February 17, 2005
Vol. 24 No. 10

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    Deavere Smith to serve as first Presidential Fellow in the Arts

    By Jennifer Carnig
    News Office

    Anna Deavere Smith

    The University’s Arts Planning Council and the office of President Randel have teamed up to launch the Presidential Fellows in the Arts Series, a new initiative that will bring three artists to campus every academic year for residencies of various lengths.

    Each residency will include a public lecture, performance or workshop, as well as a more intimate educational program for students, such as a seminar or class.

    The series will begin Tuesday, March 1, when playwright, actor and professor Anna Deavere Smith comes to campus to present “Snapshots: Glimpses of America in Change.” Smith also will take questions from students at a panel discussion coordinated by the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture.

    Smith is highly regarded as the author and performer of two one-woman plays that examine racial tension in the United States: Fires in the Mirror, an Obie Award-winner and runner-up for the 1993 Pulitzer Prize; and Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, an Obie-Award winner and a 1994 Tony Award nominee. She has received the prestigious MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” and has been called by Newsweek “the most exciting individual in American theater” for the singular manner in which her original theater pieces explore issues of race, community and character in America.

    In 1998, Smith founded the Institute on the Arts & Civic Dialogue at Harvard University. She is a tenured professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and is affiliated with the NYU School of Law. She is the author of Talk to Me: Travels in Media & Politics (2000) and currently is working on two books, Letter to a Young Artist and Art & Politics. Smith may be best known for her role on television’s The West Wing, in which she plays National Security Advisor Nancy McNally.

    “She brings a searing intelligence to the work that she does, whether it be her artistic work, intellectual work or institutional work,” said David Levin, one of the creators of the Presidential Fellows in the Arts Series and Chair of the recently formed faculty committee on Theater & Performance Studies. “And she’s a really important and innovative thinker who can help us as a University community enter into a dialogue on the place of the arts in the academy, and the place of the academy in the arts.”

    The idea behind the series was to bring to campus prominent practicing artists who include a strong intellectual component in their work, explained Associate Provost Mary Harvey, who chairs the Arts Planning Council. Working from a proposal submitted by the faculty committee on Theater & Performance Studies, council members Levin, Marna Seltzer of the University of Chicago Presents, Heidi Coleman, Director of University Theater, and Jacqueline Terrassa, Interim Director of the Smart Museum of Art, made the initiative a reality. “We wanted to create a program that would present the arts in a way that is distinctly Chicago,” Harvey said.

    There has existed on campus a misrepresentation that studying or participating in the arts is not an intellectually rigorous activity, Levin said.

    “But the notion that a tension exists between intellectual excellence and artistic excellence is a cultural perception, not a fact,” he continued. “We wanted to demonstrate that intelligence and artistic talent are compatible categories. And one of the ways to animate that intersection between artistic practice and intellectual endeavor is to bring to the University artists whose work intersects with work being done on campus.”

    Smith’s body of work fits in well with the mission of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, said Jacqueline Stewart, Associate Professor in English Language & Literature. Stewart will moderate an informal conversation between students, faculty and Smith that will explore the arts, politics and race. The time and location of that event is still to be determined.

    The public component of Smith’s visit will be her presentation “Snapshots: Glimpses of America in Change,” at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 1, in Mandel Hall, 1131 E. 57th St. Tickets are $15, or $5 for students with ID. Tickets may be purchased by calling (773) 702-8080, e-mailing concert-office@uchicago.edu or visiting the University of Chicago Presents box office from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 5720 S. Woodlawn Ave.

    More information is online at http://arts.uchicago.edu. People with disabilities who need assistance may call the box office in advance.