In the Loop
Editorial : Apr 13, 2022

Moving forward together: A message from Dean Onye Ozuzu

By Onye P. Ozuzu

As the spring semester draws to a close, renewal and new growth are perceptible at College of the Arts. Deeper breaths of fresh air have begun to come more easily this spring, as the pandemic has finally given us some space—following a two-year stretch defined by lockdown, isolation, collective and personal grief, and political destabilization. 

When I look back on the slow and surreal journey between the beginning of lockdown in Spring, 2020 and the present day, I continue to sing the praises of the myriad new models of creative practice, performance, exhibition, scholarship, and mutual care the COTA community has innovated during the last two years. 

The artists that represent Class of 2022 welcomed Gainesville back into theatres, concert halls, and art galleries in the fall. In October, UF School of Music and the Gainesville Chorale joined a full orchestra and four internationally renowned soloists in presenting Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts—culminating in a stirring rendition of Ode to Joy.  

This cathartic performance (among others that took place all over the college) facilitated the moment of our transition, our return to being with one another in place, feeling and sharing in one another’s presence. It is a phenomenally singular moment to be an emerging artist at the beginning of one’s career. The classes of ‘20 and ‘21 experienced and learned from the resilience of methods of sustaining art practices and the hope and humanity of our communities during lockdown.   

The class of 2022 got to experience that and work with their professors and mentors to leverage the arts’ capacity to help us re-integrate ourselves into our society, to recover; even to heal.    

And while museums and performance halls renewed our opportunities to observe and savor the arts in person last fall, Spring, 2022 is the season that brought us back into spaces that facilitate synergetic thought-exchange—our return to conferences, symposiums, and workshops. 

In late March, the Center for Arts, Migration and Entrepreneurship hosted the inaugural CAME Conference, “African Entrepreneurship, the Arts + Beyond.” The first annual College of the Arts’ Access, Equity and Inclusion (AEI) Symposium took place in the first week of April to advance a college-wide reflection on how to engage in “Difficult Conversations.”  

The 24th annual Afroroots Festival came to Gainesville for the first time (a partnership between UF COTA’s Center for Arts and Migration and School of Music, UF Center for African Studies, UF Center for Latin American Studies, City of Gainesville, Depot Village, Heartwood Soundstage, Culture Builds Florida, and Community Arts & Culture) last week. It featured an exhilarating hybrid of live concert performance and hands-on workshops in West African music and dance, Afropop technology, and Afro-diasporan music and movement forms at the School of Music, and across Gainesville. 

Later this month, Digital Worlds Institute students and alumni will gather with industry leaders for Convergence 2022—an annual conference that spotlights the outstanding research, creativity, and innovation percolating at the intersection of digital arts and science at University of Florida. 

Also notable this semester are the ongoing projects being developed and executed by Center for Arts and Medicine to strengthen research on the connections between engagement with the arts and psychological wellbeing, and to reduce vaccine hesitance. 

Spring, 2022 is a season to celebrate well-earned recognition and optimistic new partnerships in the COTA community. Our Fulbright scholars, Askew Scholarship and DownBeat Award recipients, and two new research partnerships with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Algorand Foundation exemplify just a few of the COTA community’s most recent, tangible wins.  

As the Arts and AI program grows, I am inspired by the culture of curious experimentation, critical analysis, and the immense potential our new faculty and their students demonstrate at the intersection of art and technology that promises to bend the arc of human existence; in what direction, it has yet to be seen. It is our vision that artists will be central in AI as it evolves. 

Amid ongoing work to cultivate a diverse and inclusive curriculum at the School of Theatre + Dance, we look forward to a re-imagined Creative B 2022 programming. This summer, SOTD launches a partnership with New York Live Arts/NYLA and will host two guest artists for a new choreographic residency and a teaching residency at SWAMP Dance Fest. 

I am especially grateful, amid the ever-increasing speed and impermanence of our contemporary society, that our students, staff and faculty artists, designers, and scholars have been and continue to deepen in their practice, to connect their practices to the world around them, and to take the time to develop their ideas and manifest them through intentional processes—and to ground them in understandings of the world that resonate with rigorous research. Our college is a rich, diverse, powerhouse. We are manifesting the vision of our Meta-Strategy; we are a transformative community, responding to and generating paradigmatic shifts in the arts and beyond. 

As the last busy weeks of the semester clamor to a close—enjoy. I wish you positive energy and capacity to take it all in. Thank you all for all that you do! Congratulations, graduates. I will see you on that stage!  

Onye P. Ozuzu
Dean and Professor
UF College of the Arts
Accustomed pronouns: she/her/hers