The students in the Class of 2020 have shown remarkable creativity and determination—even before a pandemic started sweeping the globe, shuttering the university and upending plans.
Their creative practices are inspired by questions of identity, current social and political issues, and the world around them. They have performed with symphonies and ballets, exhibited in The Anderson, and researched the role of the arts in the world today. They have landed internships and jobs in their fields, been admitted to graduate and residency programs, and received prestigious fellowships.
Read more about their achievements, and join us for a virtual celebration of the Class of 2020 on May 8.
Lead photo: Destiny Martinez
Painting + Printmaking senior Ell Treese has been accepted into two artist residencies this fall: one in the mountains of Portugal, and one in the mountains of Spain. After that, they plan to move to California. Ell’s work stems from their love of the Star Wars universe and their curiosity with the beyond.
“Multiverse Theory suggests that there are an infinite number of realities just like ours but with potentially different physical laws, and each universe is created with simply one decision. When taking parallel reality into consideration, I became more confident in the person I am in this universe. If there are an infinite number of universes, then I am supposed to be the way that I am in this one. The work I have realized this year is an accumulation of the thoughts I have towards myself in a multiverse/parallel reality, my questions about how identity plays out in a parallel universe, the duality of comfort and discomfort, leaving evidence as a visualization of process and decision, and how a parallel reality can be visualized if no one is certain it exists. I hope my work can start a conversation about these theories and leave the viewer questioning their own reality, perhaps identity, and their position inside the vastness of the multiverse.”
Erick Worthington is a Communication Arts senior who loves to create fun and unique characters—especially monsters. He hopes to eventually work in character design for film companies.
“My time at VCUarts has taught me so much, and has helped my drawing skills and talents develop a lot. I feel my talent develop with every new drawing I do. Use all the art sources that are available to you. Never put down your own work; everyone has their own unique style, look and process.”
“My time at VCUarts has shaped me into a more informed and aware artist. [I know more] about the things that are happening in my field. As a dancer I am more educated about the anatomy and physiology of my body and how to properly care for my body. I also have developed into a choreographer and teacher through the techniques and practice that my teachers have taught me.”
—Aiyana Shani Martin, a dance senior who hopes to work with a professional dance company and become a teacher for young children.
Photo: Terralynn Joy
“I am thrilled to be graduating with all of my friends this spring, and could not be happier to have shared the past four years with such a great group. This year has been full of challenges and opportunities. I was in my first feature film, Welcome to the Show, directed by [graduate student] Dorie Barton. I devised a one-man improv show, Upset Neighbor, coached by Elizabeth Byland. I continued adventures with VCU’s improv team Running AMok, wrote and directed a short film, RVA Midnight, and continued to create sketch comedy with RVA’s very own Blue Collard Greens.” —Theatre senior Keegan Garant, shown on the set of Welcome to the Show
In 2018, Rebecca Renton started using turmeric to create an emulsion for the anthotype process, creating unfixed, rapidly decaying prints. The process is a way to embrace transience and natural flaws.
“My prints are of sunbathers—a play on how the prints must develop in the sun for days or weeks–but are also an exploration of leisure, isolation, and impending doom. They’ve turned out to be unintentionally fitting for our current global crisis.”
Rebecca, a Photography + Film major and Art History minor, will be heading to Target headquarters to work in graphic design, concept development and research for their product design department.
Aamina Palmer, a senior in Photography + Film, is a multimedia artist whose work reflects her attraction to the real-life situations she sees as “found still lives.” Though photography is her primary artistic lens, she also incorporates web and graphic design, making visual chimeras.
“The photos I take are of things I notice daily. The other modes I work in follow my interests and the output I want to see in that moment. Whether it’s banners, books, websites, or something else on a screen, my main goal of creating things is to enjoy it.”
Matthew Driver is majoring in music with a concentration in piano performance. He says his biggest accomplishments were landing an internship with the Richmond Ballet’s Summer Intensive Program, where he’ll continue working after graduation, and being accepted to graduate school at University of North Carolina School of the Arts. He says his mentors—Sonia Vlahcevic, Terry Austin, Magdalena Adamek and Daniel Myssyk—were crucial to his success.
“My private piano instructor, Sonia Vlahcevic, has taught me so many things about life and music. She always challenged me and made me always go one step further and critically think about everything I was doing. It pushed me to new levels of learning and how to improve as a person when going forward in life.”
Christina Collins, a dance senior, studied the vogue community for her senior capstone project. She researched how they create a strong bond in the ballroom scene. Christina says professor Julian Kevon Glover was one of her biggest mentors: “They helped me understand that everything will come together over time and that no idea is too big.”
Photo: Terralynn Joy
Painting + Printmaking senior Caroline Egan’s work deals with ideas of domestic labor, familial intuition, daydreams and the melding and tension between these things. Recently, she built a temporary “launch site” on her apartment roof for sending messages, love notes and diary entries during the pandemic, and has been documenting and editing the system through clay channels and video editing.
Communications Arts senior Qiduo “Dalton” Zheng is a painter and illustrator, concentrating on figurative art influenced by traditional Chinese aesthetics, with inspiration from literature and mythology. He plans to keep building his portfolio, promoting his artwork, and starting a career as an illustrator and fine artist.
“My greatest accomplishment at VCUarts was co-curating the exhibition Pilot Episode in fall 2019; it was the first official student exhibition of the Communication Arts department. It was a great experience to bring our peers together and provide them opportunity, and it was pleasing to see the happy faces of our professors, students, and all the audiences.”
After graduation, theatre senior Robbie O’Brien is moving to Dorney Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania where he’ll be the entertainment operations manager for festivals and parades. He’ll head up two festivals—Grand Carnivale and the new Summer Nights festival. In the fall, he plans to move to Orlando, Florida, to be the assistant stage manager for Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios, and then return to the road as the advance crew for the Russian National Ballet until May 2021.
Photo: Destiny Martinez
Kinetic Imaging senior Michelle Erin Dominado’s creative work revolves around beauty in nature, organic shapes and spaces, and soft storytelling with textural sensitivity. She is exploring animation methods and illustration to tell personal narratives and her cultural identity as a Filipino American artist.
Michelle co-founded the Animation Club as a community for students interested in animation. In the club’s first two years, they held an animated installed art show, participated in an international animation student competition, and hosted artist talks for student members.
“My time at VCUarts was an adventurous and creative journey in exploring the moving image. My professors were super supportive. My peers constantly kept me motivated to create work, especially during those late nights at the studio.”
Photography + Film senior Samuel Lo creates work that dissects the complications and intricacies of identity, and embraces photography as a tool of documentation, subversion, and distortion. He is currently creating a body of work that explores visual representation and interpretation of mixed-race people in order to better communicate and raise awareness of the complexities and nuances of mixed-race experiences, including his own.
“My greatest accomplishment at VCUarts was receiving the Dean’s International Research Grant in 2019 and traveling to Hong Kong with my father to create comprehensive work about the importance of place to identity and our experiences with the city. From the photographic, audio, found objects, and documentary materials I created and collected during this trip, I created my series, The Things We Remember. It is one of the most intimate and captivating bodies of work I have ever made, and its content and themes have proven to be timelier now more than ever.”
“I very much felt like the people who were auditioning me were on my side and they wanted me to succeed. It wasn’t a super judgy, critical thing. And they even gave me feedback. … I felt comfortable and I felt like I could really learn here and it would be a positive learning environment.”
Lida Bourhill has come a long way since that first Department of Music audition. During the last four years, the music education major has performed Vivaldi’s Gloria with the Richmond Symphony and the Richmond Ballet; led a Richmond Symphony Chorus rehearsal; served as operations and artistic assistant of the “Sing with Us!” program at Wintergreen Music Festival; and conducted the Recovery Ally Choir of Richmond, which comprises people in addiction recovery and their allies, most of whom are not trained musicians. Read more about Lida’s story from VCU News.
In the Department of Sculpture + Extended Media, Malia Bates has been exploring their relationship with Korean-American culture through multimedia work. Interweaving their personal life experiences and academic research, they bring Korean mythologies and folklore into a contemporary context while connecting with their ancestry and creating a personal mythology.
“Unable to look at my own birth family’s history as an adoptee, I’m interested in investigating notions involving genetics, how physical traits, mannerisms, illness, and thought processes are passed down. A sense of distance or disconnect is present throughout my work, emphasizing the feelings of dissonance that can be instilled and the barriers that can be put up between cultures. My mentors in VCUarts have helped me become a more conscious cultural creator; no one is creating work in a vacuum. They have helped me think about my practice as it will exist beyond college and opened my eyes to the alternative spaces art can exist.”
Next up? Malia will be working as a museum assistant at the Branch Museum of Architecture and Design, and looking ahead to graduate school.
“I’m so thankful for all of the wonderful faculty I’ve learned from and friends I’ve made along the way. Each person you meet can show you a new perspective, and that makes you a better designer if you tap into it.”
—Interior Design senior Ellen Shelly
“The greatest accomplishment I’ve had at VCUarts was recognizing and shifting into how to merge the two worlds I love (business + art) into one.”
Senior Jem Roberts majored in Photography + Film and earned a certificate in Venture Creation from VCU’s da Vinci Center. While studying in Berlin, she started researching the “inner aesthetic,” which led her to found Inner Artist Mastery, a platform that supports emerging artists as they launch freelance careers. Jem is also the co-founder and team and customer development lead at Uyoga Technology, a local biotech startup.
Laney Engle, a Craft/Material Studies senior, merges the styles of traditional Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs with the patterns and shapes of modern barn quilts. After graduation, Laney is moving to Boulder, Colorado to work for Schacht Spindle Co., where she will work with looms, spinning wheels and fiber accessories.
“My work focuses on the importance of spending time with family, memorializing moments fishing with my grandparents. I fear these memories will be lost in time. Investigating heritage, I use weaving to watch over those whom I care for most deeply.”
Byron Edge is majoring in Communication Arts, with a minor in Creative writing. Their work focuses on the interior, the imagination, the fantasy, and deals with things that exist in the realm of possibility. They frequently cross the boundaries between design, traditional and digital illustration, and photography to create images that tell a story and are both eye-catching and engaging.
“I’ve come into contact with so many different mediums and artists that I feel like I’ve really gotten to dip a toe in a lot of different things, like photography, writing, and even projection mapping.”
During his senior year, Theatre major Richard Follin was a lead character in the upcoming feature film Welcome to the Show and worked on several other film projects; composed a musical score for a professional stage play; created the band Heir Donnelly.
“[My biggest accomplishment was] finishing a feature film in 10 days. The hustle required to create something so large in so little time taught me to learn quickly, follow my gut, and how to stay on top of things when the going gets tough.”
Mollie Maistelman launched Embe Clothing, a sustainable fashion brand, during her senior year studying fashion merchandising. She’s headed to Portland to continue growing her business while working full-time.
“I had the support of my professors and peers that I wouldn’t have had if I had started this five years from now. Starting a business in college has been a struggle but it has been the most rewarding decision I made here.”
Marley White, a senior in the Department of Craft/Material Studies, creates wearable work that uses the aesthetic and formal language of jewelry to capture social unease. Her work is also performative; the way her metal pieces hang from wearers’ hands and ears actively inhibits their ability to fully express themselves.
“When worn, the jewelry provokes a sense of vulnerability, empathy, and disunity. The experience is simultaneously unfamiliar for both the viewer and the person wearing the work.”
Marley was recently awarded a 2020 Windgate Fellowship from the Center for Craft in Asheville, North Carolina. The awards, worth up to $15,000, are granted to just ten graduating seniors annually. Marley plans to pursue a six-month apprenticeship with three influential contemporary jewelers in Amsterdam and dive into the archives of the Stedelijk Museum.
Craft/Material Studies senior Colin Knight has designed award-winning furniture—but he originally thought he’d major in fashion design. “I love sewing and construction around the body, but essentially I’m doing the same thing when I make a chair. I’m fitting to the outside of the body instead of how it lays on the body. Furniture just allowed me to experiment the most and interact with the most amount of people.”
For the last two years, he’s been reimagining British mid-century modern design, a project inspired by quilts his grandmother made during World War II. He recently received a prestigious Windgate Fellowship and plans to spend time in England building a library of textiles, woods, and war materials; visiting craft and furniture fairs in Paris; conducting research; and completing the body of work.
Inspired by Sculpture + Extended Media professor Guadalupe Maravilla’s Disease Thrower, Daisy Donaji Matias has been exploring the use of performance—specifically in the forms of indigenous and Eastern medicine practices—as a method of healing for emotional and physical trauma experienced by Latinx people living in the U.S.
“The project incorporates my own lived experiences as a second-generation immigrant in the form of testimonio, as well as interviews with my father, a formerly undocumented immigrant and multiple-myeloma survivor. Upon completion, this project will fuse art and anthropology; interview and personal narrative; theory and literary device.”
An Art History major and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies minor, Daisy interned at The Anderson and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. She’s planning to take a gap year before applying to doctoral programs in American studies, ethnic studies, and performance studies.