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January 2021 - Us, Now - BAA Highlights in the Arts

The BAA logo with the words "Us, Now" against an orange background,

Dear BAA Faculty and Staff,

As we enter a new year and reflect on the pandemic and cultural conflicts of 2020, we are presented with an opportunity to respond to the late Representative John Lewis’s questions, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” as we reckon, once again, with the consequences of our nation’s bitter past. Protests against racial injustice and systemic inequalities, fueled by the stories of marginalized people, have ignited national conversations that question the priorities and institutions of our nation.

Boston Arts Academy has embedded in its mission and culture the belief and practice to train artist-activists who use art to confront injustice and build stronger communities. And if there is ever a time when we must practice this core value, it is now. Through our first ever Winter Arts Week, entitled Us/Now, we chose to answer Mr. Lewis’s call to action.

With less time and fewer resources, we reframed our curriculum with greater emphasis on the personal lives, communities, voice, and the expressions of artists, as whole persons. Our community of young artists presented work from fashion, visual arts, dance, music, and theatre departments, that captured the political unrest and social movements of the time, while reimagining and creating new worldviews where the stories of people of color are no longer marginalized, but are at the center of our narratives. In this virtual space, the barriers of inequality are removed and the voices of our local heroes and sheroes are amplified and revisited afresh.

Even though the Us/Now has come to a close, the work endures. As we prepare for senior project week in May and our second annual symposium in June, we will continue to courageously jump into the reimagined worlds of our students to experience the transformative power of the arts, ensuring the unified chain between the artist and activist remains unbroken.

Visual Art and Design

The visual art program’s presentation of “Capsule” for Us/Now was a beautiful expression of how our curriculum has continued to reinforce both artistic process and product. We have had to let go a lot this year, but our firm commitment to elevate the process has not been sacrificed. Thank you VA for reminding us of the importance of process in our student's artistic development. In addition, the project itself, Capsule, was a beautiful illustration of how we as a school have chosen to take the challenges of the pandemic and find opportunities for growth. The work was stellar, the conversation from the students was invaluable, and was supported by the incredible visiting artists and curators in residence who continue to work with our visual art students. Jimena Bermejo and Serena supported and completed the production of a performance art film with our junior visual artists that presented during Us/Now.

Juan Omar Rodriguez, has continued to support the visual arts program as a curator in residence, most recently supporting the students in the curation of “Capsule” that the visual arts program presented at Us/Now. BAA alum, Perla Mabel, began her residency as supporting curator for the work that our visual arts students will present in May and June.

Jayson Cardoso, Alden Hurtado, Vienna Conyngham, Olive Sanquintin-Leon, Enzo Palacios Pineda participated in our first ever partnership with Wilson and Butler Architects, spending a week learning about architecture through an immersive experience designed by Wilson and Butler for BAA students.

Our Fashion students continue to receive outstanding training that is preparing them well for the industry.

In fact, some have been accepted at Clark Atlanta and Lasalle College with scholarship offers and a lot of interest from other colleges as well. The consensus from colleges has been that our fashion students are applying a high level of skill compared to other applicants. This training is bolstered by industry professionals that regularly speak to our students and provide real world experiences.

Jay Calderin, chair of our Fashion Technology board and founder of Boston Fashion Week presented a master class with our freshmen fashion students.

Gerald Sullivan, BAA alum and Nike designer met with sophomore fashion students to show his shoe designs.

Thom Solo, local Boston designer also met with sophomores to talk about his work and process.

Elizabeth Shuster, co-owner of Boston Podorthic, met with students to talk about shoes as “function” for medical issues.

Chris Donovan, local shoe designer met with juniors to talk about his work and process. Look out for a future partnership with Peabody Essex Museum that will allow our fashion students to participate in a live virtual tour of the Made it: Women Who Revolutionized Fashion exhibit.

Finally, our fashion students reimagined their curriculum, building and presenting 4CornerIndex at Us/Now and for BPS CTE week. The students brilliantly captured their process as designers reimagining a sustainable, anti-racist fashion industry. 4Corner Index beautifully captured the conceptual thinking, creative design, business acumen, and social responsibility that the fashion students have been developing as not only artists, but more specifically as creative-entrepreneurs. Thank you fashion for realizing Congressman John Lewis's call for us to act courageously to create a more inclusive world.

Dance

The dance department presentation of “Our Voices BAA” during Us/Now perfectly captured the habits of the artist or what we have known at BAA as the habits of the graduate: Refine, Invent, Connect, Own (RICO). It was evident that students spent many hours continuing to refine their technique and produce a captivating final product; they were inventive in their approach to blocking, staging, lighting, and storytelling; they fluidly connected many themes together and made deep connections to Us, Now; and their choreography and movement demonstrated ownership and commitment to the artistic process.

Despite the pandemic, the transition from art student to artist shone through in today's presentation of, "Our Voices BAA". The compelling integration of various mediums and inventive staging showed that the performance stage has no boundaries. Students were able to reimagine spaces, blocking, and imagery and to create a virtual stage that captured the heart and honesty of their stories.

Their work that week was supported by notable choreographers from local legends, alumni, and international artists. Adrienne Hawkins, artistic director of Impulse Dance, continued her residency that taught the history of Black dance in Boston. Her work with students specifically highlighted the work and history of legendary Alvin Ailey dancer and Boston native, Consuelo Baraka which was presented during Us/Now. In addition to this work, BAA alum and dancer/choreographer with Philidanco returned to support the dance department’s Us/Now project by choreographing Audrianna Campbell, senior dance student, performed a solo choreographed by world renowned choreographer Darell Grand Moultrey that was also presented during Us/Now. Audrianna had the opportunity to work with Moultrey during Boston Conservatory at Berklee Summer Dance Intensive.

Finally, two of our dance students, Zariah Kallon and Breanna Boothe, were featured in the Boston Public Schools 39th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. Their original pieces that were presented during Us/Now were featured during the celebration.

Theater

Theatre used the challenges of this time to create new opportunities that culminated in the production of “Roses” presented during Us/Now. The entire theatre team came together to design a new dept-wide curriculum that encouraged all 93 theatre students to produce, write, edit, film, and present a single project with very limited access to professional materials. It was a huge undertaking that displayed courage, vulnerability, flexibility, and an extraordinary amount of creativity. Most of all, it put our students’ stories and voices at the center. “Roses” was their personal love letter to our communities and neighborhoods and featured an introduction from Ashley Long and 9 student production companies: Curly Fry, Triple SMC, Editors, SD Production, Hidden Stars, Zoom Vents, Team Euphoric, Dead Zombie Ticktockers, and Illustrious Vision. Mariella Murillo and Antonio Torres, with the support of theatre faculty members, Dan Jentzen and John Adekoje, coordinated the production and broadcast of the entire week’s presentations.

Music

"Stand Up!" spoke to the hearts of so many who needed healing and peace during this very difficult time. With chills down my body, I stood up from my chair during the captivating rendition of our Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing--the perfect song to capture the resounding voices of all our students and school community and whose lyrics remind us that, "out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last, where the white gleam of our bright star is cast."

Every member of the music faculty had a hand in shaping the vision and development of this project. It was a massive undertaking that I know took many conversations, skillful teaching, and a courageous investment from students. I echo the words of some of the music faculty who noted that:

"Over the past year, we've heard about how "impossible" it is to teach music online. We've proven that wrong;"

"I am encouraged by the way that we have embraced the technology and overcame the obstacles to show what can be done and will be done again in the future."

"Although there were many challenges and many questions that were ongoing it was invaluable for both students and faculty members to think in one line and one vision;"

"...not one of us in the music department, ever considered anything but making a project that features EVERY SINGLE music student in the way that amplifies their voice and represents them. I feel like we accomplished that mission so congratulations to you all."

One of our sophomore vocalists, M’Zariah Robinson, received the Boston Mountain Top award presented by the New Democracy Coalition in honor of her work as an emerging leader in the arts, with special commendation for her original composition, “Beyond My Skin” which raised awareness of issues of race in the United States.

We understand that it takes a whole village of caregivers, teachers, counselors, and mentors to support each student along their journey toward artistry, so thank you to the entire BAA community for your support of each of these students. Let’s keep the passion alive and the momentum moving as we head into February! We have more stories to tell.

Many thanks,
Tyrone Sutton
Arts Dean, Boston Arts Academy

Boston Arts Academy Foundation

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