VCUarts celebrates 90th anniversary with music, dance

VCUarts celebrated 90 years on April 18. Events began with a frosted cake followed by student performances and exhibits. Photo courtesy of Kelly Kerr

Iman Mekonen, Contributing Writer

Walter Chidozie Anyanwu, Contributing Writer

Ninety years ago, Theresa Pollak taught the first art class at VCU. Today, VCUarts is the No. 1 public arts school in the country with 3,021 students, offering 17 bachelors degrees and five masters degrees.

Last Thursday, the school hosted five events to commemorate its 90 years of creativity, growth and innovation. The events ranged from music and theater performances to art exhibitions led by specific VCUarts departments.

As a part of the celebration, VCU’s music department hosted a performance from student musicians using instruments created by those in the craft and materials program.

The event marked a collaboration between the two departments, led by assistant professors Bohyun Yoon of the craft and material studies program and Justin Alexander of the music department. Alexander said the craft students showed their work and brought it to the music department in December, where the percussion ensemble class had been working on a piece for the event.

The instruments varied in design and composition, from hollow terracotta balls kicked across the floor to wooden house-shaped drums.

“We were looking for something new, something challenging,” Yoon said of the collaboration. “That’s the great 

The theater department performed “The Three Musketeers” to wrap up the celebration. Photo by Jon Mirador

thing about our school … instead of playing the guitar or drums the conventional way, we can create unconventional things to make new sounds.”

The event was held in Rashid Johnson’s “Provocations” exhibit in the Institute for Contemporary Art.

“A lot of the music piece was inspired by his work,” Alexander said. “But the two main ideas that came out from his description of the work were location and closely tied to that is migration.”

Alexander said the percussion class was inspired by those themes, and they incorporated them into the music.

“The idea was just a collaboration between visual arts and music,” Alexander said. “And finding a way for the students to work together, to get to know each other, to be creative in a way that they haven’t done before.”

The Anderson gallery held a showing of graduate artwork later that evening.

The 2019 MFA Thesis Exhibition featured work from 14 graduate students that spanned various artistic mediums and covered a broad range of topics.

MFA kinetic imaging student Ruiqi Zhang had work on display at The Anderson. His piece, an audio-visual exhibit, was projected onto the wall and there were small blankets on the floor, inviting guests to relax.

The visuals were styled in such a way that it appeared as if he was being interviewed, while also incorporating aspects of the social media phenomenon of short video clips. Zhang noted the connection people have to mobile devices and how modern technology has evolved to the point where we record a lot of our lives on our devices.

“Ordinary people are trying to build their own autobiographies online, continually posting their daily lives,” Zhang said.

His piece uses relevant examples of public videos by stitching them together, as if to tell a story. He said the video could mean anything to anyone.

One particularly eye-catching exhibit was Peter Cochrane’s “The Wild Beasts,” a collection of hyperrealistic photographs of different kinds of flowers.

Cochrane said each photograph was dedicated to a queer person in his life who had become like family to him — as they had been there for him during tough periods — and the specific flowers bore a code that related to each person.

On a larger scale, Cochrane’s exhibit explored the idea of nature and how it has been used against queer people; in the past, many considered queer identity to be against nature.

The celebration rounded out with two concurrent events: a performance from dance seniors and a retelling of “The Three Musketeers” by the theater department. The play was directed by David Leong and Josh Chenard.

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