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Women front and center: ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre's 2015–16 MainStage theatre lineup


The Fall of the House of Escher

Photo by Tim Trumble, courtesy Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

It’s no secret — diversity issues have plagued Hollywood and Broadway for years. This year’s Oscars categories for best director, best original screenplay, best adapted screenplay, best composer and best cinematographer contained no female nominees (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg), and while the Tonys offered a brief glimmer of hope with the unprecedented number of female award winners in 2015, we haven’t forgotten that the 2013–14 Broadway season did not include a single new play by a woman or a new musical with a female composer.

It’s probably not surprising, then, that this disparity carries over to the realm of indie films, off-Broadway shows and even small regional theatre companies.

In April, local Phoenix arts and culture reporter Robrt Pela published a short piece in the Phoenix New Times, “Drama Queens: Exploring the Gender Gap in the Valley’s Theater Community,” after Phoenix Theatre and Arizona Theatre Company announced season line-ups featuring only male playwrights.

Still, there are reasons to be hopeful. Arizona nonprofit The Bridge Initiative, which Pela briefly mentions in his article, is hoping to combat this mentality by “working to identify and empower female artists in the Southwest region, with the aim of gender parity across all theatrical disciplines,” according to the organization’s mission statement.

When the ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre set out to finalize the 2015–16 MainStage season, this idea of female empowerment was at the forefront of the discussion. And they decided to take action by featuring a majority of female playwrights. 

Lance Gharavi, assistant director of theatre in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre and artistic director of the MainStage season, summed up the decision thusly:

There’s been a good deal of discussion about the miserably low number of plays by women getting produced in major U.S. theatres, as well as the dearth of women’s stories on stages and screens. The 2015–16 season for the two largest theatre companies in the Valley, Arizona Theatre Company and Phoenix Theatre, will feature not even a single play by a female writer. At the recent 2015 Oscars, all of the films nominated for Best Picture were stories about men, and all of the nominees for Best Original and Best Adapted Screenplay were men.

This will not do.

The majority of plays in our upcoming season were written by women, and five of the seven plays tell stories which focus on female characters. This is nothing to be smug about. This shouldn’t be the exception. It should be the rule. It should be the it-goes-without-saying normal. But sometimes leading, sometimes innovating, can just mean doing the obvious.

 This season also focuses on U.S. American culture. We’ll be offering two classics of the American theatre (one of them, also a cinema classic) and the world premiere of a new play by one of our own MFA students. There are two works of theatre for youth, a play that will mark the 10th Anniversary of the TPOA program, two very new and very exciting works by U.S. women playwrights, and more varied and challenging opportunities for our students than they may know what to do with.

Without further ado, we are proud to announce the complete 2015–16 MainStage theatre season:

A Streetcar Named Desire: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 16–17, 22–23, 24; 2 p.m. Oct. 18, 25. Directed by Wyatt Kent. Written by Tennessee Williams. Lyceum Theatre.
This classic of American theatre and cinema follows the fragile and refined Blanche DuBois, who has fled to her sister’s New Orleans apartment to escape financial ruin. There she is confronted by her own past and fresh calamity in this Southern Gothic tale of lust, lies, brutality and madness.

Dry Land: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 30–31, Nov. 1, Nov. 6–8. Directed by William Partlan. Written by Ruby Rae Spiegel. FAC 133.
Written by up-and-coming playwright Ruby Rae Spiegel, “Dry Land” tells the story of two high school swimmers, Amy and Ester, who are drawn together by the need to secretly terminate Amy’s unwanted pregnancy. An intimate and searing portrait of teenage friendship and desperation set in a girls’ locker room. Mature content.

Brooklyn Bridge: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13–14, 19–20, 21; 2 p.m. Nov. 15, 22. (Nov. 20 at 11 a.m., student matinee). Directed by Ricky Araiza. Written by Melissa James Gibson. Paul V. Galvin Playhouse.
Meet Sasha, a 10–year–old with an impending essay deadline, absent parents and no pen. In her quest for a writing utensil and for company, she wanders through her apartment building, where she meets a variety of colorful tenants, who tell her stories about the Brooklyn Bridge and help her to confront her fears. Appropriate for families and young audiences.

Lasso of Truth: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12–13, 18–19, 20; 2 p.m. Feb. 14, 21. Directed by Pam Fields. Written by Carson Krietzer. Lyceum Theatre.
Bondage, Gloria Steinem and lie detector tests all figure into this racy tale about Wonder Woman’s origins and the lasting effects of her legacy. This is a story about the nature of comic books, truth and love. Mature content.

The America Play: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 19–21, Feb. 26–28. Directed by Nia Witherspoon. Written by Suzan-Lori Parks. FAC 133.
In this contemporary classic of the U.S. American theatre by one of its greatest living playwrights, The Founding Father re-enacts the assassination of Abraham Lincoln again and again beside The Great Hole of History. This production will mark the 10th anniversary of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre’s Theatre & Performance of the Americas program.

She Kills Monsters: 7:30 p.m. March 25–26, 31, April 1–2; 2 p.m. March 26, April 3. Directed by Lance Gharavi. Written by Qui Nguyen. Paul V. Galvin Playhouse.
To rediscover the younger sister she lost to a tragic car accident, Agnes must embark on a quest into deepest, darkest geekdom in this action-packed, 90s-themed romp through the fantasy world of Dungeons & Dragons. The line between fantasy and reality blurs as Agnes battles her own demons and learns to embrace the unordinary. Appropriate for families and young audiences.

on display: 7:30 p.m. April 15–16, 20–21, 23; 2 p.m. April 17, 24. Directed by Phil Weaver-Stoesz. Written by John Perovich. Lyceum Theatre.
Jack, a shut-in artist who lives on the Lower East Side, is faced with tough choices when his mother unexpectedly passes. Mary is determined to get his work into a gallery with the help of a curator, but their innocent partnership develops into a dangerous dance of exploitation. Splatter paintings are a grisly metaphor in this play about art, abuse and revealing the unseen in this world premiere by ASU MFA playwright John Perovich.

Reflections through Rumi and the Art of Presence


Melani Walton with ASU President Michael Crow 

On December 2, ASU’s Women in Philanthropy group met for lunch and conversation at the iStage on campus – an interactive research and teaching space at the School of Arts, Media + Engineering at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.  The event featured a brilliant presentation by school director Sha Xin Wei – featuring mind expanding examples of how technology, art and media can join to create rich new environments of sound, motion, light and perception.  Sha Xin Wei opened his demonstration with a simple but powerful question, “How do we create environments that are richer, but not more complicated?”  

Following Director Sha’s talk and demonstration, Melani Walton, co-chair for the event, presented a response that captures the spirit of the Herberger Institute and the School of Arts, Media + Engineering.  Drawing on ancient philosophy, the words of 13th Century poet Rumi, 17th Century Sufi mystics, and contemporary notions of biomimicry, Ms. Walton’s words are an elegiac musing of the role of art in our lives.  

She captures the importance of living in the moment and the value of embracing the temporary and fleeting.  She helps us see how all of us are creators and through our creations become part of the “pulse of life.”  Importantly, she helps us see how artists can be visionaries – bringing together forms, ideas, and people that might otherwise remain apart. 

She asks, “As adults, how can we choose to live in a world of wonderment?”  In many ways that is our mission at the Herberger Institute -- to use old and new technology, tools, platforms and mediums to create “bigger than me” experiences – to carve out a place in a world of limited time, endless choice, and constant distraction to help people experience “community, harmony, interaction and beauty.”  A world that is richer, but not more complicated. 

Please enjoy Melani’s words, which capture the ineffable spirit of the Herberger Institute.  


Reflections through Rumi and the Art of Presence
Melani Walton

I am excited to be here today. (Thank you all for being here and supporting the many wonderful programs supported through W&P). Art history was one of my majors, and to see how art and technology are being used together, for the purpose of creating worlds we want to live in, bridges us to a new era…or perhaps returns us to the thought of the day in centuries past. In history – Persia 17th century - the arts of poetry, music, architecture, and science were much more closely woven than they are today.  

I see the efforts of Dean Tepper and Xin Wei working as a portal to bridge the soul of art expression and the science of human technology, to create BTM ‘Bigger Than Me‘ Experiences, which reinstate or experiment with the values of community, harmony, interaction and beauty in modern life. Rumi was a bridge. The story of his funeral in 1273 is well known, as representatives from every religion – Muslim, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu – all attended. When questioned, they responded: He deepens us wherever we are and inspires us to explore the mystery of union. 

Some say a Rumi poem is a bridge to the heart, and though the heart is not the ultimate place to live, neither is a bridge. Pure being or just being is that.  Poetry points and persuades us there; close, but not the place itself. Poetry, art and any form of true expression seek to define the full consciousness that lives beyond words. 

Some of the work we’ve experienced today, I would define as the ‘art of seeing’ or as the ‘art of reflection’ and therefore, I would like to share a poem by Rumi, interpreted by Coleman Barks, ‘As the Sky Does in Water.’

As the Sky Does in Water    

For the grace of the presence, be grateful.
Touch the cloth of the robe,
But do not pull it toward you,
Or like an arrow it will leave the bow.

Images. Presence plays with form,
Fleeing and hiding as the sky does in water,
Now one place, now nowhere.  

Imagination cannot contain the absolute.
These poems are elusive
Because the presence is.

We try to create meaning out of experience, - to contain, to define, to ‘touch the cloth of the robe’ – but the moment we do, we leave the presence, the stillness and the unspoken knowing that is, and like an arrow, it leaves the bow. The human dilemma to hold on to that which is unattainable and can only be experienced, is just as the fleeing and hiding as ‘what the sky does in water’ – now in one place, then another, now nowhere.

Art is a form of expression to describe through the senses, sensually, that which is indescribable from within.  The formless, Infinite, True Self, which is fed and grows, expands and contracts, and lives through successes, failures, loves, losses, fears, darkness and light. But to label all as such,is an illusion – for these, too, are experiences on our journey. To live is to become alive within the peace of universal bliss and follow the pulse of life by being part of the creation, by creating.  As you have seen and know, we are all collectively part of the creation and all part of creating our shared reality. 

What if, through the process, I realize that which is not separate but the same, to see the ‘me’ in you and the ‘you’ in me. What if the masses or collective consciousness of the world would come to recognize ‘the other’ as one and the same – would the eyes of the world turn, what would they be focused on, and what would the world become?  Where the seer and the seen are one, reflecting the other. 

Our life is filled with symbols, and clues for our discovery – if we choose to see, to look, but ultimately, to seek is to find.  Our nature observed outside, reflects our true nature. How can we learn from the silent breath of the wind, what can the patterned form of the leaf teach us, who is the observer as we relate to the interconnectedness of all life, and why must we know.  Even if we don’t seek to recognize we still experience.

Empathy is difficult to grasp – fleeing and hiding, as sky does in water – just mere glimpses here and there, to truly feel or know another for a brief moment; so how could we teach this essential knowledge with all the distractions we have going on around us. How can creating external environments align with developing our internal landscape, or reset our ‘sight’ to acknowledge beauty in its many forms – not by sensationalized versions of what beauty should be or ought to be, but what truly is and re-ignite the fire of real observation, once again – like the Sufis of the 17th century, to create harmonic landscapes on the outside to enhance our connection to harmonic inner-scapes, to realize our connection and interaction in real-time, to not only imagine ourselves as creative but to see ourselves as creators acting within a receptive, reflective and interactive universe. Would we be drawn closer to the universality of the interconnectedness of all life and our personal responsibility to give back? All of life operates under the laws of this energetic Integrity. 

We all operate within this dialogue, if we choose to participate…or even if we don’t, we are still choosing. Every moment we are creating, exchanging, transforming and perfecting even through our most imperfect times. Our world is forming around us and is seen and experienced as – our reality.  Our reality is formed though what we choose to perceive (the inhale of life through our senses) and what we choose to express or share (the exhale of life). 

On a daily walk, we can inhale the profound mystique of the honeybee or the simple way the water forms to create a brilliant ecosystem within the crack of the sidewalk, or we can fear the sting of the bee we may be allergic to or the darn crack in the sidewalk that ripped the heel off our shoe or turned an ankle. Which will we choose? Do we have time or take time to pause and realize our many choices, and the reverberations of each…until we truly have to?  

The ‘big ideas’ for me always reside in the form of a question.  Why - Because the asking is just as essential as the finding. If a seed didn’t intuitively strive to grow upwards in search of the light would it ever reach its potential? If the caterpillar were released from the cocoon would it develop the strength garnered through struggle, to fly? 

We create through thought – through wonderment and what-if’s - the very seeds of thought. The warehouse of our mind energy is vast and our potential limitless. But we are human and here to learn, so we vacillate between good intentions and oops, missed the mark. Both are forms of shadow play, light and dark, which are essential parts of the process to see the other in thy Self.  From this vantage, we can enter through the cracks in our own armor to forgive the cracks in others. The spirit of the holiday season - and life - is simple, to Em-Body Love, and to share your innate Gifts - the creative Self - selflessly with others. Together we co-create our world; is it worth living in?

If the world which resides within you, were created outside of you – what type of world would it be? What are you creating through thought right now, today, tomorrow, or in the very next moment? “We see the world not as it is, but as we are.”  – Anais Nin 

As adults, how can we choose to live in a World of Wonderment, a few times a day, which increase to several hits a day, to become in flow with life? How would your inner world change and what reflection would that have on your outer world?

How can you reflect and observe ‘what the sky does in water’ and apply to your life – become witness to the Shadows fleeing and hiding - now one place, now nowhere.  Imagination cannot contain the Absolute.  For the grace of the Presence, Be grateful. 

I want to leave you with a Rumi poem, interpreted by Coleman Barks, which hints at our own St. Nick - Santa Claus story, but unlike the sensationalized version, the visions of sugarplums – or treasures and beauty – are seen only from the truest Eye, the heart. 

A King Dressed As a Servant

A sweet voice calls out,
The caravan from Egypt is here.
A hundred camels with amazing treasure.

  Midnight, a candle and someone quietly waking me,
Your friend has come.

  I spring out of my body, put a ladder to the roof,
And climb up to see if it is true.

  Suddenly there is a world within this world,
Ocean inside the water jar.

  A king sitting with me dressed as a servant.
A garden in the chest of the gardener.

  I see how love has thoughts,
And that these thoughts are circling in conversation with majesty.

In the words of Anais Nin, ‘We see the world not as it is, but as we are.’ Good tidings to all, and to all – good ‘sight’.

Thinking 'Bigger Than Me' in the Liberal Arts


This article by Steven J. Tepper, dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at ASU, was published in The Chronicle of Higher Education on Sept. 16, 2014: 

David Plunkert for The Chronicle

Image courtesy of the Chronicle: David Plunkert for The Chronicle

decade ago, arts leaders faced a crisis in America. National data indicated significant declines in attendance at venues for virtually every art form—classical music, dance, theater, opera, jazz, museums. Bill Ivey, a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, and I offered a counternarrative in 2006: We saw a renaissance in creativity and cultural engagement, made possible, in part, by new technology. Guitar sales had tripled in the course of the decade; 25 percent of college students in one study indicated that they had produced their own music and posted it online. "Pro-ams" were on the rise—people who were not making money at their art but were part of robust creative and collaborative communities. More than 100 hours of content uploaded to YouTube every minute suggested the emergence of new forms of online creativity.

I now believe the pendulum has swung too far.

Much of the cultural activity we celebrated in 2006 could be categorized as "iCreativity," emphasizing personal expression, identity, individual customization, convenience, and choice. Too often that has turned into what I will call "me experiences." Market researchers call this the era of IWWIWWIWI (I Want What I Want When I Want It). In both culture and education, what we need are more ... Read the full article on the Chronicle of Higher Education website

Welcome! ASU Herberger Institute Fall 2014 Video (and bloopers...)


The fall 2014 semester at Arizona State University officially began this week, and we'd like to welcome all the students and faculty, new and returning, to the ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

Our new dean, Steven J. Tepper, joined the directors of the schools within the Herberger Institute -- the School of Art, the School of Music, the School of Arts, Media + Engineering, The Design School and the School of Film, Dance and Theatre -- to make an official welcome video, posted below.

And, in the spirit of the great American inventor Edwin Land, who pointed out that "an essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail," Dr. Tepper and friends also appear in a blooper reel.

Welcome back -- and let's get creative! 


Herberger Institute Welcome Video Fall 2014 from ASU Herberger Institute on Vimeo.

Welcome Bloopers from ASU Herberger Institute on Vimeo.





The moment every performer prays for: ASU student sings with the pros


Toby Yatso, ASU Lyric Opera Theatre faculty, organized an extraordinary opportunity for 10 Lyric Opera Theatre students to sing on stage with the Phoenix Symphony for its Marvin Hamlisch tribute concert March 7-9, 2014.

The students – Alli Villines, Ryanne Hammerl, Chelsea Chimilar, Brittany Howk, Sarah Sawyer, Emma Covington, Jennie Rhiner, Taylor DiTola, Emilie Doering and Ali Wood – were going to perform the song “Smile” with theatre legends Donna McKechnie and Jodi Benson.

But as is often the case in show business, things took an unexpected turn.

Here’s Alli Villines first-hand account of what happened to her. Like so many good stories, it even has a moral: Work hard, know your stuff, show up – and things happen!


Above: Students from ASU's Lyric Opera Theatre, in the School of Music in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, pose with Jodi Benson, far left in the second row, and Donna McKechnie, to Benson's left. Alii Villines is in the front row on the left, in front of Benson. Photo courtesy of Alli Villines.


As a 30-year-old, married graduate student, the biggest appeal spring break usually holds for me is lots of time to spend with my husband and lots of time to catch up on schoolwork.

This spring break, however, I, along with nine other students from ASU’s Lyric Opera Theatre, was slated to perform a song called “Smile” from the musical “Smile” (which we performed in the fall semester) with the Phoenix Symphony and Doug LaBrecque, as part of a Marvin Hamlisch tribute concert March 7-9. 

Also appearing as part of this concert were Tony-award-winning actress Donna McKechnie and Disney voice actor legend Jodi Benson.

There were three performances and two rehearsals. At the first rehearsal, the performers were running through the program order, and we were sitting in the audience, giddy schoolgirls, watching Cassie from “A Chorus Line” and the voice of Ariel, the Little Mermaid, work their magic. As musical theatre actors and singers, we have all been influenced by these two women. 

Then they get  to “At the Ballet” from “A Chorus Line.”

Usually the chorus of the symphony (this is a touring show) provides a third soloist to round out this trio of women. This is where the luck side of this business comes into play: For one reason or another, this detail slipped through the cracks, and there is no soloist. 

Doug LaBrecque comes over to our group and says, “Have any of you ever played BeBe?” Not a one. I speak, though, and say I’ve played Maggie and I know the song and have performed it. He walks away. The information is out there, I think, do with it what they will. 

I get up to go to the restroom not five minutes later, and I never make it, because I am stopped in the hallway by Jodi Benson, Doug LaBrecque, Donna McKechnie, John Such (the man who wrote the tribute and hired the artists) and Alan Tomasetti (the artistic planning associate for Phoenix Symphony). 

They ask me, “Can you do this?” 

Holy hell. OK, keep calm. Yes, I can do it. Oh, I should say that out loud. “Yes, I’ve done the show. If you give me the music, I can learn the other part.” 

This is what we train for, and the moment every performer prays for. 

I am whisked away to Jodi Benson’s dressing room, and we run the part a cappella. Got it. Whisked to the stage, handed a mic and go! With the symphony. I’ve got it, I’ve trained for it, I’ve done the show, I can sight-read the part. We stay after for an extra bit of rehearsal in which Doug records my part on his phone and e-mails it to me. 

I go home and stay up well into the night at my keyboard memorizing the new harmony. Wake up for a 9 a.m. extra rehearsal that will seal the deal. 

And there it is. I am standing in between Donna McKechnie and Jodi Benson (who could not be sweeter or more encouraging) and in front of the Phoenix Symphony and Choir and singing under the baton of conductor Larry Blank for three performances the first weekend of spring break. 

Pretty much the ONLY way I can describe how it felt is this: It was dream. When I was performing, I honed in; I was so focused, and I tried to live in the moment and tattoo the feeling and memory into my mind, to forget who I was standing in between but revel in the fact as well. It was a dream. One of those once in a career things. One of those possibly career-changing moments (who knows). 

Even if nothing ever comes of it, I will live out my days having done at least once what I spent all that money and all those hours in the practice room and all those nights dreaming of doing. 

Worth it.


--Alli Villines, ASU School of Music student


 ASU student Alli Villines with Donna McKecknie and Jodi Benson at the Marvin Hamlisch tribute concert in Phoenix

Left to right: Jodi Benson, ASU School of Music student Alli Villines and Donna McKechnie stand together backstage at the Marvin Hamlisch tribute concert. Photo courtesy of Alli Villines.

Read a review of the performance, including a mention of Alli’s role in it.


Q&A: ASU's Michael Kocour on teaching jazz



Photo by Tim Trumble


ASU Associate Professor Michael Kocour (above) is the director of jazz studies in the School of Music, in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. He's also a musician who's been hailed by the Chicago Tribune as “one of the most sophisticated pianists in jazz.”

Kocour has played with everyone from Dizzy Gillespie to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and in February he returned to Chicago -- he used to teach at Northwestern -- to play a couple of critically acclaimed shows with saxophonist Benny Golson. 

Review: Benny Golson enchants at Jazz Showcase

Review: Benny Golson, Mike Kocour at Jazz Showcase, 2/6-9

Recently, we asked Kocour some questions about the teaching of jazz, which filmmaker Ken Burns has called "the only art form created by Americans, an enduring and indelible expression of our genius and promise."  

Q: Compared to other forms of music, what does the study of jazz add to the curriculum?

A: More so than most music students, jazz studies major are required not only to perform music but to improvise and compose music as well. They study in a curriculum in which they are evaluated regularly as performers, improvisers and composers -- all three.

Q: What does it teach musicians about music and about themselves?

A: It is likely that each student in the jazz studies program would have a different answer to that question, but in general I would say that jazz students get quite a bit of experience with authorship, whereas most other music students (with the exception of composition majors of course) get considerably less. Jazz students play their own music and the music of their colleagues in the program. And even when one of our jazz students is playing an Ellington tune, they are expected to add something of their own to the performance of that tune. Every day our ASU jazz studies students create music that is unique -- music that is a product of their own experience.

Q: How does the study of jazz complement what the students are learning in more traditional music classes?

A: From my own experience, I find that actively composing and improvising makes me all of the more interested in the timeless works of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Stravinksky, etc. Creating my own music simply makes me more curious about the decisions that these great masters made. When studying music history, we gain a better understanding of the music of our time and our culture by learning about how great music of the past was a reflection of the time period when it was written and the culture from where it came.

Q: Does the fact that it’s uniquely American play a role?

A: I think that it does. Jazz music is the “mother tongue” of so much music we hear today. Elements of a jazz and the blues are woven into the fabric of music from all parts of the world–both popular and “concert” music.

Q: During concerts, you direct for a period and then walk away while the students continue playing. What does that kind of interaction teach the students?

A: I only direct the band when it is absolutely necessary. Sometimes I’ll have a student from the band direct or give the cues. The students need to learning self-reliance, and besides, it’s their performance, not mine. 


Photo of Michael Kocour by Tim Trumble.


Design Student Abroad: Singapore, where to begin?


By Taylor Loutsis, graphic design student in The Design School

taylorloutsis panorama1

My time spent exploring Southeast Asia, and studying and interning in Singapore will remain very close to my heart. I have fallen deeply in love with the stunning SE Asian cultures after backpacking two months through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Malaysia (video of trip here) prior to studying in Singapore. This has been, and very well could forever be the most influential period of time having the most profound effect on my photography, design work, and myself.

BorabudurFrom eating the spicy foods of Bali to walking the mysterious Temples of Angkor Wat, from interning at one of the top design studios of Singapore–arguably all of SE Asia to volunteering at a health clinic providing free services in the slums of Bandung, Indonesia; my experiences have touched every imaginable adventurous, emotional, spontaneous, and adrenaline-seeking nerve in my body. The collection of experiences locked away in my brain and in the photography on my hard drive will be what I will fly away passionately missing most from my time here. Experiencing both the academic and professional industries of design in Singapore certainly added depth to my time here, especially due to the projects I acquired in the classroom setting.

My courses at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), specifically, Art, Design & Media (ADM) were a bit substandard in comparison to ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and The Arts’ curriculum and standards. The culture here does not endorse heavy, critical constructive criticism of student work like ASU, and due to this, the feedback from professors was not to the quality I had hoped for. However, the freedom is what made up for the lack of feedback. Exchange students had visible freedoms to explore beyond the class project guidelines set for Singaporean students, allowing me to have a plethora of time to explore my interests and passions. I soon began morphing projects inspired by my surroundings of Singapore, not related to the course, into class projects. Due to the freedoms, I will be leaving Singapore with:

–branding three lines of Chinese (Peranakan) jewellery in collaboration with a product design student,
–writing a 105-page book with my photography documenting the possible psychological effects high-rise housing architecture has on Singaporeans (my personal hypothesis),
–branding of a local café, and
–rebranding of a rural region called Kranji Countryside of 22 farms in Singapore.

Each one of my projects added a new substantial layer of cultural knowledge richening my time abroad. I am left speechless from the opportunities I have had here, in addition to professional exposure.

I landed an internship with Hjgher design studio. During my time with Hjgher, the studio had decided to take-on a three-month project (U Factory) curating local art, design, culinary, bookbinding, wood craft,  and virtually all avenues of creativity. This allowed for me to mingle with local art and design professionals leading to relationships and connections I will certainly maintain after I return to America. To see how the in-house creative processes play out into final tangible design projects involving Hermès, Chanel, boutique hotels, and local cafés was a dream come true.


The professional, academic, and adventurous experiences I underwent were remarkable, and quite frankly I am wondering if there is anything I had missed. I will certainly be leaving shortly with a feeling of completeness, a feeling of knowing I gave it my all. I will be flying away with a far richer understanding that anything is possible with persistence, the right mindset, alignment of priorities, and simply following your gut. I loved my time abroad, and by being the first design student of the Design School within Herberger to study abroad over a semester, hope this door of opportunity to study abroad remains open for future design students.

Thank you to all who played a part at some point in my time here, each of you know who you are, lah.

Thank you,






So your son or daughter wants to be an ART major?!


by Adriene Jenik, director, ASU School of Art


As another academic year fast approaches, I am assisting faculty and staff with final preparations and composing my remarks to welcome new ART students to campus. I can picture their excited faces, and just as clearly, their parents’ worried expressions. With the excitement of college also come concerns about its cost. Majors and degrees that don’t seem to directly track into high paying jobs are perceived as less desirable. Since it is now almost impossible to complete a degree without incurring some student loan debt, the ability to pay off that debt is a factor in choosing a college major.

Given this, I’m not surprised that I am increasingly asked “What’s the value of an ART degree?” The question is popping up with more and more frequency, and this seems a good time to put my answer in writing.

It is important to know that pretty much everything we wear, sit on, look at, hear and touch was created with input from a creative professional, a field to which artists belong. The design on your t-shirt, the icons on your smartphone, the label on your peanut butter, the experience of your favorite amusement park ride, and even the effective TV advertisement encouraging you to study one of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines, engaged artists’ hearts, minds and hands in their making. With the growth of computer based social networks and applications as a throughput for all kinds of human exchange – including education, medicine, shopping and friendship – the computer interface mediates our lives. Artists and designers, in this way, will be framing our core life activity for decades to come. 

Sure, you might allow that “digital arts” (which happens to be my own field), have some use. But not painting and drawing, or sculpture – not to mention, ceramics or printmaking.

Although these may not translate into more traditional looking “jobs” for graduates, in fact, they prepare students exceptionally well for life in the 21st Century. Below are a few of the key proficiencies acquired by all ART students during the course of pursuing their degree - each of which is critical to success in navigating our future job market.

ART students learn to TAP INTO CREATIVE FLOW

The sketchbook-toting ART student may be a cliché, but that sketchbook (and the contemporary digital equivalent) is really a capture source for an outpouring of creative flow. Ideas for projects are sketched or notated, collaged and outlined – invariably each assignment yields more ideas than can be carried through at that moment – a surplus of visual and thought concepts exist that can be returned to again and again. Most importantly, having been required to brainstorm project ideas on a regular basis, students understand the conditions they need to maximize their creative energy and can readily activate this important 21st century skill. 

ART students learn to SYNTHESIZE

Unlike many undergraduate degrees which require students to analyze, interpret, deduce and breakdown a subject into smaller parts for closer examination – undergraduate artists are regularly asked to bring together complex and often contradictory ideas into a larger whole. The successful artwork is a balance between form and content, so artists bring in ideas and learning from other fields of knowledge and regularly transform them into something new, paying close attention to the historical, cultural and symbolic context of their chosen medium.

ART students do RESEARCH

A ceramics student, in order to create a contemporary figurative warrior sculpture takes time to study historical images and objects from indigenous cultures, reads historical and contemporary accounts of warriors and perhaps even composes written reflections on the meanings of a warrior, war, and resistance in her life. She considers appropriate materials, glazes, and firing methods that emerge from this conceptual process to emphasize her idea. In many educational fields, this type of original research is not expected of students until upper division undergraduate or even graduate classes. In an undergraduate ART degree, students are expected from the first day of their freshman year to develop original research projects – their artwork.

ART students learn DISCIPLINE and FOCUS

Once classes commence, I walk through the ART buildings every few weeks and look in on the classroom activity. The level of focus of the students as they work on their projects, especially as the end of the term nears, is intense. Students learn not just by looking or reading, but by experimenting, trying and trying again and then again to get better and better at their chosen medium or expressive process. They see progress occur in increments over time, as they accumulate techniques and iterate versions of an idea or object. For example, a printmaker might make multiple “proofs” of each layer of a multi-layer print – trying out different ink viscosities, pressures, and colors; different papers (colors, transparencies, textures) before the final finished product is ready to be editioned. By the time they are ready to exhibit their culminating artwork, they have not yet “mastered” their chosen medium (this can take a lifetime), but they have a visceral understanding of the time, tenacity and ongoing disciplined practice it takes to get really good at something.


The primary pedagogical contribution of the ART classroom is known as the critique. Here, students and faculty critically discuss and analyze student work. This process can be both brutally soul-crushing and powerfully nurturing, depending on the philosophy and sensitivities of the faculty steering the discussion and the particular dynamic of the individual class. Regardless, students become familiar with exposing themselves to criticism, discerning what critical feedback is of value to them in their practice, and learning how to interpret and respond to the work of others. They also become comfortable with disagreement and debate and are capable of advocating for their ideas in a group. One can see how this would be of value in any work setting that involves team work.


Many students become more resourceful during their college years - eating ramen noodles to sustain themselves on a limited budget – but ART students are guaranteed to learn this important life skill. Materials and class fees are expensive (considerably more than textbooks for an ambitious student), and time in a specialized studio must be planned in advance and then utilized to the fullest. A valuable shared resource like a laser cutter or large format photographic printer will be in high demand at the end of the term, and materials may be charged by the inch. Artists learn how to make the absolute most of what they have at hand, inventing new uses for common, cheap and even discarded materials, and learn how to maintain their tools and take care of equipment to last for years.

ART students learn how to see beauty and possibility in spaces that are considered derelict or are otherwise abandoned by others. Countless examples of “reborn” neighborhoods in cities around the world[i] are the result of artists moving in and making an area that was once considered uninhabitable into a special destination. ART students also learn the value of human resource and community as they regularly collaborate and support one another when a project outgrows the ability of the artist to make, move, or hang it themselves.

ART students learn how to SCOPE and SCALE

By the time they graduate, students understand the need to scope and scale their ideas to fit their time and budget and even a client. They learn these skills through the ongoing practice of transforming their ideas into realized projects. During their first years, ideas regularly strain the confines of the short assignment period, or can fall short of what is expected for a more ambitious end of term project. But by the time they receive their degree, students understand that most projects can be scaled way up or down (in response to a windfall commission opportunity or an unexpected added expense), and ideas need to be scoped with the audience and display context in mind. A display of work in a pedestrian traffic corridor allows for a different level of attention than an exhibition mounted in a more traditional exhibition space that supports contemplation. All ART students produce, as a requirement of their degree, a culminating exhibition of their work and learn the details involved in preparing, designing, mounting and publicizing a professional show. This involves attending to all details, including securing of specialized facilities, equipment, and permissions.

ART students learn in INTIMATE SETTINGS

ART students have SMALL CLASSES. Studio courses are regularly capped at less than 20 students due to equipment access and/or safety issues. Most upper division courses are taught by full-time faculty, caring active artists in their field. For the student who enjoys close interaction with and mentoring by talented professionals who are seasoned teachers – you can’t beat an ART major. As one ART student who recently graduated enthused, “I can walk down the hall and four professors know me by name and can talk to me about the work I just exhibited…who would have expected that in a big University?”

In writing this, I’m not trying to convince you that if your child is interested in engineering or business or medicine they should study ART instead. But I hope that if you or your child are genuinely interested in ART you will not be discouraged from pursuing this path out of concern you won’t be able to support yourself or that your child will end up in your basement for years afterward. Studying ART is serious preparation for the creative, critical, and resource demands of the 21st century environment and workplace.

If you can step back, take a deep breath and imagine what lies beyond the horizon of the current job market, I hope you might consider one final point. According to the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP)[ii], ARTs alumni have reported overwhelmingly that they are gainfully employed and content with their lives as contributors to the public good.[iii] If you ever said to your child that all you want is for them is to live a happy and fulfilled life, then I’m pleased to tell you that supporting their choice of an ART major will help them achieve this ultimate goal.


[i] In New York City alone there is SoHo, the East Village, Chelsea, D.U.M.B.O and countless other now sought after neighborhoods that were made special by artists moving in and getting busy.

[ii] http://snaap.indiana.edu/

[iii] 87% - a much larger percentage of contentedness than in most other alumni groups reporting


Is Digital Culture for you?



digital culture

Have you wondered if an interactive gaming system could be used not only for entertainment but as a tool for rehabilitating physical disabilities
or fighting diabetes?

Have you thought that a smart phone could be even smarter, potentially sensing environmental changes and anticipating and intuitively responding to local emergencies?

Have you wanted to create a virtual bridge among various cultures and
styles of design and the arts that allows people to experience the world’s creative offerings regardless of their location?

At the ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts we’ve created the only interdisciplinary Digital Culture BA program in the nation where students and faculty explore new media and digital experiences in an educational environment unlike any other in the nation.

Our Digital Culture undergraduate program was created recognizing that we exist in a world that is based on digital assistance from the computers we use to our phones and entertainment devices, cars and household appliances. Users drive the development of the next-generation applications and tools as much as developers. Aesthetic, emotional and intellectual engagement – all elements of a design and arts experience – are as integral to the continual evolution of our digital world as actual product functionality.

Digital Culture provides students with a contemporary liberal arts education that gives them a set of skills that will be highly desirable in the workplace over the next 40 years,’’ said Thanassis Rikakis, professor and director of the School of Arts, Media and Engineering. “The proficiency-based approach means students connect courses across academic disciplines instead of by traditional methods such as course prerequisites.”

The program’s curriculum was designed to prepare students to develop new media systems for cultural practice and combine this knowledge with critical thinking and problem-solving skills to be able to create what has not yet even been conceived.



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