Get ready for a very creative spring semester

Three musicians standing around a piano


Organizers for the Year of Creativity spent most of the fall looking over proposals, handing out grants from $150 to $5,000, and developing ideas for signature events.


Summer 2019 Creative Research Exhibition: Featuring the work of students who participated in the 2019 summer research opportunities with the University Honors College, including the Studio Arts Field Study in Wyoming and the Brackenridge Fellowship. Opening reception, 5-7 p.m. Jan. 16; open through Feb. 3 at the University Art Gallery, Frick Fine Arts Building.

Coding Carnival: Organized by Annette Vee, Associate Professor of English, and Luciana Louro, visiting scholar from São Paulo, Brazil, this event from 1 to 3 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Center for Creativity, is open to the University community and their families. Participants can create binary-encoded masks, make binary-encoded necklaces and bracelets, learn basic principles of machine learning with an analog input-output box, and program a Robot Carnival Parade to dance samba. They’ll also learn about Brazilian culture and sample food. RSVP here.

Public Art Celebration: 4 to 5 p.m. Jan. 30 near the “Light Up” sculpture on Posvar Plaza. See related story

Now many of those ideas are coming to fruition, so expect to see an explosion of creativity on all of Pitt’s campuses this spring.

And there’s still some money left for more Year of Creativity funding proposals, but it won’t be there long. Kit Ayars, co-chair of the Year of Creativity and director of strategy and partnership at the Center for Creativity, says the money could run out by the end of the month, depending on the size of the approved requests.

So far, the Year of Creativity’s funding working group, led by Professor Deane Root of the Department of Music, has received 137 proposals — the most for a “Year of” yet, Ayars says — and funded 51.

“I think that we've really tapped into something we have thought was there — There's creativity everywhere at the University, right? And I think we all kind of knew that in our guts and in our heads — but being able to see it on paper as people submit these ideas and get excited about doing things has been really special,” Ayars says.

Some of the proposals that have received funding include: 

  • Ali-Reza Mirsajadi’s (Theatre Arts faculty, Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences) proposal to engage students and any interested community members in a month-long workshop this term on “exploring and expressing their own identities and narratives, having conversations about otherness and communion in University spaces,” facilitated in part by artist-activist Zahra Noorbakhsh.

  • Music and Creative Writing is a collaboration between Pitt Music faculty members Paula Tuttle (cello), Mary Beth Malek (clarinet), Tina Faigen (piano), other professional musicians, and all of students in the English department’s Poetry Workshop. The students will listen to musical works by modern, classical and romantic composers and then create their own works as a response. The works will be performed a senior center, public libraries, a music club and more.

  • Jennifer Stein’s (Physics and Astronomy postdoc, Dietrich School) proposal to expand creative approaches to communicate quantum physics and other scientific concepts through music, game design, video and visualization.

  • Timothy Holler’s (Criminal Justice faculty, Pitt–Greensburg) proposal in support of Community Arts and Reintegration Project (CARP) and its work using the process of designing and creating murals to help reintegrate juvenile probationers into the community.

  • Pitt-Bradford’s “Sing Diversity” project that encourages students to write and perform songs focusing on diversity.

  • Eric Sloss’ (Pitt–Johnstown, communications director) proposal for a project to identify the “poet laureate of Johnstown” and present their work on local transit buses.

  • Six Word Stories was a collaboration in the fall between the University Library System and the Dietrich School’s Open Door Project.

Natalie Baney, who is doing communications for the Year of Creativity, is encouraging people to use #creativityliveshere on social media when talking about creativity at Pitt. There also will be a limited number of temporary tattoos with the Year of Creativity logo to give out during January — International Creativity Month. Look for them soon at the Center for Creativity in the University Store basement.

Signature events

Separate from these individual proposals are signature events being planned by a committee led by Kornelia Tancheva, director of the University Library System.

One of the first of these signature events will be a celebration of Pitt’s commitment to public art on the Oakland campus from 4 to 5 p.m. Jan. 30 near the “Light Up” sculpture on the plaza between Posvar Hall and David L. Lawrence Hall. Provost Ann Cudd and Greg Scott, senior vice chancellor for Business and Operations, will introduce this new Art on Campus initiative. (See related story).

The committee also is developing a series of gatherings for people involved in Pitt’s creative and maker spaces, which will lead to an event in September for members of the University community to tour and make stuff at a number of those locations.

“There are a lot of people — faculty, students and staff — who are interested in coming to places where they can make stuff,” Ayars says. “It’s hard to find out about all the places here.”

A website developed last year — — lists most of the sites, but Ayars says it’s difficult to keep it up to date and seeing a description online isn’t the same as visiting the site.

Other signature events include:

Creativation, a community art experience conceived by Nicole Mitchell Gantt, director of Jazz Studies in the music department, with nationally recognized composer/artist Douglas Ewart, who creates art and music in a physical space with objects and ideas brought to him from the community. The event, which is open to the Pitt community and the public, will take place March 20 in the Pitt Sports Dome. Faculty who might be interested in using this event as part of their students’ coursework or active learning experiences this term should contact the committee. Ewart will be on campus this month to explore the space in the Sports Dome.

The Year of Creativity Celebration is being planned for April 14 on the — fingers crossed — newly reopened third floor of Hillman Library. The floor is currently closed, but Ayars has high hopes that renovations will be completed for the celebration. The event will allow visitors to interact with some of the projects that have been funded — “We don’t want it to be passive,” Ayars says — and with the new “Text and Context” lab, which will focus on printed creativity, such as bookbinding and papermaking.

Scholarship in creativity

The Scholarship in Creativity working group, under the leadership of Sue Cohen of the Katz Graduate School of Business, has identified a number of opportunities to explore questions and assumptions of creativity.

African American Art in the International Arena:  As part of course with Richard Hylton (postdoc in History of Art & Architecture) this semester, grad students will do original research in an experimental audio/visual essay or sound/image artwork.

Reproduced/Some Assembly Required: Mid-February. Sara Fdili Alaoui, an assistant professor at Université Paris-Saclay, does scholarship on appropriation of dance moves from different cultures, Ayars says. She’ll team with local dance group Attack Theatre and attendees to create a choreographed piece within the confines of the University Art Gallery. Alaoui also will participate in a colloquium on Feb. 20 on “Integrating Technologies in Dance: Methods, Creations and Critical Reflections.”

Creative Placemaking: Pittsburgh. With the Humanities Center’s support, this will be a symposium with urban studies scholars, geographers and local community organizers to think about the complex role of creative arts/industries in revitalization and gentrification). 

In addition, the group is working on plans for exhibiting some of the works of Harold Cohen, which test questions related to whether machines/computers can be creative.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 412-648-4294.


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