University Grants Let Students Bring Their Artistic Visions to Life

Five University of Virginia students have received grants from the University Award for Projects in the Arts program, allowing them to follow their muses this summer.

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 creative 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 U.Va.’s Center for Undergraduate Excellence.

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

“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 performance art.

This year’s winners are:

• Oluwakemi “Kemi” Layeni, 20, of Hampton, a rising third-year English and studio art double major, with an African-American and African studies minor, who is exploring recent encounters between police and young black men and women.

“Instances of police brutality against unarmed black men and women have been publicized heavily in the media and have created a huge dent in the cultural and racial imagination,” she said. “Through film and photography, I want to explore how incidents and victims of police brutality have transformed into a spectator sport and elucidate images of black masculinity and femininity.”

An Echols Scholar, Layeni is a student arts docent at The Fralin Museum of Art, a member of U.Va.’s Visual Arts Art Board, and a peer adviser and Raising the Bar co-coordinator in the Office of African-American Affairs. She wants to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree in filmmaking.

“As the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, I’m very passionate about telling the stories and experiences of people of the African diaspora and the ties that connect them with others,” she said. “I hope to do this through directing, writing and acting.”

• Alex Jones, 21, of Arlington, a rising fourth-year arts administration major with a leadership minor in the McIntire School of Commerce, will write and direct her first film. 

“My film will be an experiment in storytelling through unique chronology and character development, examining human relationships through memory, the dichotomies of love and hate and good and evil,” she said. 

A member of Alpha Chi Omega, HackCville Media and Amoeba Films, Jones plans to pursue a master’s degree and a career in film production.

“This award will allow me to turn my distinguished majors thesis project into a real, professional work of art,” she said. “My project will be my directorial debut and will provide me substantial hands-on professional experience.”

• Rory Finnegan, 19, of Princeton, New Jersey, a rising second-year English major, is working on a poetry and photography project.

“I’m traveling down the coast of the Jersey Shore, tracing the steps of the many poets who have been there before me and writing poetry of my own,” she said. “I will explore places along the Shore that are relevant culturally, historically and personally. By the end of summer, I will complete an anthology of poetry and photography.”

An Echols Scholar and a Jefferson Scholar, Finnegan is art editor of the Virginia Literary Review, an associate producer and marketing and communications manager at HackCville Media, and a member of Kappa Delta sorority. She was a fourth-place finisher in the Berlin Fall of the Wall Undergraduate Prize contest with a photo essay, and has had her photographs accepted for the Clemons Library and Ruffner Hall student galleries, the McIntire Art & Commerce Committee’s spring 2015 exhibition, the Virginia Literary Review and 3.7 Magazine.

“Receiving grant money to explore creatively the historical significance of a place very close to my heart is incredibly meaningful to me,” she said. “Not only will I get to hone my skills in my academic field of interest, but I’ll reap the benefits of a monthlong period of self-reflection and soul searching.”

• Genevieve Joy Campbell, 20, of Richmond, a rising fourth-year double-major in studio art (with a concentration in printmaking) and Spanish, will study American culture on the fabled Route 66, the major Western highway during the mid-20th century.

“I am interested in exploring modern-day depictions of America and the fact that many of them are drawn from this time period,” she said. “I chose this project because I am interested in learning more about my country and in taking on an extended project in the arts linked to research I am interested in.”

She is a support team member of The Student Hip Hop Organization, a student disc jockey for WTJX radio, an active member of St. Paul’s Memorial Church and a member of the Big Head Brigade artist collective. Also a recipient of a Skinner Scholarship award, she plans to pursue an arts career.

“This award will allow me to take on my first solo pursuit in research that will lead to a major body of work,” she said. “This will significantly boost my portfolio as an artist and also give me the financial support to explore my ideas without costs severely limiting my modes of expression.”

• Rebecca Beauchamp, 21, of Washington, D.C., a rising fourth-year Area Program in Poetry Writing and interdisciplinary Arts Administration major, will compose a multi-media piece on the stereotypes of female artists.

“Using the totemic object of the wig – donned often as a costume toward female satirization – I will physically embody these various female stereotypes and create artwork from ‘inside’ their character, speaking in their voices, living their constructed backstories,” she said.

“During specific portions of the week, I will live as these ‘stereotypes’ and these stereotypes only, writing as they would and creating paintings on large-scale canvases using their wigs-as-brushes, filming the entire thing. It will culminate in the creation of a poetry chapbook, to be stored both online and physically, as well as a gallery show wherein the ‘characters’ work is showcased and I execute an hourlong performance piece involving text, video and painting that explores my journey with these characters, my journey with myself, my womanhood and its infinite definitions.”

Beauchamp serves on U.Va.’s Arts Board and is editor of Oculus, the undergraduate research journal. She is the literary editor of the Declaration, an “alternative” news-and-commentary publication, and the recipient of the 2014 Wagenheim Literary Award for an essay on gender schematics in the children’s novel. She served as an arts administration teaching assistant under architecture lecturer George Sampson. She completed an independent study with artist-in-residence Claude Wampler. Her work has been published in Queen Mobs Tea House, 491, Pine Hills Review and Bird’s Thumb. She has a chapbook, “Necessity of Foreplay,” that will be published by Glass Press of the Future. She has performed her work in California, Washington, Baltimore, Richmond, Blacksburg and other major cities.

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

Office of University Communications