The University is often not recognized as a vibrant environment for the arts. However, for the past six years the Miller Arts Scholars Program has cultivated small, selected groups of artistically-gifted students — with the intent of increasing participants’ access to arts resources — and showcased their various projects at the end of the academic year.
Every March, up to four scholars are admitted in each of the five disciplines — those being studio art, dance, drama, music and creative writing. Their work showcases unique projects such as music albums, ballet and tenor opera performances that are made possible by the J. Sanford Miller and Colbert families’ financial contribution and support from art mentors at the University.
The Millers Arts Scholars presented their projects Sunday evening in Culbreth Theater. Many of the arts faculty mentors were present in the audience. Scholars were allowed five minutes per presentation, and the style of their demonstrations throughout the hour took on an impressive array of forms.
Graduate Engineering student Kaiming Cheng opened the presentations with an imaginative virtual-reality demonstration. Inspired by virtual-reality projects like Tilt Brush that enable 3D painting, Cheng showcased a project that enabled him to visualize music by “painting” its form through body gestures that translated into music signals. He also shared plans to enable collaborative modes in his project that allow for a “virtual reality ensemble.”
Second-year College student Bryce Cuthriell showcased a slow-ballet dance performance. The dancing was set to what was intended to be a square-dancing male solo. As he fluidly traveled around the compact performance space, Cuthriell impressed the audience with his coordination, balance, and full-scale expression.
Fourth-year College student Jack Gereski followed up with a monologue from “Peter and the Starcatcher.” He introduced his performance with an anecdote of his experience last year at the Yale Summer Conservatory, where he received a “taste of what the life of an actor is like on a day-to-day basis.” He was excited to expand his acting talents beyond his comfort zone with physical improv, and announced that next August he would be attending the University of Houston to study acting in a graduate environment.
After Gereski, fourth-year College student Emily Schmid excitedly described an internship last summer with the Balclis Art Auction House in Barcelona. The free time to see works of Dali, Picasso and iconic Modernist architecture in Spain was inspiring for Schmid. The opportunity “enabled me to do something entirely different from what I studied here,” she said. “The program actually changed my life.”
Third-year College student Eric Liu gave an operatic performance where his normally deeper voice transformed into a high-pitched tenor. He was accompanied by a piano track from a Baroque composer, which added up to seal the opera themes. His skills were built from a summer prior spent at the Oberlin Music Conservatory.
Music shifted to film when third-year College student Kristen Barrett followed onstage to describe the inspiration she had from a summer spent touring film festivals in Europe. She wrote a monologue based on her experience, which she envisioned as a filmic voice-over, but presented with the accompaniment of slides with images from her time in France. As an English major, Barrett had thoughtful reflections delivered in dramatic fashion — “Keep the daydreams alive / Let the warm stone walls whisper their secrets into your ears.”
Fourth-year College student Kate Bollinger described six months spent studying and writing music abroad in Lyon, France. As an aspiring professional musician, the experience led her to share two song from an upcoming EP that she said she would release in June. The production quality and vocals were lusciously rendered to jazzy, instrumental accompaniment.
The art of education was showcased when fourth-year College student Jessica Harris went onstage to involve the audience in an interactive teaching demonstration. The experience was inspired by a Broadway Teacher Workshop she attended in New York City. She said the three-day intensive program showcased the “intersection of using drama for youth engagement and community empowerment.” The audience was asked to apply the “sandwich technique” to their day, sharing an honest anecdote bookended by two positive “slices” to the person sitting next to them.
Fourth-year College student Kia Wassenaar gave a remote presentation since she was studying abroad, addressing the audience through a pre-recorded video. She showcased clips from two short films, entitled “The Gardener” and “Lucy,” that she had shot on 16 millimeter film. The vintage medium gave a retro and modest surface to the shorts, which displayed, in Wassenaar’s words, “solitude and how it takes form in three different people.”
The evening concluded with one more music demonstration — the unveiling of an album produced by fourth-year College student Alice Clair. “LOOP,” her full-length album, represented the culmination of two years of work and assistance from 20 collaborators, consisting of “peers, musicians and friends.” The songs, according to Clair, are “all live, recorded rhythm tracks,” as opposed to more pre-produced studio efforts.
With such a variety of experiences presented onstage, the Miller Arts foundation played a final, short montage video of each scholar performing through their respective talents. The audience applauded one last time, having witnessed the eclectic and surprising nature of the University’s vibrant and growing arts department.