University Grants Let Students Bring Their Artist Visions to Life

Students Working
Matt Kelly

Five University of Virginia students have received grants from the University Award for Projects in the Arts program to support their creative efforts.

Modeled on the University’s successful Harrison Undergraduate Research Awards program, the arts awards give the students up to $3,000 for projects that expand their expression and showcase artistic accomplishments.

“The project proposals not only demonstrate the creativity and talent of our students in the arts, but their final products will engage the University community in a broader conversation about the relationship between the community and art,” said Brian Cullaty, director of undergraduate research opportunities at the Center for Undergraduate Excellence.

This year’s projects are funded by the Vice Provost for the Arts, the Atlantic Coast Conference International Academic Collaborative Fellows Program in Creativity and Innovation and the Office of the Vice President for Research.

“The arts are at the very core of the residential experience for our students,” Jody Kielbasa, U.Va.’s vice provost for the arts, said. “They offer a rich and dynamic tapestry of expression and creativity that fosters cross-cultural understanding and celebrates our differences and our shared experiences.” 

Arts projects also give the students a different point of view.

“They provide an entirely different perspective through which to experience, engage and research other disciplines of study,” Kielbasa said. “The arts awards help to support the exceptional research and creative work that is being done by our students in the field.”  

The awarded projects include filmmaking, poetry, photography and painting.

This year’s winners are:

• Rachel Bender, 21, of Rockville, Maryland, a rising fourth-year French major in the College of Arts & Sciences, who will be working in photography, sculpture and sound art exploring the diverse identities of people not revealed by their outward appearance. Bender suffers from chronic Lyme disease, which has limited her ability to create art.

“It has also changed my complete outlook on life, and has inspired this project, in which I hope to express my own and others’ unseen, internal experiences and how those affect/have affected their identities,” she said.

• Brittany Fan, 21, of Blacksburg, a rising fourth-year with an Echols Interdisciplinary major in studio art, art history and arts administration in the College and an elementary education major in the Curry School of Education, who is exploring photography and painting, two mediums that can complement one another or cause tension.

“Through this project, I am interested in exploring how these two mediums can work together in a visual project on the western American landscape,” she said.

• Alex Rafala, 20, of Culpeper, a rising fourth-year drama major with a minor in film studies, who plans to write and direct a short film, “Farewell Old Stringy,” examining the suicide of a co-worker.

“The subsequent thoughts and questions I had after that event influenced and informed the script, making it a plea for attentiveness, a promotion of mental health awareness and a commentary on the closeness of our relationships in a world that is growing increasingly more isolated,” he said.

• Nina Thomas, 21, of Arlington, a rising fourth-year studio art and arts administration major, who will explore the role of art in people's lives in Charlottesville, using printmaking techniques.

• Nora Toh, 21, of Singapore, a rising fourth-year politics honors and English poetry writing double major, who is examining transitional identities through poetry, photographs and transfer prints.

“Transnationalism is a concept that invokes the idea of fluid identities, emphasizing that it is not something that should be confined to boundaries and false dichotomies,” she said. “As a Chinese-Malay Singaporean who moved to America for college, I chose this topic because I find myself consistently shedding, keeping and gaining new pieces of my identity, and thus want to explore the idea of hybridity and syncretism through a creative medium that inspires me.”