindset is in the classroom. ASU offers more than 90 academic courses in entrepreneurship, ranging from a one-credit online course called “Start-Up School” to a class on “the enterprising musician.” There are four undergraduate degrees, eight master’s programs and four certificates that have an emphasis in entrepreneurship.

New this year is the three-semester master of arts program in creative enterprise and cultural leadership, according to Linda Essig, director of enterprise and entrepreneurship programs in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. The degree is designed for people who want to create successful enterprises in the art and design world.

Essig said the Herberger faculty has driven the outlook that art can be aligned with making a living.

“Unlike many arts schools across the country, many of our faculty are really invested in the idea that artists and designers can and should make their way in the world through entrepreneurship, and we value the ability of our students to innovate and to be the designers of their own future,” she said.

In the Cronkite New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab, journalism students work with engineering, design and business students on projects including websites or mobile apps. Last year, a New Media Innovation Lab team developed On Time PHX, a free mobile app that gives real-time information for light rail commuters.

Outside the classroom, young entrepreneurs are nurtured through student groups, idea showcases and maker spaces to try things out. Every Thursday night, the Generator Lab hosts a speaker, team-building mixer or other event to inspire future innovators.

Yasmin Ahmed of the Somali United Council of Arizona shows off her designs during the Social Entrepreneurship Expo last year, in which students in ASU's School of Social Work trained refugees in entrepreneurship. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now


ASU involves the off-campus community as well:

• The annual Hacks for Humanities is a 36-hour competition sponsored by Project Humanities in which students, faculty and community members create technical solutions to address social issues.

• The Healthcare Entrepreneurship Clinic partners students in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law with early-stage health-care and technology start-ups.

• Last year, the Office of Global Social Work led a team of undergraduate and graduate students gave technical assistance to the several Phoenix refugee groups as they created their entrepreneurial pitches for investors.

$700,000 in cash prizes

Like the free-market economy that’s based on competition, one of the most important parts of ASU’s entrepreneurial offerings are the contests. They range from just-for-fun events to contests in which winners take home a few hundred bucks to big-time competitions that offer tens of thousands of dollars from investors.

The Herberger Institute’s Pave Program in Arts Entrepreneurship runs the Arts Venture Incubator, which has launched several dozen student-led enterprises in Arizona, including Kerfuffle, which creates theater for young children in Mesa. More than 20 teams applied for the incubator this year, Essig said.

Some competitions have two rounds, offering money to the semi-finalists so they can prepare their final pitches. Some are invitation-only, based on how well the teams perform in an entrepreneurial class.

The Sun Devil Igniter Challenge awards a $50,000 investment to the team that creates an idea that has the potential to disrupt an industry. The winner this year, chosen earlier this month, is Koine, a platform that makes it easier for people to donate to charity through social media.

The New Venture Challenge awards more than $110,000 in cash and services. Last spring, four teams divided the prize money, with LN Technologies the winner and Chang’s Chat coming in second. That competition is part of a graduate-level course run by entrepreneur Scott Wald, a software entrepreneur who earned a master’s of business administration degree from ASU.

New last year was the Pakis Social Challenge, which awarded $20,000 to a team that creates a solution to a social problem. Last year’s winner was the All Walks Project, a nonprofit organization created by ASU students that helps victims of sex trafficking.

Many of the winning ideas are technologies — apps and platforms — or nonprofit service models. But new this year is the Glowing Minds Consumer Product Challenge, which will award $35,000 to a team that creates an innovative product. The competition is funded by David Watson, who created the Philosophy beauty brand.

“He came to us and said, 'I want to see more people focus on innovation in the consumer product category,'” Kerner said.

The prize pot is growing, Kerner said.

“With everything just this year, we’re over $700,000 in cash and over $800,000 in services,” she said.

Learning to pivot

Chang Liu, left, and Megan Kirk pitched their business, then called Let's Chat, at the New Venture Challenge in May. With $145,000 in cash investment and services, the team changed the name to Chang's Chat. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now.


Part of the entrepreneurial mindset is the ability to be nimble. Two of the most successful ASU start-ups learned how crucial that skill is.

Chang’s Chat is a platform invented by three ASU students, Megan Kirk and Elizabeth Oviedo, who graduated with master’s of business degrees last spring, and Chang Liu, a marketing student in the W. P. Carey School of Business. Liu came up with the idea when she arrived at ASU and realized that despite years of learning English in China, she couldn’t communicate. She found that conversation with a native speaker is the best way to learn a new language.

Chang’s Chat lets native speakers in the United States earn money by holding conversations with English-language learners in China through a smartphone app.

Like many of the most successful ventures, Chang’s Chat was in multiple competitions, winning some but not all. In total, the business has reaped more than $145,000 in cash and services. The team won time spent with a branding expert and an intellectual-property lawyer, who persuaded them to change the name from Let’s Chat to Chang’s Chat.

Another big winner, LN Technologies, had to pivot as well.

“What we thought the business would be is completely different from where we are now,” said Peter Firth, a doctoral student who launched the company with Zachary Holman, an assistant professor in the School of Electrical, Computing and Energy Engineering at ASU. They developed a delivery system for nanoparticle coatings, similar to an aerosol spray nozzle.

“We thought we would sell equipment and that was our business,” Firth said.

But after working with Wald, the team changed course and is licensing its technology — “something we never would have thought of on our own and much more viable than what we thought of.”

While the investments in some of the ASU competitions seem huge, it takes a lot of money to start a business. Right before winning the $45,000 New Venture Challenge in May, Firth and Holman found out that they won a $2.2 million grant from the Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the U.S. Department of Energy.

“One of our systems costs us $200,000,” he said. “But you can’t spend the federal grant on marketing or plane tickets, so that $45,000 has been really useful.”

LN Technologies is currently doing feasibility studies with several companies and Firth is hoping their technology will be integrated within a year.

Besides winning the competition investment, the business also got help from ASU’s tech transfer office.

“They really do have one of the best programs in the country, and you can tell they really want you to succeed and they’ll do anything to help you do it.”


Top photo: Drew Tsao (left) and Marcus Jones pitch their charity fund-raising venture, called Koine, at the Igniter Challenge competition earlier this month. Sean Kimball is the other member of the Koine team, which won the event and a $50,000 investment. Photo by Nicholas White/W. P. Carey School of Business

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


Lights, camera, action! ASU film program moves into state-of-the-art studios

November 17, 2016

Twenty ASU film majors attended the first official film degree course a decade ago in a small teaching studio.

Clinical assistant professor Janaki Cedanna has been there since the beginning and runs the production end of the film program from that same teaching studio, a 1,504 square-foot black box space located in the ASU Performing and Media Arts Building. He’s looking forward to moving on to bigger and better studios with a three and half year lease at Sun Studios of Arizona. Sun Studios sound stage with green screen One of the sound stages at Sun Studios of Arizona features a green screen. (Photo courtesy of Sun Studios of Arizona). Download Full Image

“We’re totally excited about this new space,” Professor Cedanna says. “We’re excited that the Herberger Institute (for Design and the Arts) and the ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre, and specifically the film area, now have facilities to expand the education we give our students.”

Sun Studios on West 14th Street, less than two miles from the Tempe Main campus, boasts two sound stages, one 2,500-square-foot stage and another 2,200-square-foot sound stage with a two-wall infinity cyclorama and green screen; a sound-proof audio recording suite; a large selection of props, gear and professional-grade production and recording equipment; and a 150-seat theatre with professional digital projection and surround sound.

“It’s an amazing thing for us because it broadens everything that we do,” Cedanna says. “It takes us to the next level.”

Beginning next semester, students will have the opportunity to work in studios and with professional equipment similar to what you would find in Los Angeles, and the film program will be able to expand what it offers. For instance, Cedanna, who teaches the editing and post-production classes to film majors, says he’s always wanted to do more with sound, and now he has the proper facilities and equipment for that.

“Having the opportunity to work with such a vast amount of industry standard equipment, and to be able to get the necessary hands-on experience within the field, is nothing less than vital to set up students to enter the Industry once they leave ASU,” says junior film student Macy Kimpland. “I truly believe this will change the film program at ASU, by taking an already great program run by great professors and mentors, and propelling them all forward by giving them the tools that can make them succeed.”

In addition to classes, film students will also have access to the space and equipment for their own projects completed as part of their education.

"Sun Studios is such a weight off of all our shoulders,” says junior film student Taylor Blackmore. “The pressure of finding, reserving and paying for materials and equipment for our projects has been lifted. Now we can worry about what we're making, not how we're going to make it."

Cedanna says while Sun Studios is impressive and a benefit, the film program has always been successful and will continue to be.

“We have a ton of students who are doing amazing work in Los Angeles, New York and throughout the United States, and who learned in this space,” he says of the original studio space in the APMA building.

Since that original class of 20 film students, the film program has grown a lot, which is one reason faculty are excited to teach in the new space. For the last two years it has seen its largest incoming freshman classes, both around 140 students. Now, more than 450 students are studying film at ASU, and it’s one of the most popular programs in the Herberger Institute. Cedanna says this is a testament to the film education the students receive at ASU, and Sun Studios simply enhances the program. 

“It’s not necessarily the space or even the tools that we pride ourselves on — it’s the education,” he says. “This is just added value to that education.” 

Sarah A. McCarty

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


ASU choreographers to showcase work in Emerging Artists dance series

November 16, 2016

Cooking. Car maintenance. Dance techniques. There’s a video tutorial on YouTube for almost anything, giving us one more reason to depend on the internet. And for third-year MFA in Dance student Katherine Dorn, this easily accessible knowledge exacerbated potential feelings of “imposter syndrome” as a graduate student and is the crux of her solo piece “You Are Here,” one of two performances featured in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre’s MainStage production Emerging Artists this weekend.

“Imposter syndrome is when you feel like none of your accomplishments are actually from your own talent — everyone else actually earned the right to be here whereas I’m just pretending,” she said. “The fact that there’s so many ‘how-to’ videos on the Internet and on YouTube [means that] we have this place where we can reference and say to ourselves we don’t actually know how to do anything, we just have the internet all the time.” Katherine Dorn dance MFA in Dance student Katherine Dorn will showcase her piece “You Are Here” in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre’s MainStage production Emerging Artists. Photo by Tim Trumble Download Full Image

Dorn, who has been dancing since she was 3 years old, calls her piece a choreographic memoir exploring anxiety in the YouTube generation.

She says dancing is her life, but in grad school she decided to also pursue her talent for writing, merging the two fields. In her time at ASU she has presented pieces that deal with the physical movement of words and writing as well as dancing to recorded stories. For Emerging Artists, her multidisciplinary postmodern dance production incorporates these ideas with the tools authors use when writing memoirs.

“I took some creative writing courses, worked with some specifically memoir writers and actually used their tools and their teaching methods as part of my choreographic process,” Dorn said.

She hopes when audiences see her choreographic memoir on stage, they see the potential power that dance has to ease any anxiety from living digital lives. 

“What I hope to communicate is the power of dance to basically help ground you in reality, especially when more than half of your life is online and intangible,” she said. “Dance can save you from that — make you feel more real when you don’t.”

Yingzi Liang also hopes people experience the power of dance with her piece, “INK.”


Liang, another MFA in Dance student who is featured in the Emerging Artists show, says her work is more abstract, and she often uses metaphors “to create a bridge of communication between cultural differences” she experiences as an international student from China.

Her piece started as an exploration into why she loves black-and-white photography.

“At the beginning I was kind of overwhelmed because there is a lot of theory about how whiteness means goodness and blackness means badness,” she said. “Then I realized what I believe is that people are born as a blank paper.”

Liang says this could be a black sheet of paper with white writing or a white sheet of paper with black writing. The color of the paper and the color of the writing don't matter. What matters is the writing itself, the details we add to the paper as we grow.

“I made my decision to explore my personal perspective about growth, like how my family raised me and how I went to school and all of the training that shaped my movement, and then how I created this piece,” Liang said. 

Using a cast of six dancers plus herself, Liang’s piece looks at that growing process as drawing on that blank paper.

“If I imagine the whole space in the studio as a blank paper, I’m the person, or the environment, or the context, that’s pulling the ink onto the blank paper,” she said.  

To do this, she focuses a lot on the production of the show, including costumes, the set, lighting design and multimedia aspects. The piece also includes video installations in the lobby.

Liang said because her work is abstract, people might have to guess what she’s doing, but that’s not the point.

“If you could just enjoy the piece, that would be great,” she said. “I respect all different understandings.”

What she does hope people get out of the show is that dance is a powerful art form that is more than movement. 

“I always want more audiences to realize dance is not just movement,” she said. “I’m presenting a whole creative process.”

How to watch 

When: Emerging Artists will be held at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 18 and 19 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 20.

Where: Dance Laboratory in the Nelson Fine Arts Center, Room 122, on the Tempe campus.

Admission: $16 for general admission; $12 for ASU faculty, staff and alumni; $12 for seniors; $8 for students. Purchase tickets online or call the Herberger Institute Box Office at 480-965-6447.

Sarah A. McCarty

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


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Series of horror-comedy performances runs smoothly for director Ricky Araiza.
November 8, 2016

ASU grad student's production wraps seven-show run that featured six sellouts

Editor’s note: This is the final installment of a semester-long series following the production of “Feathers and Teeth” from casting call to curtain call.


The cast of “Feathers and Teeth” has taken a final bow.

The horror-comedy just ended its string of seven performances — including six sellouts — over a two-week stretch at Tempe’s Nelson Fine Arts Center. 

While the actors soaked in the applause, director Ricky Araiza sat in a booth, looking down at the stage, joylessly. Most directors would be ready to celebrate. Not Araiza.

“When a play is over, I’m already in the process of self-reflection and reviewing all of my mistakes,” Araiza said. “Not second-guessing myself, but thinking what I could have done differently to make it better.”

The play was the equivalent of a master's thesis for Araiza, a third-year master of fine arts student in Arizona State University’s School of Film, Dance and Theatre. 

Araiza had about eight weeks to prep the new horror-comedy, which was written in 2013 by Charise Castro Smith and described by a Chicago Reader critic as “an oddball mashup of Hamlet and Gremlins.”

ASU Now followed the production from first audition in late August to last weekend’s final curtain call, documenting the successes, failures, tense moments and close calls. It revealed everything involved in pulling together a show.

“Feathers and Teeth” debuted on Oct. 28 and ended its run on Nov. 6. It was a big hit with audiences, who enjoyed the quirky, offbeat presentation set in a Rust Belt factory town in 1978.

The 90-minute shows ran smoothly, for the most part. The lighting and sound were in sync, the sets matched perfectly with the era, and the kitschy 1970s-style wardrobe produced as many laughs as the actors.

But Araiza’s perfectionist tendencies started to get the better of him by the end of the first week. He got so worked up at the end of the second show — over a couple of glitches but mostly perceived mistakes — that he thought it was best to not attend the Oct. 30 show.

“I made a conscious decision to let everyone run the show for a day because had I stayed, I would have nitpicked everyone to death,” Araiza said.

Lance Gharavi, assistant director of theater and chair of the master of arts in theater program, thought Araiza did just fine. A director himself, Gharavi could relate to Araiza’s emotional roller-coaster ride.

“It’s funny, it’s painful and it’s familiar,” Gharavi said. “This happens to a lot of young directors who are learning their craft. When you’re a director, you see the minutia that audiences miss, and that’s just normal. You just have to pick your battles and walk away.”

Stage manager Ben Vining said there weren’t many battles to pick and that opening weekend went well.

“Really well. Better than expected, actually,” said Vining, who was Araiza’s right-hand man throughout the process. “A prop might not have been where we wanted it or an actor might not have reacted exactly the way we wanted, but there were no major mistakes.”

Evan Carson, a 22-year-old theater senior who plays Arthur, the father in the play, said that from an actor’s point of view he couldn’t have asked for a better director.

“This is a very precise show with the sound, props, lighting and special effects, and the finished product is something we’re all very proud of,” Carson said. “If Ricky was nervous, it certainly didn’t show. Everything was always on point.”

Araiza said he’ll remain busy until his May 2017 graduation. In January, he’ll head to Minneapolis for a month-long internship with the Mixed Blood Theatre, known for its inclusive theater pieces. When he gets back, his theater company, Teatro Bravo, will co-produce an ASU MainStage comedy drama titled “Haboob.”

“The future is uncertain after graduation,” Araiza said. “My plan is to continue to create theater.”

That will make him happy. Happily miserable.


Read more

Part 1: Anything goes at 'Feathers and Teeth' casting call.

Part 2: Building chemistry among a new cast.

Part 3: Crew members sink ‘Teeth’ into new Herberger production.

Part 4: 'Feathers and Teeth' dressed for success. 


Top photo: After the final performance of Charise Castro Smith's "Feathers and Teeth," (from left) Evan Carson (Arthur), Tess Galbiati (Carol), Maria Harris (Chris) and Fargo Tbakhi (Hugo) take their bows as the audience applauds Sunday. Director Ricky Araiza put on seven shows of the horror/comedy show in the Nelson Fine Arts Center before around 400 people. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now


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Designing democracy: How the arts and design can help us talk politics

Painting a brighter tomorrow: 3 arts events helping public talk about election.
Watch 'The Race' performance, live election results today at Galvin Playhouse.
November 7, 2016

3 events show how creative approaches help us discuss potentially contentious politics and this election in particular

Politics can be contentious under the best of circumstances. That’s why the rules of polite conversation recommend avoiding the subject.

But discussing politics is a critical component of our democracy, especially in an election year. So how do we do that without descending into acrimony?

According to Steven J. Tepper, dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University, designers and artists can help us gain perspective and maintain civil dialogue, even when we disagree with one another.

“We need the arts to help us understand this political season,” Tepper said.

“Design and art open up the possibility for story, empathy and imagination in our politics, allowing us to bypass partisanship and get beyond polls and personalities to focus on the issues that we all face during the election and beyond.”

‘What happens next?’

A case in point is “The Race,” an Election Day event that involves students, faculty, staff and community in an ongoing conversation that is part rehearsed performance, part impromptu action, part social gathering (pictured above).

By combining short skits, songs and performances with a more formal presentation in the evening — along with live election results — Michael RohdRohd is an Institute Professor in the Herberger Institute, co-founder of the Ensemble Lab at ASU and co-founder of Sojourn Theatre. is producing what he describes as “a community event with performance at the center of it.”

“My own work is about how art and theater helps make a uniquely dynamic space for civic encounter and civic thought,” Rohd said. “I feel like one of the reasons I was invited to join this community at this particular exciting time is my interest in the intersection of theater and community and civic life and an examination of how artists in a variety of ways impact public discourse.

“This project is one of my experiments over the last decade to make a space amidst the heat of political zeitgeist that allows us to be with strangers and work to consider, and even make sense of, our values and priorities.”

“This is not a show about the candidates or the election,” he clarified. “None of the performances are allowed to advocate Trump or Clinton. The show is about what America wants in a leader.”

Kyra Jackson, an MFA in performance student in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre and one of 24 graduate Herberger Institute students working with Rohd to make “The Race” happen, says that in a political season “like no other before it,” one of the group’s goals as a class is “to tackle the underlying questions of our discussions: What happens next? When whatever outcome is finally (decided), how will our nation move forward?”

Ultimately, Rohd aims to provide what he calls “a civic theater event, so people have a space on Election Day to come in and have a conversation instead of watching alone. We hope for an interesting and diverse crowd. We’re just trying to make sure the event is varied and playful, a place to spend what could be a very intense day.”

“The Race” begins at 3 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 8, at Galvin Playhouse, on ASU’s Tempe campus, and runs till 10 p.m. In addition to the performances, Rohd said, Galvin will be “a public civic space to watch the results come in on CNN.”

What democracy is about

Starting in 1984, artists Antoni Muntadas and Marshall Reese began compiling a history of presidential campaign spots, following the evolution of political advertising from its beginnings in 1952 up to the present.

Every four years, the artists re-edit the entire project, titled “Political Advertisement,” and add examples of current ads. The video is arranged chronologically and provides a timeline of key ads over the decades.

Political Advertisement

A collection of campaign ads in "Political Advertisement."

Muntadas sees “Political Advertisement” as part of an artistic tradition that dates back to the photo montages of the 1930s. Like earlier artists who worked with photography and video, Muntadas said, “We have access, we recycle, we reappropriate” the material.

 For the past nine general elections, the artists have premiered the latest version of “Political Advertisement” in a public presentation. This year, the premiere took place Nov. 1 at the ASU Art Museum. In addition to famous ads such as the anti-Goldwater “daisy” spot of the 1960s and an ad featuring Jackie Kennedy addressing viewers in Spanish, the audience watched more recent examples of political advertising from President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

“What I find interesting in this piece, this film, is the fact that people are able to see a clear line, chronological timeline, of these expressions but without a voice-over explaining or contextualizing,” said Reese. “We’re really letting the viewer look at them and judge for themselves. It allows people to look at our history in a different way.”

Reese said he was optimistic about the enterprise when he and Muntadas started it in 1984, but his view has changed somewhat: “The marketplace doesn’t necessarily offer the best place to present political ideas. That’s what democracy is about. It’s not a supermarket.”

‘Speaking out is essential’

On view at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art during the election and beyond, the exhibit “Push Comes to Shove: Women and Power” aims to use art as a critical catalyst in rethinking and transforming the advancement of women.

This cross-disciplinary collaboration between Muriel Magenta, professor of intermedia in the ASU School of Art, and Sara Cochran, director and chief curator of SMoCA, features 19 women, primarily ASU faculty and alumni, in a wide-ranging show that addresses the role of women in society and politics through sculpture, photography, video, sound and installation.

Walking on Glass

"Walking on Glass," 2016, by Brooke Grucella. Acrylic latex house and spray paint on MDF, 8 by 20 feet, on view at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Grucella is an MFA graduate from ASU's School of Art who currently teaching and is a curator at the University of Arizona. It's part of the exhibit “Push Comes to Shove: Women and Power” at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art examining the role of women in society and politics. 


Magenta says the purpose of the exhibit is “to bring public consciousness, in an artistic format, to the underrepresentation of women decision makers at the table in all fields.” She also points out that the show is exploring the subject of women and power at a critical historical juncture.

“The current climate is uniquely polarized from political, economic and cultural aspects,” Magenta said. “Views about women prevail in all of these categories. This is true both nationally and internationally.

“Speaking out is essential in many different formats, including art. Today it is critical that we as artists take a position on behalf of women.”

“A woman running for president during the ‘Push Comes to Shove: Women and Power’ exhibition offers an exciting dynamic,” she added.

“Just think of it: The show opened Oct. 1 in anticipation of the election, and closes after the results of the election. Viewers will be affected differently by the installation before and after the election.”

Top photo: "The Race," by Liam Kaas-Lentz/Sojourn Theatre

Deborah Sussman Susser

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