UNT Institute for the Advancement of the Arts (IAA)

The University of North Texas Institute for the Advancement of the Arts (IAA) was launched, along with UNT on the Square, on October 21, 2009. On the occasion of its opening, it was noted that the Institute's goal is to “further the university’s reputation for nurturing artistic and creative expression” by recognizing artistic contributions and sharing them with the public and enhancing the learning environment for UNT students.

These aspirations are encompassed in the Institute’s mission which is to showcase, support, and advance excellence in the visual, performing and creative literary arts at the University of North Texas, among its faculty members and in conjunction with their renowned colleagues and collaborators.

The IAA is an initiative of the offices of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs and the Vice President for Research and Economic Development. Participating Colleges include the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Visual Arts and Design, and the College of Music. The Institute is housed at UNT on the Square.

The three central components of the Institute are UNT on the Square, the IAA Faculty Fellows program and the IAA Artist-in-Residence program.

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Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award-winning playwright to serve as UNT's 2015-16 artist-in residence

Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright Doug Wright will work with students and conduct research for upcoming works as the 2015-16 artist-in-residence for the Institute for the Advancement of the Arts at the University of North Texas.

"It seems like a wonderful opportunity to pursue my own writing and engage with a vibrant community," he said.

Wright, who grew up in the Dallas suburb of University Park, won the Pulitzer and Tony for his 2003 play, "I Am My Own Wife," which portrays a transgender woman's struggle to survive in Nazi Germany.

"Attracting Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Doug Wright as the UNT Institute for the Advancement of the Arts artist-in-residence is a testament to the quality the program has achieved as well as the national reputation the university enjoys in the arts," said Finley Graves, UNT'sinterim provost and vice president for academic affairs.

Wright, who lives in New York City, expects to visit UNT for three weeks in the fall and three weeks in the spring. For his next project, he is focusing on Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev, who founded the Ballets Russes.

"I hope to make progress on a new play of my own and in addition to speak to classes and do some community events in the area just to educate people about the theater and my role in it and in general create enthusiasm for one of the wonderful archaic seemingly immortal art forms," he said.

Wright got into that art form at age 11 when he wrote "The Devil's Playground" and his mother typed it up for him on her Underwood typewriter. He earned a bachelor's degree at Yale University and a master's of fine arts degree at New York University. He has taught at New York University, Yale Drama School and The Juilliard School.

He chose playwriting as his form of expression based on what he calls his "Goldilocks School of Literary Theory."

"Poems are too few words," he said. "Novels are too many. But plays are just right."

He also enjoys the immediate gratification of being in the back of the theater and seeing the "whole place shakes with laughter."

His own plays can draw laughs or intense silence.

"I think that I just pursue stories that move me," he says. "They have surprisingly similarities on the surface."

He points out the protagonist of "I Am My Own Wife" is trying to survive Nazi Germany while Ariel in "The Little Mermaid" is a literal fish out of water trying to live on land.

"Both stories are people who are out of the dominant culture," he says. "As different as they seem as on they seem on the surface, they teach us about human longing and the desire for inclusion."

Wright also wrote the stage and screen versions of "Quills," which imagines writerMarquis de Sade's last years in an insane asylum. His other works include the musicals "Grey Gardens," about eccentric mother and daughter Big Edie and Little Edie Beale; "The Little Mermaid," the stage adaption of the Disney animated film and Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale; and "Hands on a Hard Body," about a competition in which contestants try to keep their hands on a car for the longest amount of time.

His most recent play was "Posterity," about a sculptor working on a piece of Henrik Ibsen, which Wright also directed in an off-Broadway production this year.

Herbert Holl, director of the IAA, the arm of UNT that promotes artistic and creative expression, said the appointment continues the tradition of bringing world class artists and professionals to the campus and community.

Past IAA artists-in-residence have included screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, opera composer Jake Heggie, visual and performance artist Nick Cave, sculptor and printmaker Kiki Smith and novelist Aleksandar Hemon.

2015-16 IAA Fellows Named


Two UNT faculty members will expand upon work they’ve done in the past when they complete projects as fellows in the Institute for the Advancement of the Arts in the 2015-16 academic year.

Professor of Dance Shelley Cushman and Associate Professor of Studio Arts Matthew Bourbon will be granted a semester off from teaching duties to work on their projects full time.

For Cushman, that project will be research to choreograph a new work and to reconstruct three existing works, with the goal of including these in Cinematic Caricatures, which is part of the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts’ dance collection.

For Bourbon, it will be completing a new body of mid- and large-scale paintings, and a suite of drawings, for exhibition in Houston, Dallas, New York and Denton.

IAA fellowships are awarded following an application process and allow faculty members to create and present creative research projects.

Shelley Cushman

In 1996, UNT College of Music professor Phil Winsor, now deceased, asked Cushman if she would choreograph to some of his music compositions. That collaboration – finished in a whirlwind three weeks – resulted in 10 works, titled “Book I,” and a performance at the Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia. When Professor of Media Arts Ben Levin saw the performance, he approached Cushman about filming the works. So began a long term project that now includes 26 pieces that have been choreographed, 22 of which have been filmed. Eight of these are completed and have been published by Carl Fischer, Inc., in New York City under Cin Car Films and two are in the Lincoln Library for the Performing Arts Dance collection in New York City.

The four works that Cushman aims to choreograph during her time as an IAA fellow includes one new work and the reconstruction of three previously choreographed works. These works will be added to “Cinematic Caricatures,” which is in the dance collection of the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts. “Cinematic Caricatures” will include 30 works, organized in three “books.” Levin and Michael Mullins, teaching assistant in the MFA film program, will film the choreographed works.

“All 30 pieces will be choreographed to music that Phil wrote before he died,” Cushman said. “Each piece takes the title of the music composition – but I don’t know what the title is before I choreograph it. I want to get the feel from the music when choreographing the piece, rather than knowing what Phil thought it was about.”

Cushman, Levin and Mullins plan to submit these works – which wrap up the project originally started with Winsor – to film and dance festivals, for conference presentations and in showings around the world.

“I’m not sad that this project is coming to an end,” Cushman noted. “I’m hopeful that we can have a premiere of all 30 pieces in one event at some point.”

Matthew Bourbon

In recent years, Bourbon has traveled the world – from various points in Europe to Japan – as research for his work that combines western and eastern strategies of narrative painting. After visiting art collections in Toyko and Kyoto in spring 2014, he returned to create a new body of paintings that combine his interest in the historical traditions of western art (such as paintings by Giotto, Fra Angelico, Masaccio and others) with the shallow and truncated space found in eastern art (such as paintings by Hokusai, Hiroshige, Korin Ogata and others).

With such varied inspiration, his paintings appear representational and abstract, and seem to call to mind collages. He finds inspiration in a variety of images – film stills, illustrations, advertising, mail catalogs and fabric designs.

“By combining and transforming these varied sources, I create painted vignettes that merge my interest in descriptive painting and abstract patterns,” Bourbon said. “I think of it as akin to jazz music, where there is a foundational structure for the medium but, within it, ample room for improvisation.”

Each of the pieces that Bourbon creates takes shape over many weeks and months, which is why the IAA fellowship is so valuable to his work. The chance to work uninterrupted throughout the fall 2015 semester will help with the continuity of his painting and accelerate the progression of his work.

“This gives me unimpeded time to work, but also time to think, read and assemble the pieces needed for each painting,” he said.

When these pieces are finished, Bourbon expects to show a number of mid- to large-scale paintings, as well as a suite of drawings, at one or more of his galleries in Houston, Dallas and New York, and in Denton at UNT on the Square.

The fellowship will also allow Bourbon the chance to create a catalog and promote his work nationwide.

- Margarita Venegas, News Promotions

Above, Professor of Dance Shelley Cushman and Associate Professor of Studio Arts Matthew Bourbon. Photo by Gary Payne/URCM.