Carnegie Mellon University

CAS reception

September 07, 2017

Celebrating the Arts in Society

Miller Gallery Exhibit Showcases Performance Initiative and Launches Narrative Projects

By Stefanie Johndrow

From the role of public art to the evolution of media to how people use performance through social rituals, athletics and digital devices, Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for the Arts in Society (CAS) has been re-framing the view of day-to-day life since 2008.

Projects from CAS’ latest mission—the Performance Initiative—were on display at the Miller Gallery recently and the focus of a special reception, complete with live music and fanfare. 

“It was great to see a room packed full of people from so many different schools and departments across campus,” said James Duesing, CAS director and professor of art. “A highlight for me was seeing the project leaders present their work and the considered way Wendy Arons and Kristina Straub introduced such diverse projects in the context of contemporary performance.”

Straub, professor of English, and Arons, professor of dramatic literature, co-organized the initiative and recalled why the role is so memorable.

“I have three reasons why this has been the best job I have ever had,” Straub said. “The first reason is these people: Paul Eiss, Jim Duesing and Wendy Arons. Reason two is the talent and wisdom that this initiative allowed Wendy and myself to bring to campus. The third reason is the projects and the project leaders. These folks have staged events more provocative and beautiful and productively disturbing than anything Wendy and I could wish for.”

CAS will now move its focus to the Narrative Initiative. Led by Felipe Gómez, associate teaching professor of Hispanic Studies, and Rich Pell, associate professor of art, it will approach the topic of narrative with the idea that all aspects of human expression and production are embedded with stories.

Two initial pieces of work were announced: “Gun Play” by Associate Professor of Drama Caden Manson, which will look at patterns of gun violence in American and examine questions about interplay of race, justice and community, and the “How Well?" Project from the Entertainment Technology Center’s Heather Kelley and the Department of Modern Languages' Gabriele Maier and Candace Skibba.

The “How Well?” Project will explore areas of society that impede or have the potential to facilitate wellness such as pollution, natural resources and land use, all under the larger analysis of societal and cultural norms regarding wellness.

“Considering the current political climate, it seems to be the right moment for CAS to be taking on projects that explore the narratives around gun violence and health care. We are at an engaging part of the process because they are proposals so everything is still wet cement,” Duesing said.

Kelley, Maier and Skibba came up with the idea for their project through conversations about the association between wellness and privilege.

“We plan to investigate the language used in these established narratives to then understand how language can shift to create narratives of wellness that are more inclusive and less hegemonic,” Skibba said. “We hope to take wellness from a luxury, afforded to the few who have the cultural and economic capital, to all.”

The new Narrative Initiative has big shoes to fill. The previous projects that focused on performance—Performing Peace in the North of IrelandGhosts in the Machines, and The Requiem for Rice—have made an impact at CMU and beyond.

A co-organizer of Performing Peace, Jennifer Keating, assistant dean for educational initiatives in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences discussed the similarities she witnessed between North of Ireland, a region of tension amid reconciliation, and Pittsburgh.

“In the midst of our work, the world changed, too,” said Keating. “Our home in Pittsburgh and the United States continues to fall into deeper and more protracted political and cultural divisions. Charlottesville, Boston, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, locations under duress throughout the United States emerge in increasing numbers. As the ‘So It Is’ expedition taught us, the bridge between the North of Ireland and Pittsburgh, USA is real, traversed and collegial, but the challenges faced in both locations are real and shared, too.”

CAS is a research center in the Dietrich College and College of Fine Arts

There will be a call for a third project funded as part of the Narrative Initiative. The call will be posted on the CAS website later this semester and the selected project will start in summer 2018.

View photos from the event

Update: An earlier version of this story referred to the “How Well?” Project as “Be Well."