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Arts Everywhere announces Students Arts Innovation Grant winners

The four winning students will receive funds to bring their projects to life and add a touch of creativity to Carolina’s campus.

2021 Arts Innovation Grant winners: AhDream Smith, Matthew Svec, Emily Harmon, and Krysta Sa (L-R, clockwise).
2021 Arts Innovation Grant winners: AhDream Smith, Matthew Svec, Emily Harmon, and Krysta Sa (L-R, clockwise).

Arts Everywhere has a sweeping mission to bolster arts innovation, and funding is a big part of it. Among the financial support the UNC-Chapel Hill initiative provides is the Student Arts Innovation Grant, an annual award of $1,000 for select undergraduate and graduate students at Carolina.

Each year, students submit proposals for arts-related projects, which they agree to complete within a year of being chosen. The resulting works are meant to infuse Carolina’s campus with creativity and allow the grant winners to shape that space in a meaningful way.

“At their core, the arts are what make us human,” said Kathryn Wagner, associate director of Arts Everywhere. “We believe that the students behind these SAI grant projects have the artistic power to affect what our community looks like, moving society forward into a more just, emphatic and innovative future, whilst contributing to the larger landscape of art at UNC in lasting and meaningful ways.”

This year’s winners, announced during Arts Everywhere Day on April 9, will mount multimedia projects ranging from musical performances to live Twitch streams investigating the notion of care.

Meet this year’s recipients

Emily Harmon

The third-year Ph.D. student in biology was inspired by Sergei Prokofiev’s classic musical composition “Peter and the Wolf” for her project.

“I started playing oboe in fourth grade, and for a long time, I really thought I was going to go the route of being a professional musician,” she explained.

Even though she switched tracks in high school, Harmon still loves music and thought “Peter and the Wolf” would be a fantastic way to combine her research on the spadefoot toad, which, she clarified, “is actually a frog that lives in the desert.”

Borrowing from the idea that “Peter and the Wolf” uses animals to introduce young listeners to instruments, Harmon will craft a similar narrative featuring desert animals. “By telling a story, we hope to make people more aware of these animals as a gateway to learning more about natural history,” she said.

Although Harmon is behind the narrative, she credits her collaborators with helping her bring the idea to life. “I’m working with a composer, Max Ramage, who is finishing up his Ph.D. at Duke, as well as an artist, Jack Park. Because we got this grant, we’re able to also have projected images alongside the piece,” she said, so there will be a storybook element as well.

Krysta Sa

Sa is finishing up her Master of Fine Arts in studio art this semester, and her grant project plays into her thesis project, “Intimate Economies.” Part performance, part installation, Sa will explore the history of care through multiple mediums. “There are a lot of different components,” she said.

The physical installation portion of her project will be mounted at Allcott Gallery in Hanes Art Center from April 25-27. It will be viewable from the outside.

She also plans on livestreaming an interactive performance on Twitch on April 26 from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Viewers can call in, though they’ll be expected to answer questions, including, “How do you sense care?” Over the course of the 12 hours, she’ll also perform various treatments — light and sound healings — to showcase different care practices. It’ll end with a form of vibrational medicine that can be ingested and used for medicinal purposes.

The question driving her project is a big one: “What does it mean to transmit and what does it mean to receive?” The boundaries between offering care and receiving it remains fluid, and she intends to explore how they’re “always intersecting.”

“The goal of the project is to challenge boundaries placed on the ‘caregiver’ and the ‘care-receiver,’ while prioritizing accessibility, connection, and healing of the individuals,” Sa said.

AhDream Smith

The Master of Fine Arts student in the College of Arts & Sciences’ dramatic arts department began hearing a quiet plea last year, “Make it make sense.” That final word, it turns out, took on greater significance in the context of COVID. The pandemic itself was chaotic and confusing, but as people lost their sense of taste and smell to the virus, “sense” suddenly signified an even greater act.

With that in mind, Smith’s multimedia, multisensory project carves out room to pause and reflect on the past year. She hopes to “create this space for people to really grieve all the things that we’ve lost or that we thought the year was going to be.”

Whether someone has lost a loved one to COVID-19 or someone’s life has fundamentally shifted as a result of the pandemic, Smith aims to create a space — and experience — that encourages pause, reflection and, eventually, connection. The end will feature “a call to action to write a note or letter, send a text, call somebody and get reconnected,” she explained.

Smith will take on a directorial role for the project, which will include photography, video and a sensory experience that asks attendees and viewers to employ their senses to engage with art. “It’s about reengaging with the five senses,” said Smith. “Offering a sense of gratitude and joy that we’re still here.”

Matthew Svec

The sophomore double major in biology and music draws on his passion for the latter as part of his Student Arts Innovation Grant project. The pandemic shifted his ability to collaborate with fellow musicians, mainly because of the risk playing together posed. That distance made him think differently about what it meant to perform.

“With the grant funds, I’m going to be commissioning three UNC student composers to write music that, rather than being hindered by distance, uses distance as an integral part of the performance,” Svec explained.

The three pieces will be based on the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, following the story from beginning to end. Performed in the Hill Hall Rotunda, the musicians will be spread out, mirroring Orpheus’ separation from his love Eurydice, who remained in the underworld despite his attempt to save her.

Instead of letting distance hinder performance, Svec hopes his project showcases how it can be an integral part of it. “I hope that when people leave, they have a different concept of what music can be, and what’s traditional performance and what isn’t,” he said.