Five graduating students and 10 alumni are winners of the annual Artpreneur Awards at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA), Chancellor Brian Cole has announced.
Since its inception in 2017, the UNCSA Artpreneur Initiative has provided graduating college students and alumni the opportunity to receive funding to support their creative works and enterprises deemed to be of the highest merit, artistic excellence and innovative potential.
The initiative encompasses the Alumni Artpreneur of the Year Awards and Artpreneur Grants for Graduating College Students. New this year are the inaugural Artpreneur Launch Grants, which provide support for creative start-ups and creative projects that recent alumni are developing. Alumni Artpreneurs of the Year each receive $20,000, and student Artpreneurs receive $2,500 each. Recipients of the new Artpreneur Launch Grants will receive $5,000 each.
The incredible alumni and students receiving these grants this year represent the boundless possibilities for an arts education at UNCSA.Chancellor Brian Cole
“The Artpreneur grants underscore an important aspect of the training at UNCSA, which is to unlock the creative potential of our student-artists,” Chancellor Cole said. “The incredible alumni and students receiving these grants this year represent the boundless possibilities for an arts education at UNCSA. I am particularly proud that we are supporting recent graduates with inaugural Artpreneur Launch Grants, helping to aid them in the nascent stages of their careers and allowing them to think big and be bold as they develop as artists and leaders.”
UNCSA defines an Artpreneur as an artist who reaches beyond existing disciplines, technologies, constructs and processes to effect change they wish to see in the world, through their creative practice. This year’s grants will help support such projects as a web series, live art experiences, interactive art spaces, an improvised choreographic happening, a new animated kids’ show, a documentary film, portable and on-demand location recording, pop-up storytelling performance series, devised theater research, and more. Several of the projects are interdisciplinary, with students and alumni working across genres and/or outside of their main discipline, and several involve teams of UNCSA alumni working together.
The Alumni Artpreneurs of the Year are Ayo Jackson (H.S. Dance ’96, B.F.A. Dance ’99), a multidisciplinary artist and artist-activist, and Gregg Mozgala (H.S. Drama ’96), founder and artistic director of The Apothetae, a theater organization producing plays that explore and illuminate the disabled experience. These awards are based on measurable social, cultural or economic impact of the artist’s body of work.
Winners of the inaugural Artpreneur Launch Grants are alumni Jackson Baker (B.F.A. Drama ’21), Creative Project; Emily DeForest (B.F.A. Drama ’17), Creative Project; Tij D’oyen (B.F.A. Drama ’17), Creative Project; Tramaine Raphael Gray (B.F.A. Design & Production ’20), Creative Project; Nile Harris (B.F.A. Drama ’17), Creative Project; Asia Jones (B.F.A. Filmmaking ’21), Creative Project; Alex Avril Klein (M.F.A. Filmmaking ’18), Creative Enterprise; and Hannah Myers (B.F.A. Drama ’18), Creative Project.
The student Artpreneur Grants for Graduating College Students (Class of 2022) go to Rachel Cozart, School of Dance, Creative Project; Jenna Cusack, School of Filmmaking, Creative Project; Billie Feather, School of Music, Creative Enterprise; Houston Odum, School of Design and Production (D&P), Creative Project; and Marina Zurita, School of Drama, Creative Project.
Ayo Jackson is a multidisciplinary artist and artist-activist who began her career with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and then joined Ballet Preljocaj in France. She has been a Princess Grace Award recipient and was a 2021 New York Foundation for the Arts Artist Fellow and a 2021 Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC) Artist-in-Residence at Governor’s Island.
Jackson uses her body-based practice across multiple interdisciplinary practices: dance-theater, collage, video work, sculpture, and text. Her stories use satire and humor to engage the discourse around gender and racialized histories.
After receiving her Master of Fine Arts from the Art Institute of Chicago, Jackson completed The Tar Baby Code, an alphabet font she had been working on for years in response to “The TAR BABY A Global History” by Bryan Wagner. It provided a base for speaking about race, gender, and how the oppressed underdog is able to “trick” the oppressor with wit, skill and undeniable attachment to familial roots. The purpose of the font is to transform racial trauma. It speaks to a history of oppression against Black bodies and its inherent liberation.
Jackson’s most recent work, “TEAR SUTURE SCAB” (TSS), is a short artistic film, inspired by The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries (MET Museum, Cloisters) featuring a group of noblemen and hunters trapping and killing a Unicorn. TSS uses the last tapestry, which finds in the resurrected Unicorn a theoretical framework that parallels the historical atrocities faced by Black Americans.
Gregg Mozgala is a 2016 Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, a 2018 Lucille Lortel Award winner, and a 2022 Kennedy Center “Next 50” Cultural Leader. He is also the artistic director of The Apothetae, a theater organization that he founded in 2012.
His Artpreneur of the Year Award will support the work of The Apothetae.
Mozgala, an actor, writer and dancer who has cerebral palsy, recognized a dearth of theatrical material that dealt with disability in a compelling and satisfactory way, and vowed to make a change.
The Apothetae’s full body of work goes beyond the production of plays; the company also serves as a platform for a larger conversation around disability.
Mozgala recently starred as the title character on a national tour of "Teenage Dick," a modern take on Shakespeare's "Richard III" centered on the experience of a high school student with cerebral palsy. The play, commissioned by The Apothetae and written by Mike Lew, included performances at the Public Theater in New York and nationally. Mozgala will play King Edward IV/Richmond in this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park presented by the Public Theater in Central Park.
Jackson Baker’s “Arcadia” is an original web series produced by UNCSA alumnus Danny Keenan (B.F.A Drama ’21). An actor drawn to creating his own work, Baker recently moved from Charlotte to Brooklyn, where he intends to use “Arcadia” to build his own artistic community. A 21st-century coming-of-age dramedy, “Arcadia” uses Dungeons and Dragons as a creative vessel to flesh out its players' real-life hopes and fears, while telling a larger story of friendship and loyalty. Baker plans to pitch the pilot to investors and networks.
Emily DeForest is an actress and filmmaker currently based in Brooklyn, where she has been performing, writing and producing theater and film since 2017. Her first short film, “Hi Mom” (2020), has been screened at NiteHawk Shorts Fest, NoBudge and Film Shortage. She is the screenwriter and lead actor in her current project, “Angry Belly,” an auto-fictional short film. “Angry Belly” follows an artist whose life spirals into absurdity as the reality of her unwanted pregnancy sets in.
Tij D’oyen is a filmmaker living in New York City. His next short film, “Nepo, Baby!” was inspired by the ways of niche Instagram micro-celebrities and Hollywood socialites. It is an absurd exploration of the fragility of privilege and the desperate lengths one might go to for stardom. D’oyen intends for “Nepo, Baby!” to help build an infrastructure that will lead to his first feature film. He is currently in postproduction for his latest short film, “Lollygag,” starring UNCSA alumni Gaby Slape (B.F.A. Drama ’20) and Isaac Powell (B.F.A. Drama ’17).
Tramaine Rapheal Gray is an award-winning multidisciplinary director, writer and curator whose creative project is a new form of storytelling that he calls Live Art Experience. A self-described “ever-evolving, Black queer storyteller who specializes in film and experimental performance art,” Gray uses Live Art Experience to create thought-provoking art that employs humanity within marginalized communities while sparking revolutionary conversation. So far, he has showcased two of these experiences, “Museum of Unity” and “Pain & Triumph.” As an artist, he hopes to use his voice to evolve, heal and uplift the world around him. Of his next project, “The Mind and The Matters,” Gray says, “I aspire to ignite a therapeutic and pertinent conversation about how, amid a global pandemic and the current state of humanity, we as society need to evolve and prioritize our minds and the matters.” Born and reared in Macon, Georgia, and Orlando, Florida, Gray currently lives in Brooklyn.
Nile Harris is a performer and director of live works of art who lives in Brooklyn. His current project, “this house is not a home,” is an hourlong improvised choreographic happening that takes place in and around a sound-responsive inflatable bounce castle. Harris said the work was prompted by a challenge to make a work that centered on joy but also his social responsibility as a Black artist to respond to the ongoing political reckoning of life in these United States and to use his art to heal himself, his audience and the world. He writes: “This provocation left me with a feeling of hollowness; an absence, which led me to the image of an inflatable bounce castle – a preadolescent reimaging of the big house on the hill. A hollow space for play, that, like most well-meaning things, are just filled with hot air.” “this house is not a home,” made in collaboration with performer Malcolm-x Betts and sound designers slowdanger, will have its premiere performance Dec. 9-11, 2022, at Abrons Arts Center in New York City.
Asia Jones is a New York-based freelance cinematographer and director who has worked on multiple sets for Comedy Central, Footlocker, Adidas and Vogue. She is launching a new animated kids’ show, “Nakita: Legend of the Ancient Ones,” which she created to let BIPOC children see themselves in sci-fi/fantasy adventures at an early age. The story follows a girl named Yuri, who takes a journey to space and discovers another galaxy and secrets of her past. Jones believes that animé is a medium that offers children a way to learn valuable lessons on philosophy, morality and spirituality. She said she hopes that “Nakita” will encourage children from all walks of life to dream big and imagine themselves as innovators and dreamers.
Originally from New York, Alex Avril Klein has made Winston-Salem her home. Her project, Grrrl Gaze Film School, is an easily accessible e-learning platform and a digitized after-school and/or summer camp curriculum geared toward empowerment and action. Taking its inspiration from the Riot Grrrl movement of the ’90s and Klein’s personal experiences as a female filmmaker in an industry that has historically undervalued the contributions of women, Grrrl Gaze Film School aims to teach female and nonbinary teens from all socioeconomic backgrounds the power of filmmaking to create cultural change. By teaching media literacy and technical filmmaking skills through a female-centered lens and exploring the historical and social context of women in film, Klein hopes Grrrl Gaze Film School will inspire a new generation of female and nonbinary filmmakers to go out there, shake up the status quo, and turn the ingrained idea of the “male gaze” on its head.
Hannah Myers’ project, “DADDY,” is a feature documentary film about her family’s experience of her father’s coming out as gay at age 70, her mother’s reckoning with the end of their 45-year marriage, and Myers’ learning to be a daughter in a new way. Raised in South Carolina, Myers currently lives in New York City where she is an award-winning actor, director and playmaker. She has also worked on new play development at a number of theaters including at Lincoln Center. Her films have been commissioned, and she has been an annual staff member at the Telluride Film Festival. Myers is passionate about collaborative, somatic storytelling on the stage and screen that empowers women and other underrepresented voices. Her mission for “DADDY” is for it to inspire urgent conversations about sexuality, family and religion outside of the usual constraints of trauma-centered narratives. She writes, “It’s a movie about wrestling with the total disgust and total love for where you come from and how to exist in the world as a result of that.”
Rachel Cozart’s SnowGlobe Series is an interdisciplinary installation with the overarching goal of creating real-life animation. The project aims to create interactive art spaces giving the Greensboro public an opportunity for grounding and escapism. The series was born from Cozart’s desire to escape the difficulties that come with living with mental illness, and the project aims to start conversations around mental health. The Artpreneur funding will help with materials needed to make this project accessible to as many people as possible while creating a community for mental health.
Jenna Cusack’s “Bad Look” is a short film that will address the modern state of toxic masculinity and the pressures of social media. This story will encourage conversations and self-reflection in its target audience: young adults who grew up in a world shaped by social media.
Billie Feather’s Feather Farm Recording is an enterprise in audio engineering with a focus in portable and on-demand location recording. It will allow musicians and small musical groups to be professionally recorded in locations of their choice. This will directly benefit musicians who may not have geographic access to a professional recording studio or funding to pay for an entire day of recording in a studio, and those who have the desire to record in a setting where they feel more comfortable or in a specific performance venue. By being able to set up and record in any situation, Feather Farm Recording will help musicians easily create recordings that they can use for albums, auditions or promotion.
Houston Odum’s “Passages” by Activate Entertainment, LLC, combines circus, dance, theater and live music into a cohesive, storytelling performance series that will explore childhood, change and connection. The project consists of three 15-minute pop-up pieces and one 45-minute show to be performed publicly across four months in the Piedmont Triad of North Carolina. Each “activation” uses three weeks of research and one week of in-person creation, which will invite the public into the making of the pieces. This project will be produced and directed through Houston’s company, Activate Entertainment, LLC, which was founded amid the COVID-19 pandemic in October of 2020.
Marina Zurita’s "Crossing Borders: Launching Mother Tongue" is at the intersection of documentary, theater and social activism. "Mother Tongue" is an original UNCSA production based on Bertolt Brecht's "Mother Courage" and Brazilian waste pickers (people who sell recyclables to make a living). This project seeks to present "Mother Tongue" to the Brazilian community of New York City and use their feedback to further develop a piece that promotes empathy toward those who collect 70% of American plastic waste. According to Zurita’s research, 70% of America’s waste ends up in other countries.
The Artpreneur Initiative is administered and supported by the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts, and has received support from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust, and Margaret Scales and Graydon Pleasants.
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April 27, 2022