Faculty Members Earn Guggenheim Fellowships To Support Music, Filmmaking

April 11, 2023
Portraits of Mamadou Dia, left, and Nicole Mitchell, right

Two newcomers to the University of Virginia faculty, Mamadou Dia, left, and Nicole Mitchell, right, have been awarded Guggenheim Fellowships. (Photos provided)

A journalist and filmmaker-turned-assistant professor and an award-winning flutist and bandleader who teaches music have earned Guggenheim Fellowships to pursue their arts.

Mamadou Dia and Nicole Mitchell, both from the University of Virginia’s College and Graduate School of the Arts & Sciences, are among the 171 American and Canadian scholars, writers, artists and scientists recognized this year by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. They were selected from a nearly 2,500 applicants.

Both Dia and Mitchell are recent additions to UVA faculty.

“UVA is committed to being an academic home for artists, teachers and researchers who push the boundaries of their art and scholarly work,” Provost Ian Baucom said. “Professor Mitchell and professor Dia each bring great talent and creativity to the Grounds, and I look forward to seeing and hearing the work they will produce with the support of their Guggenheim Fellowships.”

Dia is an award-winning film director from Senegal, a screenwriter and former journalist who now teaches as an assistant professor of practice in the departments of French and Media Studies.

Before transitioning to making feature films, Dia was a newspaper and video journalist based in Dakar, Senegal, working for Agence France-Presse and other international news agencies in Africa and Europe. Completing his third year on UVA’s faculty, Dia first moved to the United States to complete his Master of Fine Arts in writing and directing at New York University’s Tisch School for the Arts.

“In the end, I always find a way to tell stories with images. Filmmaking allows me to bring more complexity and nuance to the stories I want to tell,” said Dia, co-founder of the production company Joyedidi with his business partner, Maba Ba. “I’m not interested in superheroes or stories of ‘super resilient’ people who come from nothing and climb to the top of the world. I like to make movies about people who are normal people who are heroes of their own lives.”

Dia said he will use his Guggenheim Fellowship funds to support research for his ambitious new feature-length project, a period film based in part on the life of African American photographer Augustus Washington.

The son of a former slave, Washington embraced the abolitionist movement and was one of the few African American daguerreotypists, early photographers who produced their work on silver or silver-covered copper plates. Washington moved to the West African nation of Liberia with his wife and two small children in late 1853 and eventually opened daguerrean studios in Sierra Leone, the Gambia and Senegal, as well as Liberia.

Andrea Press, UVA’s William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Media Studies and Sociology, said that the Department of Media Studies faculty are extremely proud to have Dia as a colleague.

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“His Guggenheim Fellowship award for his latest project testifies to the value of his cinematic work, which gives voice to the voiceless,” Press said.

Mitchell is an award-winning flutist, composer and bandleader who is a professor of composition and composition technologies. She joined the Department of Music last year.

For more than 20 years, Mitchell’s critically acclaimed, Chicago-based Black Earth Ensemble has served as her primary performance group and outlet for her compositions. She has performed at festivals and art venues throughout Europe, Canada and the U.S. Earlier this year, she won a prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Music.

“It’s a big ‘wow’ for me to have received this fellowship,” Mitchell said. “It’s just an amazing honor.”

Mitchell’s Guggenheim fellowship will support production of her latest composition. “Portraits of Sonic Freedom” is meant to be a concert-length work of music inspired by the work of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a Chicago-based music collective scheduled to celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2025.

“I feel a great optimism at UVA. I feel that the University is really making an effort to look at its history and make transformations that are real. That’s what really inspires me,” she said. “That’s what drew me to UVA, and I just feel really excited about becoming a part of this great community of faculty members and students where there is still optimism. Even in spite of the terrible things going on around us, there is still a sense of ‘we can do something about this.’ That sense of support and optimism what helps me be able to do my work.”

Media Contact

Lorenzo Perez

Senior Writer, Office of the Dean College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences