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Double Down On The Arts Prizes: UNT And SMU Both Announce Awards

by Jerome Weeks 3 Feb 2015 10:03 AM
mark wunderlich

Poet Mark Wunderlich. Photo: Bookstock

Two North Texas universities yesterday announced major arts awards. Combined, the prizes represent $60,000 going to a director, a poet and an interactive, performance art collective. KERA’s Jerome Weeks reports, all of the artists will be visiting the area in the next year.

The University of North Texas announced its fourth Rilke Prize winner today. The Rilke Prize is named for the German poet, Rainier Maria Rilke, and the $10,000 award is unusual in that it’s not a beginner’s prize or a lifetime achievement award. It’s given to a mid-career poet for a book of exceptional quality.

Mark Wunderlich, who teaches at Bennington College, won the Rilke for his new book The Earth Avails. Earlier this year in Vermont for the Bookstock Literary Festival (video, below), he explained many of the poems were inspired by a 19th-century prayer book he found in his family home.

“I started reading it,” he said, “and I was very interested in the combined tone of praise, supplication and complaint. And I was quite moved by the occasions of them. Not being a believer myself, I still found the world that they called up to be a vivid one.”

LEARsmall_photo by Matthew Murphy

Lear deBessonet Photo: Matthew Murphy

Wunderlich will make two public appearances in Denton in March.

The second major arts award announced today is the two-part Meadows Prize from SMU. Each of the $25,000 stipends is designed to bring pioneering urban artists to Dallas, have them reside here and develop a project here. Past winners include Will Power, whose world-premiere musical, Stagger Lee, is currently running at the Dallas Theater Center.

Complex Movementsbig

Complex Movements. Photo: Doug Coombe

One of this year’s two winners is Lear deBessonet, who works at the Public Theatre in New York for the company’s Public Works program. She develops shows with direct involvement from social-aid groups. She creates spectacular, outdoor Shakespeare productions with hundreds of people onstage, including top acting talent alongside housekeepers, cab drivers and impoverished schoolkids.

“One of my focusing ambitions,” she says, “has been this question of how do you wed a passion for social justice and theater in a way that is making the art better? Part of what we try to do is feature everyone doing something that they’re sincerely excellent at, first of all, and is actually serving the story.”

DeBessonet will be in Dallas more than a year before her musical version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest is staged in spring 2017. This co-production between the Meadows School and the Dallas Theater Center will be a revival of her Tempest first staged in Central Park in 2013. DeBessonet wants to create a broad-based theater that puts the real people of a city onstage, so she needs that lead time to develop strong working relationships among all the groups, artists and volunteers.

The other Meadows Prize winner is a Detroit-based, hip-hop performance and installation collective called Complex Movements. The four-member group specializes in interactive, multi-media works addressing social justice and science. Like deBessonet, Complex Movements is committed to collaboration in shaping and presenting its works to give them local relevance. In Dallas, the group plans to present its immersive, sci-fi parable called Beware of the Dandelions. It’ll be performed in a large, high-tech, geometric structure in Fair Park for four weeks in October.

As one member of the collective, graphic artist Wesley Taylor puts it, “In the end, we want to see how many layers of complexity we can mash into a single piece and still tell a cohesive story.”

Videos of all the artists:

The full SMU release:


Complex Movements and Lear deBessonet Will Each Receive $25,000 and Artistic Residency at Meadows School

DALLAS (SMU) February 3, 2015 — The Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University has announced the recipients of its sixth annual Meadows Prize arts residency: the Detroit-based artist collective Complex Movements and Lear deBessonet, the director of The Public Theater’s Public Works program in New York City. The Meadows Prize is awarded to pioneering artists and creative professionals who are active in one or more disciplines represented by the academic units within the Meadows School.

Complex Movements is a Detroit-based artist collective developing interactive performance work that illuminates connections between complex science and social justice movements to support the transformation of communities. Complex Movements is comprised of graphic designer/fine artist Wesley Taylor; music producer/filmmaker Waajeed; lyricist/organizer Invincible; and multimedia artist/performance systems architect Carlos Garcia. Their work draws on multiple disciplines, including community organizing, design, music, architecture, storytelling, multimedia art and theater. For their Meadows Prize project, Complex Movements will collaborate with the Dallas community and Meadows School on a week-long residency in February, and return in October for a four-week engagement of Beware of the Dandelions in Dallas’s Fair Park.

Beware of the Dandelions is a performance-based installation that also functions as a workshop space and a visual arts exhibition. Participant activity occurs inside a 400-square-foot polyhedron pod structure designed in collaboration with Detroit-based architect Aaron Jones to create an immersive visual and sound experience. Beware of the Dandelions is built upon an original science-fiction parable about a post-apocalyptic community trying to create change and is told through projections, music and interactive elements. Components of the installation are shaped and co-presented by a cohort of Dallas community members to give the work a unique local resonance. The cohort touring model is designed in collaboration with cultural strategist and Beware of the Dandelions producer Sage Crump. Through community collaboration and the interdisciplinary nature of Beware of the Dandelions, Complex Movements seeks to raise the visibility of local issues and social justice-based art and activism.

Lear deBessonet is director of Public Works – a major initiative of The Public Theater that engages the people of New York as theater creators as well as spectators. Working with community partner organizations in all areas of the city, Public Works invites members of diverse communities to participate in theater workshops, attend classes and productions, and become involved in the daily life of The Public. Under deBessonet’s leadership, Public Works deliberately blurs the line between professional artists and community members, creating theater that is by and of the people. For her Meadows Prize project, deBessonet will spearhead a new co-production between the Meadows School and the Dallas Theater Center of The Tempest, to be developed for spring 2017. Lear’s first visit to Dallas will be spring 2015. This co-production marks a new form and scale for a Meadows Prize project and will engage hundreds of volunteers, community partners from across Dallas, and the institutional collaboration and alignment between SMU, The Public Theater and the Dallas Theater Center. DeBessonet’s first iteration of The Tempest was a 2013 Public Works production, in conjunction with a number of community organizations, featuring more than 200 New Yorkers on stage, many with little or no acting experience.

“We’re very excited to welcome Complex Movements and Lear deBessonet to the Meadows School as our sixth-year recipients of the Meadows Prize,” said Sam Holland, dean of the Meadows School of the Arts. “Both help us advance important elements of the vision for the Meadows School – to allow our students to interact with artists at the top of their fields and to integrate the Meadows School more deeply into our community.”

The Meadows Prize is part of the Meadows School’s work in art and urbanism, led by Clyde Valentín, former executive director of the New York City-based Hip-Hop Theater Festival. The purpose of this new initiative is to create and build programs that combine the arts and community engagement in Dallas, allowing students and others to immerse themselves in the city and engage with community members and arts institutions to create art collaboratively. The goal is to encourage people to create a cultural energy that supports Dallas – home to the nation’s largest urban arts district – and its growth as a nationally recognized arts center.

“Through their grassroots, community-based, and interdisciplinary nature, the projects proposed by Complex Movements and Lear deBessonet perfectly reflect the distinctive values of the Meadows School’s initiatives in arts and urbanism,” said Valentín. “Both projects are unwavering in their commitment to community and to fostering access and equity to art making, while also redefining the use of space as creative place-making.”

“This is a magnificent opportunity to make connections between communities in Dallas and Detroit, and nurture an exchange of stories, strategies and innovative creative methods to address both of our cities’ most pressing crises,” said Complex Movements’ Wesley Taylor. “Complex Movements is excited to listen to, learn from and collaborate with Dallas communities. It is an honor to receive the prize and follow in the legacy of other social justice-committed artists who were prize winners such as Jawole Zollar, founder of New York City’s Urban Bush Women.”

“My career has been fueled by the combination of my passions for both social justice and theater, and with Public Works, we’ve been able to create works of theater that speak to and directly engage a broad public,” said Lear deBessonet. “It’s so thrilling to see these same passions embodied by the work of the students and faculty at the Meadows School, and I’m very excited to work in partnership with not only Dallas’s arts institutions but more importantly its citizens to create a new project for the city.”

Inaugurated in October 2009, the Meadows Prize is presented annually to up to two pioneering artists. It includes support for a residency in Dallas, in addition to a $25,000 stipend. In return, recipients are expected to interact in a substantive way with Meadows students and collaborating arts organizations, and to leave a lasting legacy in Dallas, such as a work of art that remains in the community, a composition or piece of dramatic writing that would be performed locally, or a new way of teaching in a particular discipline.

Artist bios and additional background on the Meadows Prize follow.

Complex Movements is a Detroit-based artist collective developing interactive performance work that illuminates connections between complex science and social justice movements to support the transformation of communities. Complex Movements is composed of graphic designer/fine artist Wesley Taylor; music producer/filmmaker Waajeed; lyricist/organizer Invincible; and multimedia artist/performance systems architect Carlos Garcia. Their work is created from the intersection of disciplines including community organizing, design, music, architecture, storytelling, multimedia art and theater. Complex Movements’ current project, Beware of the Dandelions, is created in collaboration with Detroit-based architect Aaron Jones and a circle of community advisers and is produced by cultural strategist Sage Crump.

Lear deBessonet is the director of Public Works at The Public Theater. She directed Good Person of Szechwan for The Foundry Theatre and The Public Theater (Obie Award, Lilly Award, Drama Desk nomination, Lortel nomination), and has directed Public Works’ productions of The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale at the Delacorte (each featuring over 200 New Yorkers from all five boroughs). Her previous large-scale projects include an original musical adaptation of The Odyssey at the Old Globe in 2011 (featuring professional artists alongside 181 San Diegans) and Quixote, a collaboration with homeless shelter Broad Street Ministry and the punk gypsy band Psalters in Philadelphia in 2009. Other directing credits include Sherie Rene Scott’s Piece of Meat at 54 Below, On the Levee for Lincoln Center Theater/LCT3 (Time Out Best of 2010), a country/bluegrass version of Saint Joan of the Stockyards with Kelley McRae (PS122), Toshi Reagon and The Big Lovely’s Lines (NEA commission, Joe’s Pub), Takarazuka (Clubbed Thumb), Monstrosity (13P), The Scarlet Letter with fiddler Todd Reynolds (Intiman Theatre), transFigures (Women’s Project), In the Dark Ages (National Opera Theatre of Kazakhstan) and When I Was a Ghost (Guthrie Theater). For Ten Thousand Things in Minneapolis, she directed productions of My Fair Lady, As You Like It and The Music Man that toured to prisons, community centers and homeless shelters. She created and ran the Tickets for the People program in New York, an initiative to distribute tickets to non-traditional theatergoers including immigrants, students and seniors. She has been honored as one of Crain’s “40 under 40” and Time Out New York’s “25 People to Watch,” and she was honored with LMCC’s Presidential Award for Artistic Excellence. A recipient of an NEA/TCG Career Development Program for Directors, she has also served as a visiting professor at NYU-Tisch School of the Arts.

The Meadows Prize replaced the Meadows Award, which was given annually from 1981 to 2003 to honor the accomplishments of an artist at the pinnacle of a distinguished career. Meadows Prize recipients must be pioneering artists and scholars active in a discipline represented by one of the academic units within the Meadows School: advertising, art, art history, arts management and arts entrepreneurship, communication studies, dance, film and media arts, journalism, music and theatre.
The Meadows Prize is sponsored by the Meadows School and The Meadows Foundation.
Previous winners of the Meadows Prize were Grammy-winning contemporary music ensemble eighth blackbird and New York-based public arts organization Creative Time (2010); playwright and performer Will Power and choreographer Shen Wei, artistic director of New York-based Shen Wei Dance Arts (2011); Tony-winning playwright and screenwriter Enda Walsh and choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan, artistic director of Dublin-based Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre (2012); violist Nadia Sirota and socio-political artist Tania Bruguera (2013); and choreographer and founder of Urban Bush Women Jawole Willa Jo Zollar (2014).