VCU School of the Arts, ICA, Department of African American Studies announce racial equity initiative

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In fall 2017, the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, one of the nation’s leading arts schools; the new Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU, opening in spring 2018; and the VCU Department of African American Studies will launch the Racial Equity, Arts and Culture Transdisciplinary Core, an initiative founded through the VCU Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry and Innovation, known as iCubed.

Artists Meghan K. Abadoo and Paul Rucker, and scholar Onaje X.O. Woodbine will join the group as it explores efforts to redress social disparities and inequities within VCU and the broader Richmond community while drawing on the transformative potential of arts and culture.

“VCU is committed to recruiting faculty of exceptional quality who can help to reshape our educational landscape through their teaching, scholarship and service,” said Aashir Nasim, Ph.D., director of iCubed. “Meghan, Paul and Onaje will contribute to a pedagogy that promises to advance student learning in meaningful and productive ways, and encourages the community to become engaged as part of the process, leading to new findings relevant to our city and beyond.”

Founded in July 2015, iCubed builds human capital across the university and community. It connects multiple disciplines and lived experiences through the creation of transdisciplinary cores — university-community partnerships that endeavor to solve problems disproportionately affecting populations in urban areas. The Racial Equity, Arts and Culture Transdisciplinary Core will foster critical dialogue about, and develop mechanisms for, advancing the fair treatment of people of all races in and through arts and culture. The core is administered by the Arts Research Institute at the School of the Arts.

Working across disciplines, the visiting artists and scholar will support long-term planning to help shape and sustain the core’s efforts, build partnerships with key community leaders, and collaborate with students, faculty and Richmond residents to carry out artistic projects, research and scholarly work.

Situated in the VCU Department of Dance and Choreography, Abadoo will expand upon a new, intergenerational dance theater work commissioned by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She also will support local organizing to advance the progress of African-American women and girls, and conduct research to restructure pedagogical practice within a racial equity framework. Most recently, Abadoo served as a U.S. Fulbright Fellow in Accra and Dodowa, Ghana, where she conducted choreographic and pedagogical research at the Noyam African Dance Institute, and with the National Dance Company of Ghana — Ghana Dance Ensemble. Abadoo’s work is informed by more than a decade of experience as an educator, cultural organizer and performer with companies such as Gesel Mason Performance Projects, Dance Exchange, Urban Bush Women and David Dorfman Dance. She is an Undoing Racism® trainer-in-training with the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, and a 2017 Forty UNDER 40 leader in arts and humanities for Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Working with the ICA, visual artist, composer and musician Rucker will employ his research-based approach to discover untold stories about institutional and structural racism in Richmond. His work will include a new installation in the ICA’s inaugural exhibition, “Declaration.” Framed by documents and historical artifacts, the installation will reinterpret the iconic form of 1920s Ku Klux Klan robes through use of diverse fabrics and patterns. In addition to providing workshops through VCU’s Department of Music, Rucker will work with students and formerly incarcerated individuals to produce and distribute Harmony Food Sauce, a secret sauce to be packaged with labels detailing the current state and consequences of mass incarceration in the U.S., including statistics from the Prison Policy Initiative. The project, supported through a 2016 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Artist as Activist Fellowship, will provide job training for first-timers entering the workforce. Rucker is a 2017 Guggenheim Fellow and has previously served as an artist-in-residence at Maryland Institute College of Art and Creative Alliance in Baltimore.

Woodbine, who will be in the Department of African American Studies, is an author and teacher of philosophy and religious studies whose research focuses on the search for meaning and transcendence in urban African-American communities. His most recent book, “Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball,” has been optioned for film by nationally acclaimed actor Andre Holland. Drawing from his research on the spiritual dimensions of street basketball, Woodbine will transform inner city basketball courts into spaces of healing and reflection among African-American youth. In addition, Woodbine will continue writing his second book on the religious imagination and out-of-body experiences of African-American women confronting the difficulties of street life. He also will draw upon the artistic media of theater and film to immerse audiences within these critically important narratives. Before earning his Ph.D. from Boston University, Woodbine graduated with a degree in philosophy from Yale University. He has taught at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.

For information about the iCubed Racial Equity, Arts and Culture Core, contact Salem Tsegaye, sntsegaye@vcu.edu804-828-1701.