21C Supports Faculty and Graduate Student Creative Research in the Arts

  • UCI Claire Trevor School of the Arts
    UCI Claire Trevor School of the Arts
UCI Claire Trevor School of the Arts (photo by Will Nagel)

Since its founding in 2017, the Institute for 21st Century Creativity (21C) has sought to cultivate experimental and arts-based research to innovate and challenge creativity for this century and beyond.

With support from the UCI Office of Research, Dean Stephen Barker founded the school-level center. From all four departments at CTSA and partners at the university, any faculty or graduate student’s research is welcome.

During 21C’s foundational years, John Crawford, professor of dance and media arts, served as the faculty director. From 2017-2020, 21C supported several groundbreaking and interdisciplinary productions and programming, including; Reading Frankenstein (2019), the xMPL Emergence Series (2018-19); 21C Research Support (2018-19); and Living in The Tempest (2018). The new grant program will further 21C’s legacy.

Launching New Research

In 2020, the school established a new area of focus, CTSA Research and Innovation, which encompasses 21C and welcomed an inaugural Associate Dean of Research and Innovation, Jesse Colin Jackson. As part of the launch, the center created a unique funding opportunity with a call for 2020-2021 21C Research Grants. The new program prioritizes projects featuring leading-edge research agendas, interdisciplinary collaborations, and strong potential for external recognition and support. Many of the successful proposals also took the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on the creative landscape into account.

Our faculty and graduate students are always on the leading edge of creative practice.

Associate Dean Jackson formed the Research and Innovation Advisory Committee (RI Committee), which supports the programs and features a faculty member from each CTSA department. The RI Committee and Jackson faced the difficult task of narrowing the proposals down to a select group.

“Our faculty and graduate students are always on the leading edge of creative practice, which made the selection process very challenging. What particularly distinguishes the projects we chose is how they open doors to new audiences, opportunities, and directions for CTSA,” says Jackson. “The projects are not only innovative but also urgent, addressing complex social questions stemming from spirituality, social justice, and the pandemic.”

21C received 33 impressive proposals, with requested funds totaling $154,000. Through the 2021 Research Grants, 21C has been able to support ten faculty and six graduate students from CTSA’s four departments. Grantees are awarded $2,000 for their proposed creative research project, with one faculty grand prize of $10,000.

The Grand Prize Winner

Ariyan Johnson joined the Department of Dance as an assistant professor in summer 2020. She is a filmmaker, hip hop and liturgical dance scholar, and a choreographer. She is also the recipient of the first $10,000 faculty grant prize. The funding will support the production of the first installment in her Spiritual Cyphers: A Hip Hop Movement. A documentary film exploring how hip hop culture connects to spirituality.

The first installment takes viewers on an artistic journey into the pews and pulpit of the Black Christian Church. Through archival dance footage, interviews, and stylistic visual storytelling, Johnson bridges the connection of hip hop culture, dance, and spirituality in the church. The exploration of the rich elements of hip hop culminates in a fresh dance perspective.

The documentary project aims to challenge the notions of hip hop as being a one-dimensional music genre. It uplifts the idea that hip hop is an evolving art form with depth and spiritual connection.

“Hip hop is intergenerational and has been a catalyst that brings people together,” says Johnson. “I would like people to take away from this film how the black church and hip hop shared in creating a spiritual cypher that protected, healed, and liberated.”

Johnson’s team currently includes film consultant Desha Dauchan (UCI Film and Media Studies); pre-production consultant Martha Diaz (2020 MacArthur Fellow at USC Annenberg Innovation Lab); producer and director of photography Leslie Saltus Evans; producer Phyllis Bancroft; interviewer, consulting researcher, and producer Dr. Kathleen Turner (New York Theological Seminary); and video editor Mike Ziemkowski.

Image: Ariyan Johnson’s Grand Prize Winner project, "Spiritual Cyphers: A Hip Hop Movement. / Spiritual Cyphers: Hip Hop and the Church (series 1)".

2020-2021 21C Research Grant Recipients:

Eugenia Barbuc, M.F.A. ’21, Art: Haptic, embodied objects and collaboration
Interactive objects that help embodied porous exchanges between an inclusive group of remote participants. Inspired by Lygia Clark’s sensorial objects, radical feminist approaches, and the disproportionate impact of COVID on progressive art studios.

Juliette Carrillo, Associate Professor, Drama: Resilience, Resistance, Radiance
A projected drive-in theater experience of a filmed theater piece devised from a group of UCI students and professional artists with the theme of “intersectionality.”

Michael Dessen, Professor, Music: Puentes Telemáticos / Telematic Bridges 2021
An online summer music course led by UCI and other university faculty and graduate students, in which high school students from Santa Ana, Calif., and Manizales, Colombia, will develop new skills in music, technology and remote collaboration.

Charlotte Griffin, Assistant Professor, Dance: This One Then
A remote screen-dance project that considers the entanglement of identity, accumulation, and disappearance with a diverse, multigenerational ensemble of duets performing “at home” during pandemic-related isolation.

James I.E. Ilgenfritz III., Ph.D. ICIT ’23, Music: Infrequent Seams Streamfest and Streamseries
A series of online-streamed concerts, presentations, and performances, presenting new interdisciplinary and interdepartmental collaborations at UCI and around the world.

Ariyan Johnson, Assistant Professor, Dance ($10,000 Faculty Prize): Spiritual Cyphers: A Hip Hop Movement. / Spiritual Cyphers: Hip Hop and the Church (*series 1)
A documentary film exploring how hip-hop culture connects to spirituality.

Daphne Lei, Professor, Drama: Final Moments
A project about attentive and compassionate listening related to the last moments of the COVID effect provides the foundation of artistic documentation and healing.

Steven Lewis, Ph.D. ICIT ’24, Music: Building Computer-Mediated Performance Systems for Musical Avatars in Immersive Environments
A project focused on using Machine Listening and Motion Capture technologies to construct a cross-platform, computer-mediated system that enables virtual communication and improvisation between musical avatars and their human counterparts.

Jesús Enrique López Vargas, M.F.A. Stage Management ’21, Drama: /Echo (A Virtual Mystery)
An innovative and multimedia virtual exploration on the different facets of human nature will seek to answer the following question: What are you willing to do in the face of trauma?

Vincent Olivieri, Associate Dean for Graduate Affairs; Professor, Drama: The Virtual Reality Digital Audio Workstation (VirDAW)
A research project with the ultimate goal of developing a functional Digital Audio Workstation for the Virtual Reality environment.

Jane Page, Professor, Drama: The Prison Pandemic Project
A theatrical amplification to the Prison Pandemic Archive project at UCI. The Archive is a repository of inmate and staff experiences, stories from inside the California Prison System during the COVID pandemic.

Simon Penny, Professor, Art: Industrial Crafts Research Network
An international, interdisciplinary research network of academics, museum professionals, designers, and practitioners dedicated to the study of and communication of engaged embodied knowledge related to the cognitive ecologies of mechanized production environments.

Sebastian Rock, M.F.A. Costume Design ’22, Drama: Shakespeare in the Multiverse
A virtual reality production based on Hamlet explores identity, perception, and truth in the virtual world.

Laura Solomon, M.F.A. ’21, Art: A Beautiful Song about Incontinence Neglect
Solomon’s text about institutional elder care in a musical setting, structured as a choral work using digital recording and looping to multiply her voice.

Joel Veenstra, Associate Professor of Teaching, Drama: The Global Improvisation Initiative (GII) Symposium 2021: Trans•form
A symposium reimagining the future of improvisation, conferences, and their form in the 21st century with continuous transnational programming. Includes curated presentations, workshops, organic conversations, and performances.

S. Ama Wray,  Associate Professor, Dance: Decolonizing the Scientific Method to Advance the Study of Human Creativity
A project foregrounding dance to serve as an equal partner in the advancement of scholarship in the sciences.


Associate Dean Jackson and the RI Committee would like to thank Dean Stephen Barker and the Claire Trevor Society for providing major funding for this program.