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General Audience

By Gabriela Martínez

Angélique Kidjo, Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter and activist from Benin, visited the University of Maryland for the WORLDWISE: Arts and Humanities Dean’s Lecture Series to talk about her life story and the role of music in activism. 

As soon as she walked onstage and sat down for her live discussion with Sheri Parks, associate dean of University of Maryland’s College of Arts and Humanities, Angélique Kidjo looked at the audience and said “You are all so quiet. We’re talking about art, man.”

Using her own lively stories about her childhood in a village in Benin, Kidjo captured the audience and lightened the mood.  An inquisitive child—known affectionately in her village as “Where, what and how?”—Kidjo was privileged for having parents who greatly valued her intellectual development.

Kidjo’s mother, a skilled costume designer, created a theater in her community.  As a child, Kidjo would spend time climbing in and out of the animal costumes her mother made. One night, when her mother did not have enough actors between scenes, she made Kidjo go onstage.  Not knowing what to do, Kidjo decided to belt out a song.

It was after that moment that Kidjo decided that she wanted to spend her life onstage.

When asked what it feels like to be the queen of African music, Kidjo responded  “I don’t believe in kings or queens.”

She said her nature is to defy structures of power, which she did after deciding to leave Benin, having realized that the country’s communist regime was not going to foster her creativity and desire to grow intellectually. 

Escaping Benin was not easy, she said. At the time, citizens who wanted to leave the country needed to get authorization from the government. Kidjo, however, was lucky. Her brother’s friend, who was working as airport security at the time, let her board the plane while his supervisor was in the bathroom.

“I’ve never ran so fast in my life,” Kidjo said.

When Kidjo arrived in France, she experienced racism and cultural estrangement in French society, and at the educational institution she graduated from—the CIM Jazz School of Paris.

On her way to register at the school, Kidjo asked for directions from two students.

“Jazz is not for African people,” one of the students told her.

The head of the school, having overheard what the girls had said to Kidjo, told Kidjo that she could prove those students wrong. At the end of the school year, he introduced her to the person who produced her debut album “Parakou.”

Since then, Kidjo’s fame has skyrocketed. She won her first Grammy in 2008 for her album “Djin Djin” and was named one of the 40 most powerful celebrities in Africa by Forbes.

Kidjo also discussed her work with the Batonga Foundation for Girls in Africa, which aims to empower girls and young women in Africa through educational opportunities. Kidjo is currently working on a cellphone-based program that collects information about girls in different African villages and maps it out according to different locations.

The purpose of the program is to find out how girls are living, if they are in school, forcefully married, or going through other types of difficult living situations. Kidjo’s foundation will develop an educational approach for girls based on the needs of the community reflected through the data.

For Kidjo, the first step in creating humanitarian programs for Africa, is giving voices to people and finding out what are their genuine needs.

“I don’t believe anyone can make any change in Africa if the African people are not in the center of the change,” Kidjo said.  “If you don’t ask them what they need, how can you bring a program that makes any sense to people?”

After the discussion, Moses Namara ‘16, a computer science major originally from Uganda, asked Kidjo for advice on how to improve the education system in different African countries.

In response to Namara’s question, Kidjo advocated for the role of youth in a country’s social and educational development, at the same time warning against starting revolutions and “breaking a system” without a plan.

“The platform is there—use it wisely,” said Kidjo, who is optimistic about the power of the Internet, but also wary about its potential to isolate people.

 After graduating from the University of Maryland, Namara will return to Uganda to teach basic programming classes at different local universities, including the Kampala International University.

Toward the end of the program, students gathered around Kidjo to discuss issues of colonialism and social injustice in Africa.

“She is very engaging,” said Peace Gwam ‘17, an economics and history major. “I like that she really called us to action as young students.”

Soulyana Lakew ’17, an economics major originally from Ethiopia, is interested in the role of the western world in the development of Africa.

“It is so refreshing to meet people with integrity,” Lakew said. “A lot of the role models we are given in society are so corrupt. To find someone who is able to use their voice for good and who is true to their word is so inspiring.”

 

WHAT:

The WORLDWISE: Arts and Humanities Dean’s Lecture Series features a discussion between Angélique Kidjo and Sheri Parks, associate dean in the College of Arts and Humanities, in which Kidjo will talk about her life story, including her reasons for escaping Benin’s former leftist regime to pursue her dream of becoming an artist in Paris. She will also talk about what it means to be the “queen of African music” and her fervent activism around women and girls in Africa.

The discussion will also explore the idea of cultural rights in the lives of refugees, taking into account the United Nations’ recognition of culture as a human right.

Prior to the lecture, the  Arts and Humanities Center for Synergy led by Sheri Parks will host a ThinkAThon for Refugees: A Think and Do Day of Intellectual Activism, in which Yasmine Taeb from Friends’ National Committee for Legislation will brief participants on the ongoing refugee crises. Two representatives from the International Rescue Committee will provide briefings on the current refugee crisis in Baltimore, which is one of largest receiver cities of refugees in the Unites States.

The briefings will be followed by group discussions, in which participants will examine specific issues and think of solutions to alleviate the plight of refugees.

The event is co-sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Office of International Affairs.

Lunch will be provided. Participants should register, but walk-ins are welcome.

WHO:

Sheri Parks, Associate Dean for Research, Interdisciplinary Scholarship and Programming in the College of Arts and Humanities

Angelique Kidjo, singer-songwriter and activist from Benin, Africa

Growing up in Benin, Africa, Kidjo was influenced by the sounds and rhythms of Beninese traditional music, as well as jazz, pop, and salsa music. Through her dynamic collaborations with composers such as Philip Glass, Kidjo strives to combine African music with different musical styles.

Kidjo was named one of the 40 most powerful celebrities in Africa by Forbes and one of the 100 most inspiring women in the world by The Guardian. As the founder of the Batonga Foundation for Girls in Africa and is Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, Kidjo is dedicated to empowering the lives of African women.

WHEN:

5:30 - 7 p.m. (WORLDWISE: Arts and Humanities Dean’S Lecture Series)

9 a.m. - 2 p.m. (ThinkAThon for Refugees)

WHERE:

The ThinkAThon for Refugees will be held in the Charles Carroll Room at the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, University of Maryland, College Park.

The WORLDWISE: Arts and Humanities Dean’s Lecture with Sheri Parks and Angélique Kidjo will take place in the Gildenhorn Recital Hall in The Clarice, University of Maryland, College Park. 

Stamp Student Union, Charles Carroll Room 2203
Friday, December 04, 2015 - 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM

Join us for a day of intellectual activism with expert speakers, scholars, students, formerly stateless local community members, and service providers.

Synergies among Digital Humanities and African American History and Culture(Synergies), co-directed by the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) and the Arts and Humanities Center for Synergy (Center for Synergy), will cultivate disciplinary transformation by bringing African Americanists together to develop the tools, methods, and archives needed to address their research questions in a digital humanities (DH) framework. The proposed training model and associated programming will grow and diversify the community of scholars pursuing DH; increase the DH field’s capacity to address questions within African American studies; strengthen the capacity of African Americanist scholars to create and work with digital and archival repositories of primary source materials that privilege understanding of African American experiences; and disseminate knowledge gained at the intersections of DH and African American labor, migration, and artistic expression.

Thematic Focus: Labor, Migration and Artistic Expression

The essential tensions between labor, migration, and artistic expression in the development of African American diasporic cultures in the United States form the rich core of the Synergies project. These themes represent some of the College of Arts and Humanities’ (the College) greatest strengths[1] and will bring together prominent and nationally-recognized faculty in African American history and cultural studies from departments throughout the University of Maryland. The work of Synergies will be undertaken in collaboration with The Center for the History of the New America (CHNA), housed in the History Department and supported by two colleges, which brings together scholars of the long immigration history of the United States; The David C. Driskell Center for the Study of Visual Art and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora (The Driskell Center), which provides a locus for some of the leading artists and art historians of African American art and is the largest academic center of African American art and archive collections in the country; and the George Meany Memorial AFL-CIO Archives, housed within University Libraries, which consist of approximately 40 million documents that serve as a primary repository of the history of American labor. The research of these two centers and the AFL-CIO Archives will serve as testbeds for Synergies projects.

Project Description

Synergies builds upon existing research and training mechanisms within the College and will develop new curricular initiatives and programming. Throughout the project we will disseminate information about the process, tools, methods, and collections developed, culminating in a national symposium to initiate a research network of African American scholars with digital interests and skills.

The Digital Humanities Incubator is a series of workshops and project consultations that organize the high-level training intended to acculturate scholars, students, and librarians to the use of DH tools and methods. For Synergies, we will develop DH Incubators that respond to the project themes and will bring together scholars from a diverse array of disciplines across UMD and from neighboring campuses. The first Synergies DH Incubator will involve 8 intensive workshop sessions over two semesters (Spring - Fall 2017), led by DH specialists and archivists from MITH and University Libraries. The sessions will provide a progressive arc of skill development relevant to digital work with our testbed collections, and will be interspersed with targeted readings on methodologies, “homework” assignments, and one-on-one meetings and coaching. The first year of the DH Incubator will culminate in a “pitch and proposal” process, and selected proposals will receive more extensive and focused project-specific technical support, advice for developing the project, seed grants to cover other research costs, and support for seeking further grant funding. In the second year of the DH Incubator (Spring - Fall 2018), a 5-session workshop series will use the selected seed projects as testbeds to provide further training, teaching participants about project design and management, and introducing information architecture, usability, and technology design. By the end of this two-year period, we expect the DH Incubator process to have engaged a large cross-section of African Americanists, both on campus and beyond, in the thoughtful production of new resources, new digital research methods, and new knowledge for the field.

To support Curricular Development, Synergies Postdoctoral Fellows will each design a two-semester First-Year Innovation Research Experience (FIRE) stream sequence, a course structure that provides inquiry-based experiences and mentorship for first-year students. Synergies FIRE sequences will engage students with research questions involving African American labor, migration, and artistic expression that are tractable to digital tools and methods. Students will pursue these questions through use of project testbed collections, including hands-on work at CHNA, the Driskell Center, and the Meany Archive. Synergies FIRE students may elect further study through either the Arts and Humanities Social Innovation Scholars (SIS) program - a College supported 3-semester curricular initiative that trains promising undergraduate scholars in the use of humanities-based strategies for activism - or the Foxworth Creative Enterprise Initiative, which provides support for faculty to design and teach a course that engages students in addressing an issue encountered by underserved, at risk, and/or historically underrepresented populations. The Synergies SIS course series will allow students to learn and apply DH skills in work with non-profit organizations to answer organizational questions informed by the broad themes of this proposal. The Foxworth course will give students a learning experience that combines DH methods with the study of African American history and culture. The Project Director will work with UMD faculty in African American history and cultural studies to develop new interdisciplinary undergraduate and graduate courses designed to include a DH component and hands-on practice. S/he will also establish and lead a summer curriculum transformation project to help faculty teaching African American studies classes build DH methods and tools into their courses.

The Center for Synergy will design and implement complementary Programming that will bring together research and technical experts with a broader public and will increase the accessibility and impact of both the project themes and methods of analysis. We will also design and stage the Synergies Research Seminar, an interdisciplinary reading group open to faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students focused on specialized topics that relate to the broader themes (2017) and nascent projects (2018) of the Synergies project. The Center for Synergy will also dedicate two of its WORLDWISE Dean’s Lecture Series, one each in 2017 and 2018, to probe the theoretical and pragmatic contexts of our work through presenting major speakers and related programming events for faculty and students. Finally, the Project Director will lead the planning of a 2-day national symposium at the project’s conclusion.

Conclusion

Synergies will bring together African Americanist scholars from across the College, campus, and region to re-imagine their research and scholarship through the tools, methods, and techniques of the digital humanities. The project will produce a new model for training scholars, as well as more diverse practitioners and content in the field of digital humanities. Through concerted dissemination efforts, Synergies successes and lessons learned will offer a model for replication and promise widespread benefits to the academy, to cultural heritage institutions, and to the public.

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[1] The graduate program in African American History is ranked 2nd nationally, and the African American Literary Studies graduate program of the English department is ranked 8th nationally (U.S. News and World Report, 2013), with particular strengths and renowned faculty in both African American and African Diaspora studies. The American Studies Department is ranked 3rd nationally (American Studies Association). 

 

9/25/15

Written by Alex Carolan, The Writer's Bloc

Photo Courtesy of Victoria Robinson

We live in an age where technology is constantly evolving. 

Tech gurus and entrepreneurs are creating and programming new devices that have previously been unimaginable. 

Huang Yi, a native of Taiwan, presents a tangible piece of technology, a fresh invention the public has yet to experience.

Yi programs a robot named Kuka and performs dance routines with it at different venues. 

Sheri Parks, the College of Arts and Humanities associate dean for research moderated a talk with Huang Yi Thursday in Gildenhorn Recital Hall at The Clarice about his experiences in dance, programming and life. 

Students and staff were also involved in the conversation, and were encouraged to ask questions. 

Bowen Gong, a freshman mathematics major asked Yi if he had a nickname for the robot, because “Kuka” is the name of the model – not the individual device. 

“It’s really easy for me to relate my emotions to many items,” Yi said. “So I try not to name them.”

The crowd of around 60 spectators were once again captivated by Yi’s summations of his own life and technology.

Yi said he is limited to certain movements in dancing, as a human, but his robot Kuka is not. 

“[It’s like] I’m beginning to learn how to be a human,” he said. 

Yi attended Thailand University of the Arts for 11 years, from just after completing high school to when he completed his MFA, he said. He was isolated to that one area because of financial concerns and lackluster travel options.

Read and watch video here

 

9/27/15

By Miranda Jackson, The Diamondback

Highly acclaimed Taiwanese choreographer and dancer Huang Yi came to the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center with one seemingly crazy concept: a piece of choreography designed around a robot named KUKA.

Many years ago, when Yi was a child, his family underwent a drastic lifestyle change when his parents had to file for bankruptcy. As his artist statement reads: “My family of four moved from a luxurious house to a 40-square-foot room.”

The constant moving that he experienced put a lot of stress on his parents, so much so that they often attempted suicide. In order to relieve his parents of anymore potential stress, Yi detached himself from all his emotions, a very common defense mechanism among children. He became a perfect child, like a robot, with hardly any personality left at all.

Perhaps this is why he connected so well with the atmosphere of robotics. His favorite television program growing up was a cartoon called Doraemon, which Yi explains as a “Japanese animation character and a cat robot who is always there to solve problems for his owner.” Robots became a passion of his from a very young age, as he identified with their loyalty and selfless destiny.

As an adult, he decided that he wanted to combine two divergent concepts: the science of mechanical engineering and the art of dance, as he grew up with a passion for both. His show featured four members: himself, dancer Lin Jou-Wen, dancer Hu Chien and German robot KUKA. Yi didn’t build this robot; he simply programmed it after receiving it from the company, which was in itself an ordeal.

Read more here.

The University of Maryland College of Arts and Humanities presents WORLDWISE Arts and Humanities Dean’s Lecture Series: In Conversation with Sheri Parks. This year’s Dean’s Lecture Series features Huang Yi, a dancer, choreographer, inventor and videographer from Taipei, Taiwan.

In an additional event on Sept. 24, ArtistTalk: Manipulating Data for Performance, Huang Yi will be interviewed by professor Satyandra K. Gupta, director of the Maryland Robotics Center in UMD's Institute for Systems Research.

WHO

Huang Yi’s work focuses on the relationship between humans and machines, and how they are becoming more interrelated. His dance performances integrate human and mechanical movements in a synchronized manner. According to Sozo Artists website, his work has received considerable praise at international arts festivals, including the Ars Electronica Festival (Austria), Joyce Theater, Engien-Les-Bain Centre des Arts (France), Nimbus Dance Works (Jersey City), Cloud Gate 2 (Taipei), the Indonesian Dance Festival (Jakarta), New York Live Arts and the American Dance Festival (North Carolina).

Sheri Parks is an associate professor at the Department of American studies and associate dean for Research, Interdisciplinary Scholarship and Programming at the College of Arts and Humanities (ARHU), which is dedicated to advancing interdisciplinary research and scholarship in the arts and humanities.

EVENT DETAILS

WORLDWISE Arts and Humanities Dean’s Lecture Series: In Conversation with Sheri Parks -5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 23.

The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, Gildenhorn Recital Hall

For free tickets or more information, visit: go.umd.edu/HYi or call 301.405.ARTS.

Facebook event page here

ArtistTalk: Manipulating Data for Performance- 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 24

The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, Kogod Theatre

MEDIA

For more information about this event, please contact Nicky Everette, director of marketing and communications for the College of Arts and Humanities, at meve@umd.edu or 301-405-6714.

Media should RSVP to meve@umd.edu.

5/12/15

BY LAUREN BROWN
PHOTO BY JOHN T. CONSOLI

This week only, the landscape of downtown College Park is a little more whimsical. And thoughtful. And connected.

Students in a new public art and design course have installed five temporary artworks on streets, in open spaces and in other nooks of the city for view May 11–16, in hopes of sparking conversations about the relationship between the university and College Park.

On Monday, passersby paused and drivers turned their heads to stare at the works, such as reflector-covered poles lining a sidewalk, a blown-up globe between a pair of park benches, and three platforms bearing chairs and tables and festooned with a canopy of colored ribbons, on a grassy area just outside City Hall.

Architecture Associate Professor Ronit Eisenbach, with sculptor and art Professor John Ruppert and urban planning Professor Gerrit Knapp, director of the National Center for Smart Growth, taught the “Making Place Work” class to a mix of art, architecture and landscape architecture students.

“We wanted them to think about spicing up College Park a bit, and raise possibilities about what could happen here,” she says.

The course is supported by UMD’s Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship andPartnership for Action Learning in Sustainability (PALS) program, in which students and faculty work with local governments in Maryland to solve real community problems.

The students first explored the challenges the city and university are now confronting to make College Park’s downtown more vibrant, diverse and attractive. Then, split into teams, they explored different concepts in the city-campus relationship, such as blurring the boundaries between them or emphasizing the quiet areas or creating a place to mingle. They worked with the property owners—the university, its foundation and the city—to secure short-term use of the spaces, and raced to design and build their visions.

Architecture graduate student Prakruti Hoskere was glad to get experience in collaborating and constructing a design on a budget, and has enjoyed watching people interact with her team’s piece, “Room Garden.”

“I really feel that these projects can help make College Park a better place,” she says.

For more information, visit makingplaceumd.wordpress.com. Passersby can connect via Twitter #CPMakePlace.

 

4/17/15

By Sissi Cao/The Diamondback

Environmentalism might sound like science to some, but Terry Tempest Williams said it takes a humanitarian perspective to fully understand it.
Williams, an award-winning nature writer, came to speak at the arts and humanities college’s Dean’s Lecture Series at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on Thursday night to talk about the humanities, her writing and the environment.
About 50 people attended the event featuring the environmental humanitarian, who is known for her books Finding Beauty In A Broken World and Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place. She currently teaches at Dartmouth College.
“I grew up with the value that community comes before individuals. I believe community is the vehicle for social change and the vehicle for empathy,” Williams said.
The writer was born in 1955 and grew up in a Mormon family in Salt Lake City, Utah. She called herself “a free spirit in a conservative religion,” recounting events in her early life that led her to the path of writing and supporting environmental activism.

 

To read more, click here.

Lobby, Physical Sciences Complex
Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - 5:30 PM to 8:30 PM

Terry Tempest Williams and members of Narrative4 will lead an environmentally themed story exchange at the University of Maryland.

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