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College of Liberal Arts
University of Mississippi

Cultivating Creativity

Sarahfest Artist-in-Residence expands experiences and knowledge

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For the past eight years the University of Mississippi Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies’ annual Sarahfest has celebrated and highlighted women and LGBTQ+ creators in the arts.

Sarah Isom Center logoThe Isom Center and the Department of Music see their two-year-old Sarahfest Artist-in-Residence program as an important example of what creative collaboration across the disciplines can look like when partners are committed to innovative pedagogy that fosters active learning and promotes professional development for UM students.

Department of Music log“We are providing unique and intensive outside the classroom opportunities that allow UM students to grow, hone skills, and build professional relationships,” said Nancy Maria Balach, chair and professor of music and director of the UM Institute for the Arts.

“Education can often focus on the ‘product,’ but we are committed to creating an environment that centers on ‘process.’ I am continually impressed by the talent and dedication of UM students and am proud of our investment in their individual needs.”

After an open call for students to submit an example of their work—music, spoken word, film, or art, the latest Sarahfest Artist-in-Residence, Valerie George, a professor of art at the University of West Florida, selected these six to be part of a cohort for group and individual sessions on the Art of Process in Creating:

  • Izzy Arthurs, English major
  • Lauren Ladner, music master’s student
  • If-not-God Moses, music master’s student
  • Maggie Muehleman, English doctoral student
  • Autumn Payne, film production major
  • Kaitlyn Steinroeder, film production major

“We are working together to develop ways to protect your creative practice, much like children that must be nurtured and protected so that they may grow and flourish,” said George, whose work reflects holistically on art and life in the form of installation art, site specific works, video, performance, sound, sculpture, photography, new media, drawing, collaborative projects, and curatorial practices.

“All students deserve intensive one-on-ones—to have an opportunity for someone to really hear them and see them. In that context, they tend to ask meaningful questions and open up.”

For Arthurs, “The workshop was a surprising and rewarding deep dive into ‘who am I?’”

In the Art of Process in Creating, George said, “What we are dealing with is that good, meaty stuff that has to do with how to protect your creative practice, how to preserve time, make time, create space—physical space and emotional space.”

Students were inspired. “Valerie has guided me in the steps I need to take to become the artist that I want to be,” said Steinroeder.

“It is nice to be reminded that the dreams I have are not out of reach,” said Payne.

Made possible through campus and community collaborations and financial support from the Isom Center Fund for Visiting Artists and the Isom Center Fund for LGBTQ Arts, Culture, and Community Development, one of the Isom Center’s first Sarahfest partners was UM’s Living Music Resource.

Since 2015, the partnership has evolved to include the Department of Music. This creative trifecta has expanded Sarahfest’s programing goals and student outreach opportunities, which can be seen through the creation of the Sarahfest artist-in-residence program.

“As collaborative partners, we view programming as an educational opportunity for furthering not only our pedological objectives, but as a vital tool for community building through the arts,” said Theresa Starkey, Isom Center associate director and instructional associate professor of gender studies. “For us, programming spaces are dynamic sites where new kinds of experiences and constructions of knowledge are formed. This is very much a feminist praxis.”

The first Sarahfest Artists-in-Residence were Jenny Conlee—a musician best known as the accordionist, pianist, organist, keyboardist, melodica player, and occasional backup singer and harmonicist for indie rock quintet The Decemberists, and Kelly Hogan—a singer-songwriter who travels and performs as part of Mavis Stapels’ band as a backup singer. Their week-long residency included master classes, an acoustic performance by the duo, and a concert of students performing in a band, The Bored of Education, with Hogan and Conlee.