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Community inspires student growth, success at ASU Herberger Institute

Herberger Institute season provides opportunities for ASU students.
August 16, 2017

2017–18 season of events gives students opportunity to become better designers and artists

Her sophomore year, Anissa Griego served as the assistant director and choreographer for the Lyric Opera Theatre student production of “Grease.” It was one of the greatest challenges of her life, onstage or off.

“I personally struggled through the process and battled with disappointment in myself,” said Greigo, a senior musical theater student in Arizona State University's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

But then she ran into someone who had seen the show. 

“She told me she never particularly liked ‘Grease’ as a show, but she had so much fun with our specific production, the actors and everything, that she really enjoyed it,” Griego said. “That meant so much to me. The real heart of our show was the blood, sweat and tears our crew put in, the patience and talent of our actors, and just simply, the love for what we do. It was reassuring to know that an audience member could leave with that, and they had so much fun nothing else mattered.”

Not only did Griego  play a part in providing a unique cultural experience for this audience member, but she also learned a lot from that production — something she wouldn’t have been able to do without an audience.

Attending a performance or an exhibition at the Herberger Institute is more than just seeing a show — it's helping students become better designers and artists, and preparing them to be the changemakers and cultural catalyst of tomorrow. For Herberger Institute students, practicing their craft in a laboratory environment and performing and sharing their work with an audience in the world-class venues at ASU is part of their educational experience, and the audience members are participating in that education every time they attend a show or visit an exhibition.

This fall the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts launches another season and, with it, the chance for the surrounding community to play a critical role in the lives of young designers and artists. 

Lily Montgomery says that as an art student at ASU, the opportunity to exhibit work in ASU art galleries gives her an advantage.

“I know plenty of well-known art schools where graduating MFA students don't get a solo show because they don't have the space,” Montgomery said. “It's an incredible advantage. As a post-MFA student, applying for any high-profile residency or research opportunity requires you to have an impressive CV of both solo and group shows. It puts ASU students ahead of the game if they use the opportunities wisely.”

Montgomery also finds the School of Art exhibitions valuable to her education because they provide her the chance to flex her curatorial skills.

“Curating is a skill that, like any profession, you have to learn,” she said. Montgomery has curated two shows in ASU galleries, including “Good Wonder,” which is part of the Herberger Institute’s 2017–18 season of events and opens later this month in Gallery 100.

“This showcasing and sharing is central to our pedagogical philosophy,” said Kimberlee Swisher, a lecturer in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering.

Swisher says when digital culture students present their projects at the end of each semester during the Digital Cultural Showcase, feedback from the community of people who could be using that work in the future is critical. And that’s not the only benefit students get from sharing their work.

“There is another more hidden benefit, too,” she said. “When students know they are going to share their work, they are compelled during the creation process to think about their work from multiple perspectives other than their own. This means that their perspective is shifted during the development process towards thinking about how they will present and describe their work to the audience at the showcase.”

For students involved with performing arts events, including musicians, actors, dancers and those working behind the scenes, the Herberger Institute’s concerts, theater productions and dance showcases allow them to hone their skills.

“It's a way of having a fresh perspective, and almost like a chance to test out and put forward everything that has been polished in classes with professors,” Griego said. “Getting to have an audience not only puts my education and studies to the test, but clarifies that this is what I want and am meant to be doing.”

Visit for a full listing of season events, and create your own season from the hundreds of events on offer. Patrons who buy tickets to three or more performing arts events before Sept. 15 save 25 percent on the total price.


Top photo: “Distance // Cloudlight” is a piece created by School of Art graduate student Lily Montgomery. Montgomery has curated an art show for the Herberger Institute’s 2017–18 season of events. (Courtesy photo)

Sarah A. McCarty

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


ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre announces 2017-2018 season

August 7, 2017

The ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre’s upcoming season offers something for everyone, from dance concerts and film screenings to cutting-edge theatre and collaborative productions between different art forms. 

A highlight of this year’s season is “Six Stories Tall” — a joint theater and dance production. ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre 2017-18 Season Download Full Image

“One of the goals of this collaboration is to explore interdisciplinary forms that move beyond traditional approaches to art making,” said Mary Fitzgerald, assistant director of dance in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre.

“Six Stories Tall” is a vibrant collection of hip-hop fairy tales that celebrates urban culture through dance, music and storytelling.

“The innovative practices that have emerged from urban dance (movement and spoken word) can take the production in entirely new directions, perhaps helping to blur the boundaries between the disciplines of dance and theatre,” Fitzgerald said.

Guests interested in dance also have the chance to see several dance concerts this season, including Fall Forward!, a dance showcase featuring new works that explore an exciting range of aesthetics, movement styles and new media platforms that redefine dance and live performance. Emerging Artists and Transition Projects put a spotlight on student work, and SpringDanceFest highlights some of the best pieces from the year.

Two theatre productions in the fall, Jennifer Haley’s “The Nether” and Herberger Institute Professor Michael Rohd’s “The Compass,” tackle sci-fi stories set in the near future. “The Compass” puts a teenager in serious trouble after she consults a decision-making app that tells users what they would do in any situation. The audience acts as the jury in this inventive work that promises a different ending each night.

The last two theatre productions of the season are Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Flick” and “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark,” both set within the film industry. The first follows the lives of three employees at an old movie theatre, and the second tells the story of an African American actress in 1930s Hollywood.

Film lovers should also check out the two Senior Film Showcases, one at the end of each semester. Audiences have the opportunity to screen a series of films selected by ASU film faculty and industry professionals. Produced by graduating student filmmakers, these works include short films and documentaries as well as cinematography and editing reels.

Purchase tickets at In addition to these events, the School of Film, Dance and Theatre also presents a range of other performances and events, from student productions and faculty work to workshops and performances by guest artists. Some of those include the Performance in the Borderlands series, Sol Motion series, Scholarship Series and FilmSpark events. Visit for more information.

Fall 2017 schedule

Fall Forward!
7:30 p.m. Sept. 15–16; 2 p.m. Sept. 17
Paul V. Galvin Playhouse 
Fall Forward!, the kick-off event of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre’s 2017-2018 season, features new works created by ASU faculty and guests. Artists explore an exciting range of aesthetics, movement styles and new media platforms that redefine dance and live performance.

The Nether
Written by Jennifer Haley
Directed by William Partlan
7:30 p.m. Oct. 13–14, 19–21; 2 p.m. Oct. 15, 22
Lyceum Theatre
Welcome to the Nether — a network of virtual reality realms. Plug in. Choose an identity. Indulge your every whim. In this near-future, sci-fi thriller, a young detective faces off against the creator of a virtual world that offers a disturbing brand of entertainment. “The Nether” is a tense interrogation of the darkest corners of the human imagination. (Contains unsettling content and mature themes.)

The Compass
Written and Directed by Michael Rohd
7:30 p.m. Nov. 11, 16–18; 2 p.m. Nov. 12, 19 
Paul V. Galvin Playhouse
A teenager finds herself in serious trouble after she consults a decision-making app that tells users what they would do in any situation. Should she be held responsible? Did the app make her do it? Do her motivations matter? You’re the jury in this inventive, near-future work of science fiction.

Emerging Artists I
7:30 p.m. Nov. 17–18; 2 p.m. Nov. 19
Margaret Gisolo Dance Studio Theatre
Featuring Michelle Marji and Rebecca Witt
The Emerging Artists series presents thesis and capstone projects created by MFA and BFA candidates in dance. Students investigate personal stories and thought-provoking issues through live performance, film and interactive media.  

Fall Senior Film Showcase
7 p.m. Dec. 1
Paul V. Galvin Playhouse
Film faculty and industry professionals present a curated series of films produced by graduating student filmmakers. The culmination of more than a year’s work, these works include short films and documentaries as well as cinematography and editing reels.

Spring 2018 schedule

Transition Projects I
7:30 p.m. Jan. 26–27; 2 p.m. Jan. 28
Margaret Gisolo Dance Studio Theatre
BFA candidates present an eclectic evening of work, showcasing the culmination of their undergraduate artistic experiences. Spanning the aesthetics of postmodern, urban and hybrid dance styles, this show features original pieces made for the stage, alternative spaces and film. 

Six Stories Tall
Written by Marco Ramirez
Directed by Chris Weise
Choreographed by Melissa Britt
7:30 p.m. Feb. 9–10, 15–17; 2 p.m. Feb. 11, 18
Paul V. Galvin Playhouse
“Six Stories Tall” is a vibrant collection of hip-hop fairy tales, from mermaids and monsters to Batman and a world painted purple. This production celebrates urban culture through dance, music and storytelling.

The Flick
Written by Annie Baker
7:30 p.m. Feb. 16–17, 22–24; 2 p.m. Feb. 18, 25
Nelson Fine Arts Center 133
Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, “The Flick” peers behind the scenes of a rundown Massachusetts movie theatre where three employees struggle with friendship, heartbreak and betrayal. “The Flickis a hilarious and moving parable for our times.

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark
Written by Lynn Nottage
7:30 p.m. April 13–14, 19–21; 2 p.m. April 15, 22
Lyceum Theatre
Vera Stark, an African-American maid and aspiring actress in 1930s Hollywood, sets out to land a role in a southern epic alongside her white starlet employer. Several years and several films later, Stark disappears, leaving scholars to debate her legacy, mine old interview footage for clues and examine her tangled relationships behind-the-scenes of the film that made her famous. Discover Stark’s story in this comedy that takes an irreverent look at race in Hollywood.

7:30 p.m. April 20–21; 2 p.m. April 22
Paul V. Galvin Playhouse
SpringDanceFest showcases the breadth of creativity in the dance program, featuring student choreographers and performers in some of the most innovative work of the 2017-2018 season. The concert also includes pieces created by faculty, visiting artists and alumni.

Spring Senior Film Showcase
7 p.m., April 27
Paul V. Galvin Playhouse
Film faculty and industry professionals present a curated series of films produced by graduating student filmmakers. The culmination of more than a year’s work, these works include short films and documentaries as well as cinematography and editing reels. 

Sarah A. McCarty

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


Community arts expert Maribel Alvarez joins forces with Herberger Institute to develop regional vision for culture, heritage and diversity

August 7, 2017

Maribel Alvarez describes what she does as “the embellishment of ordinary life.” A nationally respected anthropologist, folklorist, curator and community arts expert, she is the executive director of the Tucson-based Southwest Folklife Alliance, which is affiliated with the University of Arizona. Its mission: To build more equitable and vibrant communities by celebrating the everyday expressions of culture, heritage, and diversity in the Greater Southwest.

On top of her work in Tucson, this spring Alvarez began working with Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts as a policy fellow. She said she accepted the position at the invitatation of Herberger Institute Dean Steven J. Tepper because “word of the vision and synergy around community cultural development at ASU has been spreading nationwide,” and because, in Alvarez’s view, it is critical for the University of Arizona and Arizona State University to work together to harness cultural resources. Anthropologist and folklorist Maribel Alvarez is working with ASU's Herberger Institute as a policy fellow. Maribel Alvarez, a Tucson-based anthropologist and community arts expert, is working with ASU's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts as a policy fellow. Download Full Image

“I believe that we really have to have a regional vision for what we’re doing in community transformation and creativity,” said Alvarez, who also holds a dual appointment at the University of Arizona as associate research professor in the School of Anthropology and as public folklorist at the university’s Southwest Center.

“By ‘regional,’ I mean the border corridor,” Alvarez said. “We are primed to be the microcosm of the most important changes that our nation will experience demographically and culturally over the next 50 years. We have people of color, mixed heritage, aging population: All of those are reaching the tipping point in more dramatic ways than almost anywhere else in the country.”

For his part, Tepper sees Alvarez as a key player in the policy framework he’s putting in place. 

“ASU’s Herberger Institute is emerging as the most important place in the U.S. for innovation in design and the arts, in large part because of our understanding that the region’s evolution and growth must be yoked to the health and vibrancy of our cultural life,” said Tepper. “Dr. Alvarez is widely recognized as a visionary leader who bridges academic and community-based interventions. Her vision and expertise will help us lay the groundwork for equitable, sustainable and culturally rich development over the next decade, through efforts such as the Projecting All Voices initiative and our overarching emphasis on creative placemaking.”

The first step in that groundwork, Alvarez said, is to identify and map cultural assets — the local people, organizations, facilities and businesses in design and the arts.

Alvarez and Herberger Institute graduate student Mallory Alekna are spending the summer on the task of mapping cultural assets in the greater Phoenix area. Alvarez calls it “an exercise of discovery. You start with some contacts, and then it snowballs. You ask, 'Who else is doing that?' You’re trying to understand a network of production. Instead of going to Google and trying to find out how many theater companies, opera companies, etc. there are, you would do that through communities, through people.”

“At this point we are really interested in finding out as much as we can about the variety of ethnic enclaves and communities that are in Phoenix,” Alekna said. At an initial meeting with artists and community members, the group discussed examples of Native American and Chicano arts scenes in Phoenix, including the Yaqui traditions practiced in the town of Guadalupe, as well as the numerous ethnic enclaves in the area, which Alekna said include Iraqi, Romanian, Estonian, Puerto Rican, African, Cuban and Japanese populations, “to name a few.”

The work now involves going out into the communities “to learn more about the arts that they are creating and doing,” Alekna said.

Alvarez joins Herberger Institute faculty like Stephani Etheridge Woodson, who is well versed in cultural asset mapping.

“What I bring that complements Stephani’s work is the perspective of a folklorist that looks at an unofficial production site, like people who cook at home, people who dance at the church social,” Alvarez explained. “I think Dean Tepper brought me to complement what’s already happening in Herberger Institute. You have Stephani and [Institute Professors] Michael Rohd and Liz Lerman and Daniel Bernard Roumain and Maria Jackson: Herberger Institute is bringing synergetically this group of folks that are thinkers about participation and engagement through creative means. These are visionaries. Each person is doing it with a distinct approach. My angle is the embellishment of ordinary life.”

Alvarez emphasizes that the cross-pollination between ASU and the University of Arizona is an important aspect of her new position, because both institutions are learning about the methodologies the other uses and because collaboration is key to what she calls a regional vision.

“We’re trying to demystify and break apart that myth that there are two universities doing distinct things. Here, we can all collaborate.”

As Alvarez sees it, “the Herberger Institute vision is to really understand place as a laboratory of civic engagement. It’s not just about this region, it’s about what lessons, what models, what practices can be developed. Because if it’s happening in Arizona, you better believe it’s happening in Iowa — and if not now, then it will happen. That’s the exciting part of why do this work.”

Deborah Sussman Susser

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


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8 people, 30 days and 100 degrees in the Mojave desert: An ASU water experiment to remember

ASU project teaches deep understanding of challenges behind water scarcity.
Water-rationing experiment surprises participants with the result.
July 21, 2017

Artists, scientists restricted to 4 gallons a day — for everything, including hygiene — each in a 'near-future' scenario (oh, and no AC)

 Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. To read more top stories from 2017, click here.


“Why do you like the desert, Mr. Lawrence?”

“Because it’s clean.”

Lawrence of Arabia, 1962

Bring eight people together for a month in an almost-abandoned hamlet in the middle of the Mojave desert, restrict them to four gallons of water per day each, and see what happens.

That was the project, a hybrid science-art experiment. It started off as a water exercise and became a study in cooperation that none of them expected. None of them will ever forget it, either.

“I don’t think everyone knew what they were in for,” said a student.

“It was a really profound experience for all of us,” said one of the faculty. “It exceeded all our expectations of what was going to happen to us.”

The genesis

Drylab drone
The group of eight Drylab2023 participants assembled the words of the project from refuse gathered near the site. This image was shot with a drone. Photo courtesy of

Drylab 2023 was co-directed by two Arizona State University faculty members, Marco Janssen and Adriene Jenik.

Janssen, director of the Center for Behavior, Institutions and the Environment and a professor in the School of Sustainability, met a Swiss artist who ran a project bringing artists and scientists together in extreme environments. Think Tunisia, Swiss alpine glaciers and the Mojave desert. The Swiss artist offered the Mojave space to Janssen.

Janssen contacted co-director Adriene Jenik, a professor of intermedia in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

“We began to hatch the idea,” Jenik said. “We were interested in working together to see how art and science could complement each other, but a bit more open-ended than a typical scientific experiment. ... We decided to create a near-future fictional scenario where we could monitor the amount of resources.”

The scenario

Spare bike
Sunrise, viewed from the front of the dilapidated motel where the project was sited. Each participant had her own room, which had electricity but no air-conditioning. Participants got around the area via bicycle, reserving the shared car for shopping excursions and an occasional day trip. Photo courtesy of

It’s 2023. Military enlistment is mandatory, and mandated by water scarcity. No enlistment, no water. Eight people are hiding in an almost-dead town, far from any city. They have to live on four gallons of water per person per day and locally grown food.

Water, Part 1

Wild melons
From the blog: "Melons! unexpected find amongst the creosote." Coyote melon is a local wild plant that survives entirely on its own in this arid land. The participants were amazed at, and took pains to document, the abundant animal and plant life that survived in such a harsh environment. Photo courtesy of

The human body is more than 60 percent water. Blood is 92 percent water, the brain and muscles are 75 percent water, and bones are about 22 percent water.

Water-resources experts at the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California, have estimated that humans require 13.2 gallons of clean water each day to meet basic needs.

Estimates vary, but each person uses about 80-100 gallons of water per day, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

According to the American Water Works Association, 28 percent of water used in the average household is the result of toilet flushing.

Without water in the desert in summer, most people will die within three to five hours.

The place

Drylab through the window
More out buildings in Amboy. In its heyday, there were more than 700 residents of this privately-owned, unincorporated community. Many vacant outbuildings (including a church and school) surround the site. Photo courtesy of

Amboy sits on old Route 66 in the middle of the Mojave desert. It’s nicknamed “The Ghost Town That Ain’t Dead Yet.” It’s two hours from a hospital and an hour from groceries.

There’s one full-time resident. His name is Vern. He manages Roy’s Motel and Cafe, which is neither a motel nor a cafe because there’s no running water in Amboy. It’s a gas station that sells sodas, snacks, and $4 per gallon gasoline. Debbie comes up from Twentynine Palms three or four days a week to open the post office.

Visitors tend to be European Route 66 chasers who stop for a photo op and quickly leave. Recent comments on TripAdvisor included:

  • “Nothing to see, restrooms are horrible, coffee about the same and not very hospitable.”
  • “We thought this might be a boring pointless stop but we actually found it very interesting, a little eerie, but definitely worth seeing!”
  • “The bathrooms are dingy. The diner isn't serving food. The motel rooms are gutted. But if you look past all that, you'll get a glimpse into the past.”
  • “For myself, Roy's is a landmark that makes me proud to be a (sic) American.”

Willa Gibbs, an ASU non-degree grad student, found Amboy more developed than she imagined.

“What was there was more than I expected,” Gibbs said. The students stayed in an abandoned motel. The bedrooms were especially creepy. “It looked like it was a set for a serial-killer movie.”

Actually, it was. “The Hitcher” — Rutger Hauer and Jennifer Jason Leigh, 1986, “The terror starts when he stops!” — was partly filmed in Amboy.

The interest

Dividing the day's water
Day 1: An iconic image of the process of water allocation/dispersal. The process of getting the water from the tank involved two water stewards who dispensed water each day and noted it in a log that the receiver signed off on. Photo courtesy of

A flier went around the School of Sustainability at ASU and the arts programs.

“The information was very, very vague,” Gibbs said. The flier said something about limited water and a month in the Mojave, and not much else.

“I was interested in what kind of people would want to do that,” she said.

Jenik was looking for a balance between artists and sustainability scientists. She wanted mature students; that trait would be crucial in a harsh environment. She also looked for a broad variety of skills. Sarra Tekola, earning a doctorate in sustainability, had conflict-resolution skills. Another student had strong documentary skills.

Molly Koehn just graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree in fiber art. Her work is centered around sustainability.

“I try to live as sustainably as possible,” Koehn said. “It was an interesting project for me. ... I love the desert and hate the city, so that was a plus. It’s surprising how giving and taking the desert is.”

All eight participants were women.

The first three days were pretty mellow, Gibbs said. The first week the temperatures were in the 90s. They set up the toilet, a gray-water system and the kitchen.

Koehn is a self-starting, can-do type. The first weeks she stepped up a lot and took charge. She realized she was being bossy (she used another word) and stepped back.

The blur of campus life with theses, classes and exams evaporated in the desert. It took Koehn a week to get sorted out.

“It was abnormal for me to slow down so much,” she said.

The group had a tank of water that contained the group’s entire allotment for the month. There was a system where their containers were filled daily and logged.

“We really let them go once we set up the initial rules and they got on-site,” Jenik said.

The food

The participants experimented with new recipes in their water-wise diet (no meat, no dairy; only fruits, grains and vegetables that could be grown in the desert with little water). These are vegan buckwheat pancakes with what appears to be a strawberry syrup. Photo courtesy of

Because of the water limit, the group endured a vegan diet. No wheat, cereals, sugar, coffee, rice, chocolate. And everything they ate had to be local. (From the Mojave. Where nothing grows.)

“What was more difficult than the four gallons was the food restrictions,” Tekola said.

Meals had to be planned in advance because the group went shopping only once a week. It took them about a week to figure out how to put together a decent meal.

“We didn’t have the right food to deal with the heat,” Gibbs said.

Fortunately, the town of Joshua Tree has a farmer’s market. They bought grapes, melons, squash, honey.

“I was hungry all the time,” Tekola said. “Our energy levels were really low.”

Peanuts and dates became the go-to snack. They made soy milk from soy beans. “It takes like two days,” Tevola said. “I don’t think I’ll do that again.” (Without additives, “it tastes like beans.”)

Tekola did a health survey, which involved weighing everyone. Most people lost six or seven pounds. One lost 12 pounds. One person contracted irritable bowel syndrome from the diet.

They made art and bartered with it. It was the only way to get food off the list. Tekola went to work in the gas station. Four of them did a chore for Vern, who gave them a gallon of ice cream. After three weeks of living on squash, beets and quinoa, they all got as sick as a dog.

Cooking was a pain. No one was familiar with preparing the food they had, or with cooking for a large group. (Compounding the hassle was the fact that the breaker box would blow if more than one electric stove was plugged in. They had to cook large amounts of food in batches.) No one was particularly crazy about the food, but it was a POW menu; eat it, because you’re not getting anything else.

The faculty members ate the same food. “We submitted ourselves to the same diet, the same restrictions,” Jenik said. “It didn’t feel right for us to be there eating salmon and having champagne.”

The professors did not spend the entire month in Amboy, although they visited frequently.

Water, Part 2

Water Bottles
Krista Davis (aka Jack in the Desert; top center) and others collected discarded water bottles (discarded by others, not the Drylab participants) from the desert and filled them with gravel. They were in process of becoming construction “bricks” in a partial wall erected as part of the outhouse. The mortar for the bricks was a mixture of sand from the site and clay deposits gathered on walks in the surrounding desert. Photo courtesy of

Most water use went to drinking. “It had to be,” Gibbs said.

Initially the plan was two gallons for personal use, two for the commons. A group vote changed that to three and one.

The communal water was used for cooking, laundry and bathing.

“We were running out of communal water, but people had stacks of private water,” Tekola said.

She ended up with 60 gallons of private water at the end. Most had more than 30 gallons each. One person had 58 gallons.

“It was funny, but people were adamant about not returning to the two and two,” Tekola said. “People started getting scared. ‘I don’t want to give up control of my water.’ ... It was more a mental thing that made people anxious. That was interesting to me: the psycho-social implications of that. ... People’s inclination was to hoard. We saw that during Katrina.”

By the end of the exercise, Tekola was down to using a gallon of water a day, drinking two liters.

She took two and a half showers during the month. She scrubbed down with baby wipes and washed clothes in a bucket. Some people showered and washed their clothes in the gray water. Some washed their hair. Some didn’t. On average they showered once every five days.

Because of the diet, there was very little body odor. Everyone was coated in a layer of dirt and dead skin. What looked like a tan tended to scrub off.

'Desert Time'

Molly Koehn (aka Moso) gives a trim to Cydnei Mallory (aka Skip) during a grooming session. Many participants changed their hairstyles in response to the high heat and lack of daily shampooing. Photo courtesy of

“Time was very different out there,” Koehn said. “Time was a big thing for everyone.”

“We started calling it Desert Time,” Gibbs said. “There was nothing there but us, the buildings, the desert and the wind.”

With no Internet, there was no need to carry around a phone all the time. Time didn’t matter after a while. They did what the sun dictated.

No cell service was a source of anxiety at first, but eventually it felt therapeutic, Tekola said.

“You just have to focus on yourself and each other,” she said.

“The time became wonderful,” Koehn said. She woke up at 5:30 a.m. with the sun.  By the end of the last week, they all slept outside.

There was very little shade. When the sun was at its zenith, there wasn’t much shade beside the buildings.

The air-conditioning was in a trailer that also contained their kitchen. It didn’t really work. “It did absolutely nothing,” Gibbs said. It basically pumped in hot air from outside. They learned to run it in the morning to bring cool air inside.

“You were pretty much hot all the time,” she said. “You couldn’t sleep at night because it was so hot.”

Napping and sleeping were popular. Dinner didn’t get started until around 10 p.m. because of the heat. People took bike rides early in the day.

People would put an inch of water in a kiddie pool they had and sit in it. “There was a lot of sitting.” Gibbs liked to go up and sit on a roof. “The wind cools you down even when it’s 108.”

Some brought books. Gibbs brought a lot of books but ended up not reading them. “I kind of sat and talked,” she said. “That’s what a lot of people did.”

Some trekked in the desert. The second week they peeled off and worked on their own: art projects, exploring, writing and making crafts to barter.

“I was expecting it to be like this strange hippie commune where we all hung out together,” Koehn said. “It wasn’t like that.”


Opening Cans
Cydnei Mallory was shop manager during the project. Lacking a can opener (and 60 miles from the nearest store), she instead used a drill. Photo courtesy of

Water and food issues were quickly overshadowed by negotiating relationships. There were divides: people who had lived on their own and people who hadn’t. Older people and younger people. The major cultural schism arose from the group makeup: four artists and four scientists. 

“That created some contention,” Tekola said. “Our disciplines schooled us differently.”

Artists have studios and jobs. They’re self-motivated, and they make their own paths. Science follows extremely strict protocols established over hundreds of years.

The artists wanted a clean common area. The scientists didn’t really care. The artists didn’t want a schedule. “That’s all the scientists knew were schedules,” Tekola said.

The compromise was people who wanted a schedule got one. People who didn’t want schedules filled in when they wanted to. (No one slacked, Tekola said.)

Inevitably tensions rose because of the heat.

“I think all of us learned how to deal with people who are very different from you in close quarters,” Gibbs said. She put it another way: “learning to deal with other people when you can’t get away from them.”

They restrained behavior, watched their own body language and limits with heat, with food, with others. Some introverts were stressed about being around other people all the time. “No one wanted anyone to feel bad,” Gibbs said.

There was a housekeeping check-in and an emotional well-being check-in.

“You could really tell during the meeting if someone was having a problem,” Gibbs said.

Koehn said if she ever does it again, there won’t be meetings over dinner.  They made dinner miserable.

“We never did any name-calling,” she said. Criticism was delivered along the lines of “I found five cups and washed them.”

“That was a recurring thing,” Koehn said.

World War III can break out over dirty dishes.

“And it did,” she said. “I had to think, ‘How much do I teach this person about living with other people?’”

No one really lost it. “Everyone was on their best behavior,” Gibbs said. “No one went completely nuts.”

They voted on group decisions. A hierarchy emerged, even though no one wanted one.

“It was interesting because that was essentially anarchy,” Tekola said.

No one led. How to divide the ice became an issue.

“When you don’t have leaders and you don’t have roles, it requires more accountability,” Tekola said. “People have to stand up.”

“Some people just do more than others,” she said. “There’s a difference between equality and equity.”

Everyone moved at a different pace. “That was something we had to take into account,” Tekola said. “Individualistic society makes cooperation difficult.”

Highs and lows

Making Plastic Yarn
Cydnei Mallory and Sarra Tekola (aka Nayara) cutting up plastic bags in preparation for a weaving project. The participants made inventive use of cast-off materials that were in abundance throughout the site due to the high winds and mindless waste. Photo courtesy of

“There’s a whole history in art of people doing endurance performances, where they put their body on the line,” Jenik said.

A British artist and architect lives on a floating island he made out of 100,000-plus plastic bottles. Jenik calls Drylab “extreme experiential learning.” It’s the first time it has been done at ASU.

Obviously it was extreme. The motel rooms where the students lived had no air-conditioning. Jenik got heat exhaustion.

“That was a surprise because I’m a desert rat,” she said. “I was running around telling everyone how dangerous the heat is.”

Her temperature spiked at 101.5 and wasn’t regulating. They cooled her down with ice, and she spent the night at her studio in Twentynine Palms.

The lone air-conditioner in the cook trailer broke at one point. (Vern lives without air-conditioning at all, according to Koehn.)

“When things got very, very hot and extreme and the AC was broken at one point, Marco and I thought we needed to pull the plug,” Jenik said.

The students refused.

Sometimes morale went sky-high. The water tower started leaking one day. “We all started dancing under it,” Gibbs said.

One day when it was 111 they all drove to the Colorado River in Needles.

“Frankly we were hot and dirty and tired and done with it,” Gibbs said. “Being in the river was really nice.”

“That little bit of coolness made us like, ‘We can do this!’” Koehn said.

After a long and satisfying cool swim, they went to a diner. The only thing they were allowed to eat were fries and iced tea, so they ordered fries and iced tea.

Culture shock

All of the participants contributed to the digging, building and upkeep of this important facility — the outhouse — that saved hundreds of gallons of water over the course of the project. Photo courtesy of

Coming home, Koehn went into culture shock.

“Just being surrounded by people and buildings and the traffic — it was a lot,” she said.

She didn’t watch TV for a week. There were other changes. “I was a lot more intentional.” If she spent time with her husband, they didn’t watch TV; they spent the time together.

Koehn lost 12 pounds, mostly due to being much more active in Amboy. She eats meat again, but no processed foods, dairy, gluten, rice or sugar. She won’t touch quinoa.

Tekola has gone vegan: “A lot of us are more cognizant of our reactions to food,” she said.

Gibbs’ house felt smaller when she got home.

“I don’t know whether it was the desert or the people, but it was surprising how much smaller it was,” she said.

Water consciousness became so engrained in them their habits carried on after leaving the Mojave. Tekola carries water bottles everywhere. Gibbs’ brother yelled at her for not flushing the toilet every time. Tekola’s roommates weren’t too happy about it either.

“I still feel guilty when I run the washing machine,” Gibbs said. “You look in there and see all the water pouring in, and it’s so much water! It felt wrong to use more than you needed. Using more was like, ‘Why? It isn’t necessary.’”

Jenik felt some ripple effects. She is now eating vegan. She came back feeling really good physically. “I thought, ‘Wow, I want to continue this.’ I feel really good about it.”


Info booth signs
Adjacent to the site, participants had access to some outbuildings and used one to present the project through a series of placards to the many visitors to this crossroads at historic Route 66. Shalae Flores (aka Nadira Sheru; left) and Sydney Rood (aka Kirsten) work on the signs. Photo courtesy of

“I would definitely do it again, but not with the same people,” Koehn said. “It was a really great experience.”

Tekola compared it to a study abroad trip, but with many more challenges than a foreign language.

“Something like this is even more important,” she said. Trying to figure out how to live together in the middle of nowhere — “It’s out of the box.”

“I hope our society can change before we have to,” Tekola said. “Trying to change behavior during scarcity can be difficult. ... We don’t have to work together, except in times of crisis. ... I think our society needs to practice cooperation.”

The students asked Jenik why she chose a length of 30 days.

“I didn’t think anything less than 30 days you’d sink into it and really get it,” she said. “For me I came out feeling incredibly hopeful because of the commitment the students had to the project. ... It does take a serious commitment.”

The project produced a shift in consciousness in the participants. Jenik wants to do it again. All the participants interviewed for this story said they’d do it again.

“The learning was so strong and really different from the classroom and had ripples out in ways we couldn’t have predicted,” Jenik said.

She said the project taught a deep understanding of the challenges behind a change like water scarcity. If that comes to pass, it’s going to be a more Hobbesian existence.

“We saw them coming to understand that sense of individualism and not trusting, if something is scarce, to negotiate with strangers,” Jenik said.

“I can’t recall another creative and educational experiment that has touched me as deeply or effected such potential for real, ongoing transformation of those involved,” she said. “I am not sure this could have taken place anywhere else but ASU.”

None of them will ever forget it.

“Even though it was stressful and crazy and weird, everyone learned so much from it, it was worth whatever issues you had,” Gibbs said. “It was such a good experience to have, even if it was problematic.”


Top photo: From the blog: "New home: Drylab. It's got a tank with enough water for the six of us to have 4 gallons each per day, for well over a month. Our project site as viewed from the north (when you walked north of the property, it is all sparsely vegetated BLM land, pocked with illegal dump sites)." Photo courtesy of 

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU alum Ricky Araiza joins new AZ Creative Communities Institute

Teatro Bravo artistic director to engage with Arizona communities through creativity and the arts

July 20, 2017

Theater artist Ricky Araiza has devoted much of his artistic time to working in his native Arizona, from studying his craft at Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, to entertaining audiences as an ensemble member of Childsplay theater company in Tempe, to serving as artistic director of Teatro Bravo — a Latino theater company in South Phoenix. He hopes to contribute even more by taking a new position with the Herberger Institute, where he will work with the AZ Creative Communities Institute, a new program that explores how creativity can make a positive impact on communities.  

“What drew me to this position was the opportunity to engage with various communities all over the state of Arizona,” Araiza said. “I wanted to expand my understanding of the place that I call my home state.” Ricky Araiza Download Full Image

The AZ Creative Communities Institute is a partnership between ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and the Arizona Commission on the Arts, with guidance from Southwest Folklife Alliance. Small teams representing nine Arizona communities were selected for the inaugural AZ CCI. Team members, including community and business leaders as well as local elected officials, will receive intensive training over the next year from local and national experts in creative engagement as they look for creative solutions to address needs, challenges and opportunities within their communities. In the latter half of the year, each community will host an embedded artist residency to put what they have learned into practice. 

The Herberger Institute was awarded a $250,000 Surdna grant to help fund the program, and Araiza was recently named coordinator senior.  

“It felt like a great opportunity to work with communities who want to make a long-lasting positive impact through arts engagement,” he said. “I wanted to be a part of that conversation.”

Araiza will be responsible for coordinating activities and functions of the program, including gathering data, managing events and ensuring that program goals are accomplished.

"Ricky has been deeply embedded and engaged in the Arizona community as an artist and community changemaker for a long time — his whole life, in fact,” said Jake Pinholster, associate dean of policy and initiatives for the Herberger Institute. “With his training and expertise — in addition to that personal connection — he is the ideal person to coordinate and drive this program forward."

Araiza has already started work on the program and is excited about its potential.  

“There is so much possibility when you are at the birth of a new idea,” he said. “We can make this one of the most important collaborations in the state of Arizona, and I believe that we all see that. And that concept alone demands that we treat this with the greatest care.”

Sarah A. McCarty

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


Underiner named associate dean of graduate academic affairs at ASU Graduate College

July 7, 2017

Tamara Underiner, a scholar of theater and performance studies and associate dean for research for the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, has been named associate dean of academic affairs in the Graduate College at Arizona State University.

In this position, Underiner will serve as the main point of contact for graduate academic integrity, program quality, and oversight of the University Graduate Council.  Tamara Underiner Tamara Underiner Download Full Image

“I wanted to recruit a faculty member who’d bring an interdisciplinary and innovative research perspective in this position at the interface of faculty and graduate student affairs,” said Alfredo Artiles, dean of the Graduate College. “Dr. Underiner has had extensive experience fostering interdisciplinary research collaborations, which will be central as she works to enhance and expand the portfolio of innovative interdisciplinary graduate academic programs offered at ASU.”

Underiner has been at ASU since 2001. In 2004, she was promoted to associate professor and assumed responsibilities as director of Graduate Studies at Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts (HIDA). She ushered in and directed the first doctoral concentration in Theatre in the United States — Theatre and Performance of the Americas.

“The students in Theatre and Performance of the Americas have taught me a great deal about the realities of the world awaiting our graduates, both in and outside of academia. I see a key part of my work as graduate mentor and program builder to nurture the “philosopher” in the PhD,” Underiner said. “I would like to be a part of a concerted effort to cultivate a mindset of inclusion and interdisciplinarity, which have always been the cornerstones of my values and vision. I look forward to making the ‘New American Graduate School’ a reality at ASU.”

In her previous role at the Herberger Institute, Underiner was the liaison between Herberger faculty and ASU's Office for Knowledge Enterprise Development, to identify funding opportunities and develop grant proposals. She served on the Research Committee of the Alliance for Arts in Research Universities and was an active member of the University Graduate Council from 2011–2013.

She earned a bachelor's in communication arts from the University of Dayton in 1980, a master's in theater from Arizona State University in 1993, and a doctorate in drama from the University of Washington in 1997. In 2004, she was named a faculty exemplar by ASU President Michael Crow.

Additionally, Underiner is a founding member of the research team CENAS (Cultural Engagements in Nutrition, Arts and Sciences), which focuses on culturally informed, participatory theatre making for health promotion and education with communities of color. She currently convenes the Creative Health Collaborations team as part of the 2017-18 Team Leadership Academy at ASU.

Underiner is the author of “Contemporary Theatre in Mayan Mexico: Death-Defying Acts” (University of Texas Press, 2004), and has published essays in Theatre Journal, Signs, Baylor Journal of Theatre and Performance, TDR, and critical anthologies from academic presses in the U.S., Mexico and Canada. She is active in the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, the Latin American Studies Association and the American Society for Theatre Research. She also serves on the board of the Hemispheric Institute for Performance and Politics, based in New York City.

Underiner assumed her new duties on Monday, July 3.

Jeff McMahon

July 7, 2017

Jeff McMahon, associate professor in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, presented an evening of his recent monologues at the Dixon Place Lounge in New York City July 12. The evening included performances by ASU students and alumni.

Theatre alum Heather Lee Harper performed one of McMahon’s new monologues, “The Welcome,” and alum Toussaint Jeanlouis presented a new short piece he is developing called “Cotton: Comfortable is Uncomfortable,” which explores the threaded relationship between a slave and slave master. ASU student Brandon Ferderer reprised his performance of McMahon’s short monologue “(Ob)scene.” ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre faculty Jeff McMahon Jeff McMahon Download Full Image

In the fall of 2016, McMahon wrote “(Ob)scene,” a short monologue in response to the mass killing by a lone gunman in the mostly Latinx/LGBTQ Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. In the monologue, he takes the point-of-view of the shooter, the unstable and deeply disturbed young man who decides he is going to embark on this killing spree as a perverse extension of his theatrical training. The monologue was selected for “After Orlando: An International Theatre Action,” a collection of scripts from more than 70 playwrights. Selections from the series were presented in more than 50 theatres throughout the world, royalty-free. McMahon’s monologue was selected for several of those evenings, including as part of the Phoenix presentation of “After Orlando” in January when it was performed by Ferderer and directed by School of Communications Associate Professor Amira De la Garza.

Following the July 12 event, McMahon will make a film of “(Ob)scene.” A film alum, J. Miguel Munguia, will be editor on the project, and Steven Reker will be scoring the film. 

ASU Herberger Institute receives NEA Our Town grant

One of 89 awards given by the National Endowment for the Arts nationwide

June 29, 2017

Arizona State University's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Our Town grant, as recently announced by NEA chairman Jane Chu. The 89 awards, totaling $6.89 million to support projects across the nation, included a $100,000 grant to support the Creative Placemaking Policy Fellows program at ASU's Herberger Institute.

The NEA received 274 eligible applications for Our Town this year and will make grants ranging from $25,000 to $100,000. NEA Download Full Image

“The arts reflect the vision, energy and talent of America’s artists and arts organizations,” Chu said. “The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support organizations such as the ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, to cultivate vitality in their communities through the arts.”

The Herberger Institute will partner with the Center for Performance and Civic Practice, which is led by Herberger Institute Professor Michael Rohd, to establish a Creative Placemaking Policy Fellows program with practitioners who have led successful partnerships between the arts and community development fields. Fellows will work together to identify potential barriers to successful creative placemaking and strategies for overcoming them and to find ways to infuse the work across the community development field. They will also produce training tools, such as a podcast, video or piece of writing, for dissemination.

For a complete list of projects recommended for Our Town grant support, visit the NEA website at The NEA recently relaunched the creative placemaking web page, which has multiple resources.

Sarah A. McCarty

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


ASU student organizes cultural showcase

Recent graduate Antonieta Carpenter-Cosand leveraged her language, art studies to teach others about Brazilian culture

June 21, 2017

Many students have passions outside of their studies, but recent Arizona State University graduate Antonieta Carpenter-Cosand leveraged her language and art studies to showcase and teach others about Brazilian culture.

“I started taking Portuguese and got very interested in learning more,” Cosand explained, even though she was already a Spanish literature major, “Spanish is my first language...I started realizing that Latino countries, not only Spanish speaking countries, have a lot in common.” Download Full Image

As part of a class project, Cosand’s exhibit featured four paintings representing Tropicalismo, an influential Brazilian music movement from the 1960s she learned about in a class on contemporary Brazilian art. Cosand displayed her paintings and introduced visitors to the Tropicalismo sound.  

“A lot of people do not see painting now as something so important, it’s not as noticeable as it used to be … people don’t realize the power of visualized art,” said Cosand, who graduated from the School of International Letters and Cultures.

“More than a music movement, [Tropicalismo] was an artistic movement in Brazil,” which Cosand explained was a way to dissent against culture regulations by Brazil’s military dictatorship.

She saw her paintings as a way to advertise this aspect of Brazilian art and history, serving as an entry point to the diversity of Latin American culture.

“The sense we use the most is seeing. If people were more open to seeing art, we could use art in other contexts,” Cosand said. “It connects me to them, and it connects a lot of things. For example, this was about Brazil. I connected a country through painting and their culture and their music to other people who might not even know where Brazil is.”

You can see photos from the event and list to the songs that inspired Cosand’s paintings here.

Gabriel Sandler

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One of largest Western film history collections goes on display

ASU-owned Western film collection to debut at Scottsdale's Museum of the West.
The Wild Wild West, as portrayed in film, will be on display in Scottsdale.
June 19, 2017

Acquired by ASU Foundation and Scottsdale's Museum of the West, Rennard Strickland Collection provides unique perspective

One of the largest collections of Western film memorabilia has found a home, appropriately, in the Southwest.

The Rennard Strickland Collection of Western Film History debuts tomorrow at Scottsdale's Museum of the West. The collection was acquired jointly last October by the museum and Arizona State University's Foundation for A New American University. More than 100 posters and lobby cards will be on display, out of the more than 5,000 in the collection, dating from the 1890s to the mid-1980s. The exhibit runs through Sept. 30, 2018.

“The collection, which numbers more than 5,000 works, represents Dr. Strickland’s passion for Western film and the extraordinary graphic abilities of artists from past to present,” chief curator Tricia Loscher said. "It's unique in that many stories about the posters and films are told from Dr. Strickland's perspective." 

Strickland, a professor at University of Oklahoma's College of Law, began to collect the memorabilia in the 1970s. He then passed the collection along to the Museum of the West and ASU to serve as a resource for the university's faculty and students. Strickland himself is of Osage and Cherokee heritage and an expert on Indian law.

Because many of the films were shot in the area, the move made plenty of sense. 

Test your Western film trivia below.

"We have brought his collection home," Loscher said. "This is one of the major centers of the Western region where film has been produced, and it is an honor and privilege for us that Dr. Strickland selected this partnership to see that his collection is shared by present and future generations from around the world."

To celebrate the acquisition, an event will be held for museum members from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 26. Attendees will have the opportunity to view the exhibition and meet Strickland, Loscher, ASU President Michael Crow, museum director Mike Fox and others. 

Museum hours are 9:30 to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday. Closed Monday. (Thursday hours are extended to 9 p.m. Nov. through April.)

Admisison prices for the museum are: $13, adults; $11, seniors (65+) and active military; $8, students (full-time with ID) and children (6–17 years); free for members and children 5 and under.

For more information visit

Top photo: The Rennard Strickland Collection of Western Film History is on display at Western Spirit: Scottsdale's Museum of the West from June 20, 2017 to Sept. 30, 2018. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now



Did you know? 

Only two Western films have ever received a “Best Picture” Academy Award (Oscar).

“Cimarron,” released in 1931; received the “Best Picture” Oscar in the same year.
An adaptation of Edna Ferber’s novel, it tells the story of a young woman who marries a drifter-gunfighter during the Oklahoma land rush, who go their separate ways. It starred Richard Dix and Irene Dunne.

“Dances with Wolves,” released in 1990, the film received the “Best Picture” Oscar in 1991.
A historical drama set during the U.S. Civil War, it tells the story of Union Army Officer Lieutenant John J. Dunbar and his relationship with a band of Sioux Indians. The film stars Kevin Costner.


Although hundreds of thousands of movie posters rolled off the presses, relatively few have survived.

Posters were shipped from theater to theater, and became worn, ragged and outdated. Paper drives during World War II emptied film-studio storage warehouses, making silent film posters particularly rare.


An 1889 Budweiser saloon poster of a painting entitled “Custer’s Last Fight” was the basis for movie poster art.


“Stagecoach” is considered one of the most important Western films ever made and one of Director John Ford’s greatest achievements.

It demonstrated to the Hollywood studios that there was a viable audience for Westerns films. It also rescued John Wayne from his B-picture status, propelling him to fame.

The historic drama, based on a short story by Ernest Haycox, is about a group of passengers traveling by stagecoach to the town of Lordsburg in the New Mexico Territory. Shot on location in northeastern Arizona’s Monument Valley, John Wayne plays Ringo Kid, an ex-con and the only one among the group who possesses the survival skills to keep them alive.


The earliest Westerns were filmed in New Jersey.

They derived from the Wild West shows that were touring the country in the late 1800s. California’s long days of sunshine and variety of outdoor settings quickly lured film companies to the West.


Silver-screen singing cowboy Tex Ritter was the father of actor Jon Ritter — known by millions for his role as bachelor Jack Tripper in the television series “Three’s Company.”

Tex Ritter appeared in numerous Western films, primarily in the mid-1930s and 1940s, and went on to achieve even greater fame as a Western recording artist.            


Trivia courtesy of Scottsdale's Museum of the West.       

Connor Pelton

Communications Writer , ASU Now