Outdoor art installation provided ASU students with invaluable industry experience

July 15, 2021

Arizona State University’s outdoor installation DesignSpace provided more than 100 ASU students, including 21 students from the School of Music, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, with a rare opportunity to learn firsthand from industry professionals. Undergraduate and graduate students gained hands-on experience working with light installation, graphic design and architecture designed specifically for COVID-19 restrictions.

“Providing opportunities for students to work with industry professionals was one of three primary motivations for the project,” said Jacob Pinholster, associate dean in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and associate professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre. “The second was to provide arts opportunities to the public, which had gone over a year without much in the way of meaningful live arts experiences. The third was to put entertainment industry workers back to work after a year of almost no work.”  Art installation in DesignSpace. Download Full Image

Referred to as “a drive-thru sensory art experience,” a “mile-long drive-thru art museum” and “bringing space into the space,” the installation was a collaborative effort between Pinholster; John Featherstone, co-director of Chicago-based lighting design company Lightswitch; Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director of ASU Gammage; Phoenix live-event specialists Video West; and Oakland structural artists HYBYCOZO.

Audio, video and lighting specialists Video West provided the majority of the equipment support, Pinholster said, and the students helped design, install, program and operate the installation, which ran from April 9–25 at Packard Stadium on the Tempe campus.

Pinholster said that, to his knowledge, the unique collaboration was the largest scale project of its type, providing students the opportunity to work with professionals in the field. Eleven student artists and 10 student designers and technicians from the School of Music, Dance and Theatre participated in the project, along with three theater alumni affiliated with Lightswitch.

In addition to the School of Music, Dance and Theatre students, Herberger Institute students from the School of Art; the School of Arts, Media and Engineering; and The Sidney Poitier New American Film School also participated.

The DesignSpace team’s request for proposals was distributed to students though the Herberger Institute faculty. The proposal was challenging and technically complex and required a time commitment during a busy time of year for students.

Fernanda Navarro, assistant professor of composition in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre, asked students from two of her graduate level classes — "Collaborative Projects: Multimedia Installations" and "Music and Movement" — to submit their final projects as proposals.

“One of my goals was to promote an interdisciplinary environment and stimulate close collaborations between students from diverse areas, such as music, dance and interdisciplinary digital media," Navarro said.

The “Bootes Constellation Sonification” from her "Collaborative Projects: Multimedia Installations" class was the brainchild of Anastacia Meconiates, (MM in music composition: interdisciplinary digital media), and also involved Elora Mastison (MFA in theatre: interdisciplinary digital media), Nikhita Sheller (MA in musicology), Wyatt Dittmar (MA in musicology) and Ziyu Wang (DMA in music composition). Inspired by one of the largest constellations visible in the Phoenix sky in spring, the team created a visual representation of the constellation with embedded lighting and music.

“We created our ‘Sonifying the Stars’ project to encourage people who saw it to reflect on the intangible things humanity has accidentally destroyed, as well as encourage viewers to go to a deserted area and attempt to locate the constellation themselves,” Meconiates said. “I've never done any sort of multimedia installation before so being the team lead and project designer had a big learning curve. This project really taught me how to work in a group to a degree that a traditional group project cannot.”

The "Music and Movement" class project "Dancing with Augmented Reality" was created by students Kathy Luo (MFA in dance and dance teaching artist Praxis certificate), Laura Brackney (DMA in music composition) and Leia Wasbotten (DMA in voice performance) as an interdisciplinary collaboration.

“I wanted to portray the infinite galaxy as the inspiration to collaborate on this piece,” said Luo, who conceived the idea. “We wanted to relate the human inner world to the outside world, the individual psychology and universe, to showcase how important space is to each human being, particularly when we were restricted to stay in our own place because of the global pandemic.”

This was Luo’s first time working on an installation project and incorporating lighting design and digital features into her work as a choreographer.

“It's very important for me to expand my knowledge from a different angle and utilize it to improve my creative skills,” Luo said. “My advice to other students is to be confident and trust themselves with the ability to do new things and take advantage of the opportunity to step out of one’s own professional field to connect with the different artists.”

“It was really exciting to work with artists from different backgrounds,” Brackney said. “Our piece changed a lot over the course of the project after meeting with the Lightswitch designers, but we all contributed ideas about the concept and aesthetics of the piece. My advice to others when you are collaborating on a project is to be flexible and communicate.”

Pinholster said the project gave students access to working with and designing with millions of dollars of equipment provided for the students’ use gratis, along with professional mentors and support for their use, that are almost never accessible to students at any university.

“The production timeline and processes were a different model from the usual academic showcase and repertory production models that our programs usually focus on,” Pinholster said. “Professional, nontheatrical live event production and entertainment design are huge fields with lots of opportunity that most students do not get to experience in college at anything like this scale.” 

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music


Narrative Storytelling Initiative founder Steven Beschloss takes on new role at ASU

July 15, 2021

After nearly six years at Arizona State University, award-winning writer and journalist Steven Beschloss is taking on a new role within the university as a professor of practice in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the College of Global Futures.

“Steven’s track record of innovation and transdisciplinary collaboration at ASU will allow him to engage students and faculty in a meaningful way,” said Pardis Mahdavi, dean of social sciences in The College. “I am grateful to have him in The College and look forward to seeing what new initiatives and collaborations will arise with his leadership.” Award-winning writer and journalist Steven Beschloss is taking on a new role within the university as a professor of practice in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the College of Global Futures. Download Full Image

Beschloss joined ASU in 2015 as a senior communications manager to work with President Michael Crow to craft essays and opinion pieces that focused on critical issues facing higher education and society. Over the years his role expanded to director of executive communications and strategic initiatives and the senior director for narrative development. His experiences in these roles ultimately led to the launch of the Narrative Storytelling Initiative in 2019, where he continues to serve as founding director.

"Ensuring a just, sustainable future for everyone begins with telling compelling stories about the challenges we face and the opportunities to solve them," said Christopher Boone, dean of the College of Global Futures. "Steven brings to the college extraordinary experience in crafting narratives that engage people and motivate them to act for positive outcomes. Our students, staff and faculty will learn a great deal from Steven on how to communicate effectively for building better futures."     

Now, Beschloss is eager to transition into his position as a professor of practice, where he will have the opportunity to teach about narrative storytelling while continuing his work of leading the Narrative Storytelling Initiative across the university. 

“I think ASU is still at an early stage in positively disrupting higher education and fulfilling its potential to influence society and build a more just world. I’m excited to be a part of it,” Beschloss said. “This triple appointment represents my strong belief in transdisciplinary thinking and collaboration that pulls together faculty and students who are motivated to ask significant questions — including about the state of our planet, our democracy and the roles we can play in driving societal and global change.”

As an experienced journalist, Beschloss will lend his expertise to the Cronkite School.

“We are very excited to have Steven as a part of the Cronkite community," said Battinto Batts Jr., dean of the Cronkite School. "Our students, faculty and alumni will benefit greatly from his presence, and I look forward to him playing a significant role in our vision for the future.”

Beschloss said he is particularly excited about the potential expansion of Transformations from personal essay series to books and other storytelling modes, the development of a global storytellers network, advancing a new graduate degree focused on narrative storytelling and working with teams of faculty to confront issues like climate crisis, environmental degradation and societal dysfunction. 

This fall he will co-teach ENG 598: Climate Narratives, Apocalypse and Social Change with languages and cultures Assistant Professor Sarah Viren. In the graduate-level course, students will explore the origins of apocalyptic narratives while studying a variety of alternative approaches from the history of writing for social change. The course, that is open to graduate and undergraduate students, grew out of a multidisciplinary initiative on Apocalyptic Narratives and Climate Change led by the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict and funded by a grant from the Luce/ACLS Program in Religion, Journalism and International Affairs. In the course, students will select the winner of ASU’s first Climate Narratives Prize, a biennial award for the best published narrative exploring the state of the planet and society.

“This is the kind of multidisciplinary course that I hope will pull students from various disciplines at The College,” Bechloss said. “The College possesses such an extraordinary range of thinkers, writers and storytellers; I’m looking forward to identifying new ways to work together and produce original content.”

Beschloss has written articles and essays on economics and politics, urban and international affairs, art, culture and education for The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The New Republic, Smithsonian, The Economist/Economist Intelligence Unit, National Geographic, Times Higher Education and other outlets.

He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, selected as Journalist of the Year in Virginia and honored for his magazine writing by the American Society of Journalists and Authors. He has been a featured guest on MSNBC, Fox Business and NPR, and recently quoted on politics and culture by the BBC, Time, The Guardian, Newsweek, Vogue and USA Today.

In addition, he has authored two books including "Adrift: Charting Our Course Back to a Great Nation," with co-author William Harris, and "The Gunman and His Mother: Lee Harvey Oswald, Marguerite Oswald, and The Making of an Assassin,” which is the basis for a television series currently under development. He also writes and publishes “America, America” on politics and democracy.

Emily Balli

Communications Specialist and Lead Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences