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Portfolio: Belic Institute Fellowship Program

“Art can encourage our greatest human capacity and is a strong tool for effecting lasting social change. I believe creating art is a social political act in and of itself because it creates necessary dialogues and advocates for deep human response and engagement. The individual creative voice presents the rich possibilities of shifting perceptions and leading personal and social exploration.”
—Jane M. Saks, executive director, Ellen Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women and Gender in the Arts and Media

This firm belief in the power of art is among the founding principles of the Ellen Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women and Gender in the Arts and Media, established at Columbia College Chicago in 2005. Merging cultural production with critical theory and academic research, the Belic Institute addresses issues focused on women, gender, human rights, access, representation, equity, and participation, as well as race and class. The arts and media are the central means through which the institute carries out the creation of new and original works, research, engagement, public education, and advocacy.

The Belic Institute Fellowship Program is central to this mission, providing opportunities for the development of new creative voices that reflect a diversity of experiences, disciplines, visions, and identities. Since 2006, the program has supported more than 25 individual artists and scholars with financial resources, dedicated research assistance, project and audience development, and cross-disciplinary networking. A few projects involve partnerships with other organizations, such as the Goodman Theatre and 3Arts, which will sponsor two upcoming fellowships.

A defining principle of the Fellowship Program is the support it provides for the creative and intellectual processes. “One of my most important priorities and greatest privileges as executive director of the institute is working closely with the fellows during the rich period of development and research with which all new artistic work and creative investigation begins,” says Jane M. Saks. “The original creative voice always has the opportunity to be a ‘leadership voice’ and create paradigm shifts. That is why I encourage risk taking, experimentation, and innovation within the program.” Fellows engage in developing a new creative, scholarly, or academic work and participate in expanded learning opportunities for students and faculty such as lectures, curricular intersections, workshops, and roundtable discussions.

Fellows are selected by invitation, not application. They come from within the Columbia College community, including faculty and students, as well as externally, including artists, scholars, and cultural workers. Fellows work closely with the executive director to develop each project, including articulating their creative vision, determining future goals and aspirations for possible production and collaborations, and creating interdisciplinary networks to increase the impact and visibility of their work.

“With our concentration on women, gender, and underrepresented artists, scholars, and innovative ideas, the fellowship program provides a platform for new voices, experiences, and reflections that represent the full breadth of our society,” Saks explains. “All of the cultural workers chosen for the program are pushing their own creative processes and voices, as well as adding to and shifting the discourse on issues related to gender, race, access, agency, human rights, creativity, culture, and community.”

Here, we present projects by five recent Institute Fellows: Lynsey Addario, E. Patrick Johnson, Invincible, Red Tremmel, and Lynn Nottage.

Lynsey Addario

Portfolio-ESB-Lynsey-02.jpgLynsey Addario
“My fellowship enabled me the freedom to focus on documenting rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo and to eventually produce enough work for the Congo/Women exhibit. Without the backing of the fellowship, I never would have been able to take the time out to interview and shoot portraits of women in the DRC for such an important project. The institute provides a wonderful network of strong, intelligent, creative women who are making great strides in their respective fields, and it’s an honor to be part of such a network of women.”

Bio: Photojournalist Lynsey Addario is based in India. She photographs for the New York Times, National Geographic, and Fortune among other publications in countries including Cuba, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Addario was given a 2009 MacArthur “genius” award and a Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting as part of the New York Times team.

Project: Addario created a new body of work comprising the central large-scale portraits for Congo/Women, an internationally touring photography exhibition and educational campaign to raise awareness of the widespread sexual violence facing women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Congo/Women is an original coproduction of the Belic Institute and Art Works Projects. It debuted at Columbia College Chicago in early 2009 and has since been viewed by more than 100,000 people. It has been shown nationally and internationally including on Capitol Hill and at the United Nations headquarters in New York and will travel to more than 20 venues over the next two years.

Portfolio-ESB-Lynsey-01.jpgAmandine, a pregnant 14-year-old, seeks refuge at a Congo medical center. Photo: Lynsey Addario, VII Network (Congo/Women Portraits of War: The Democratic Republic of Congo).

E. Patrick Johnson

Portfolio-ESB-Patrick-02.jpgE. Patrick Johnson
“Becoming a fellow at the ESB Institute has changed the trajectory of my career as an artist and scholar. The fellowship program afforded me the opportunity to have an intensive workshop environment to develop my work that I have never had before. Jane Saks’ commitment to and investment in my work helped me see its potential beyond an insular academic community to imagine how it could impact the lives of people around the world.”

Bio: E. Patrick Johnson is professor, chair, and director of graduate studies in the Department of Performance Studies and a professor in the Department of African American Studies at Northwestern University. He is the award-winning author of Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity; Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology (with Mae G. Henderson); and Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South—an Oral History.

Project: Johnson’s fellowship focused on the creation and performance of Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South, a full-length work adapted from his book. Johnson and Saks hosted a series of workshops with distinguished artists, performers, and scholars to investigate the concepts, forms, and content of the production. Sweet Tea will be produced by Jane M. Saks, the ESB Institute, and Chicago’s About Face Theatre and premiere in May 2010.

E. Patrick Johnson performs Sweet Tea.


“Working with the institute has given me support to reflect on my art and activism in ways that deepen my internal process, as well as my connection and accountability to the communities I am part of. It has been especially helpful to think out loud with Jane and be affirmed to take my work in new directions that are not beholden to any standard definitions of success.”

Bio: Detroit-based hip-hop artist and activist Invincible began penning lyrics at age nine, shortly after moving to the Midwest from the Middle East and learning English by memorizing her favorite songs. She has performed around the world both solo and as part of the all-female hip-hop collective Anomolies. In 2008, she released her acclaimed debut album, ShapeShifters, through the label and media company she founded, Emergence.

Using hip-hop, media, and popular education, Invincible is exploring whether and to what extent complex sciences can be applied to make social movements stronger and more effective. Her goal is for the resources she creates to make these ideas accessible to a wider range of people who can build upon them through everyday practice.

Sledgehammer! official video

invincible | MySpace Music Videos

Portfolio-ESB-Invincible-01.jpgInvincible performs at the South by Southwest music festival. Photo: Magee

Red Tremmel

Portfolio-ESB-Tremmel-02.jpgRed Tremmel
“Many scholars/artists keep their intellectual and artistic lives separate, discouraged by the lack of institutional support to bring the most meaningful aspects of their lives together. The fellowship provided me with that unique opportunity—supporting and guiding me both academically and artistically. In particular, Jane Saks’ vision and invaluable counsel has encouraged me, and held open a place for me to experiment, think and create in unexpected ways. The strategies of the institute are so clearly marked by a love of thought, creativity, nuance, beauty, and complexity that I have been humbled to be a part of their work.”

Bio: Red Tremmel is a historian, filmmaker, and curator of live performances who specializes in the history of working-class culture, gender and sexuality, and leisure spaces. He has taught gender and sexuality studies, most recently at Tulane University. Tremmel is among the creators of the Sissy Butch Brothers, a grass-roots team that helped initiate Chicago’s recent burlesque revival. He is working on a book, From the City on the Hill to Sin City.

Project: Tremmel’s documentary Exotic World and the Burlesque Revival focuses on an influential group that has been developing a discourse on sexuality and gender for more than a century: burlesque performers. The film offers a glimpse into an intergenerational DIY dance culture that is refashioning ideas about feminine sexuality and depicting sexual optimism in the face of homogenization and decay.

Clip from Exotic World and the Burlesque Revival.

Portfolio-ESB-Tremmel-01.jpgJulie Atlas Muz in Gurlesque Burlesque

Lynn Nottage

Portfolio-ESB-Nottage-02.jpgLynn Nottage
“I wrote my play Ruined in response to the brutal war being waged against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The ESB Institute’s generous and nurturing support of the play has been an invaluable part of the show’s incredible success. Jane Saks’ passionate leadership and commitment to raising awareness about the plight of women in the DRC through performing arts and media has been an inspiration, and I’ve been proud to be part of her incredible efforts.”

Bio: Playwright Lynn Nottage is the author of Crumbs from the Table of Joy, Fabulation, and the award-winning Intimate Apparel. Nottage’s many individual awards include a 2004 PEN/Laura Pels Award for literary excellence, a 2005 Guggenheim grant, and a 2007 MacArthur “genius” award.

Project: Nottage’s fellowship focused on Ruined, her Pulitzer Prize–winning play centered around a businesswoman who protects and profits from women whose bodies have become a battle-ground in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s complex civil war. Produced in collaboration with the Goodman Theatre and the Manhattan Theatre Club, the play premiered at the Goodman in the winter of 2008. After attending a performance in New York, Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the United Nations, noted that the play inspired him to do more to eradicate sexual violence against women.

A report on Ruined by VOA News, New York

Portfolio-ESB-Nottage-01.jpgScene from Lynn Nottage's Ruined, performed at the Manhattan Theatre Club. Photo: Joan Marcus