2020-21 year in review

A year of navigating a pandemic, remote and hybrid instruction, and virtual collaboration didn’t hold back VCUarts students, faculty and staff. Here’s a look at the grants, national and international awards, exhibitions and published works, and student achievements that took place during the 2020-21 academic year.

Art Foundation

  • Professor Hope Ginsburg was awarded a $50,000 Artist Residency Award for Film/Video from the Wexner Center for the Arts as well as a $37,000 Women and Philanthropy Grant from The Ohio State University to produce Meditation Ocean at the Wex.
  • The Builder, a documentary produced by Shockoe Artspace, the nonprofit gallery run in part by instructor Ryan Lauterio, was the category winner for best southern states feature documentary at the Southern States Indie Fan Film Festival.

Art Education

  • Associate Professor Melanie Buffington, Ph.D., was posthumously awarded the Elliot W. Eisner Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Art Education Association.
  • Associate Professor Sara Wilson McKay, Ph.D., was appointed Chair of the National Art Education Research Commission
  • Assistant Professor and Graduate Program Director Courtnie Wolfgang, Ph.D., published Joyously Playing with/in Church in the 2020 issue of the Journal of Cultural Research in Art Education.

Art History

  • Professor Babatunde Lawal, Ph.D., published One’s Head is One’s Creator: The Interconnectedness of Word and Image in Yoruba Art in Speaking of Objects: African Art at the Chicago Art Institute, edited by Constantine Petridis.
  • Instructor Clare Van Loenen, Ph.D., published The Many Lives of the Messy Museum: Site, Memory and Voice in the spring 2021 issue of Art and the Public.
  • Associate Professor Catherine Roach, Ph.D., published The Higher Branches: Genre and Race on Display at the British Institution in the April 2021 issue of Art History.


  • Assistant Professor Yossera Bouchtia was selected to participate in numerous film writing fellowships and labs, including Cine Qua Non Storylines Lab, Cinephilia Development Workroom, Cinephilia Producing Workroom, Torino Film Lab Next TV, Roadmap Career Writer Program, Roadmap Top Tier Writing Program, Gotham TV Series Lab, Stowe Story Labs, and Doha Film Institute Series Lab.
  • A group of fall 2020 Cinema students produced Triptych of the Spirit, a thriller anthology, which won the Best Horror Short Award at the Independent Short Film Festival and an Outstanding Achievement Award in the Los Angeles International Film Festival. The film was produced while working within professional film production COVID-19 guidelines.

Communication Arts

  • Professor Jason Bennett, along with Bernard Means (Anthropology), was awarded a $20,000 Epic MegaGrant to fund the development of a virtual museum.
  • Professor Chris Irving was invited to speak on a panel about comics and graphic novels in the classroom at the San Diego Comic-Con.
  • Associate Professor Ying-Fang Shen won an Official Selection in the Anibar International Animation Festival, the ZEBRA Animation Friendly Festival, and Best of the World at the Hiroshima International Animation Festival for her animation work Ah.

Craft/Material Studies

  • Assistant Professor Hillary Waters Fayle installed the solo exhibition Threaded Canopy at Visions Art Museum in San Diego, California.
  • Associate Professor Susie Ganch installed the solo exhibition Different Land, Different Sea at the Penland Gallery in Penland, North Carolina.
  • Associate Professor Bohyun Yoon installed the solo exhibition The Voice of Glass at the Latvian National Museum of Art in Riga, Latvia, and the exhibition iglass at Levant Gallery in Shanghai, China.


  • Burr Johnson (BFA ’09) earned a 2020 Bessie Award for Best Performance at the New York Dance and Performance Awards.
  • Assistant Professor Kate Sicchio, Ph.D., received a New Frontiers in Research Fund grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.
  • The Urban Bush Women company worked with the department with funding from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.

Fashion Design + Merchandising

  • Two design students were selected to receive the Design Scholar Award and an honorable mention from the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
  • The department was awarded a Cotton, Inc. grant for nearly $25,000.
  • Nine students were accepted into graduate programs at Parson’s School of Design in Paris, Boston University, University of Westminster, Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and the University of Delaware.

Graphic Design

  • The department’s Objects + Methods Lecture Series was delivered exclusively online, increasing participation to an average of more than 250 participants, including an increase in diversity of participants. The virtual series also provided more inclusive opportunities for non-VCU participants and a strong contingent of international viewers.
  • Faculty participated, lectured, and critiqued in a variety of virtual events including Printed Matter’s New York Book Art Fair and the Vancouver Art Book Fair, as well as events hosted by Otis College of Art + Design in Los Angeles, Parsons School of Design in New York City, University of Illinois Chicago, Yale School of Art, Estonian Academy of Art in Tallinn, London College of Communication.
  • Faculty received three residencies and fellowships in Narva Estonia, Berlin Germany and the Smithsonian Institute; participated in four group exhibitions and three solo exhibitions; and produced 19 publications.

Interior Design

  • Assistant Professor Lexy Holcombe was awarded the VCU REAL Outstanding Mentor Award for exceptional contributions to the professional and personal development of VCU students through experiential learning.
  • Department Chair Roberto Ventura was awarded the 2021 Interior Design Educators Council Presidential Award for his work in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion within IDEC.
  • Rhode Baptiste (MFA ’21) was awarded the Interior Design Educators Council Foundation Graduate Scholar Award.
  • Two graduate students were accepted to present their research at the Interior Design Educators Council and 45 students participated in professional internships.

Kinetic Imaging

  • Professor Semi Ryu won first place in the Arts for Innovation category of the 2020 Hamilton International Arts in Health Awards.
  • The departments of Kinetic Imaging and Theatre developed a new minor in Sound Design that includes relevant classes from across the school. Ten students have enrolled in the first cohort this fall.
  • Despite the pandemic, the department concluded the year with exceptional student exhibitions, screenings, and a virtual gala, which featured a send-off for retiring Associate Professor Bob Kaputof.


  • Antoine Clark (BM ’00) was named assistant conductor of the Chicago Symphonietta.
  • Michael Harper (BM ’88) was awarded a grant by the BBC Radio 3 and Arts and Humanities Research Council aimed at celebrating ethnically diverse composers.
  • Gordy Haab (BM ’00) won the Game Audio Network Guild Award for his score to Star Wars: Squadrons.

Painting + Printmaking

  • Assistant Professor Cara Benedetto’s collection of short stories Origin of Love and Other Tales of Degradation was published by Night Gallery in Los Angeles.
  • Assistant Professor Caitlin Cherry installed a solo exhibition at The Hole Gallery in New York and was featured in several articles about the group exhibition Black Femme: Sovereign of WAP and the Virtual Realm at Canada Gallery in New York.
  • Associate Professor Noah Simblist published Reenacting Revolt: A Performative Monument Opens Up a Space of Appearance in the September 2020 issue of Art in America. He was also co-curator of the exhibition Commonwealth at the ICA in Richmond, Virginia.

Photography + Film

  • Professor Sasha Waters Freyer received $30,000 from Field of Vision as well as a $15,000 Momentum Grant from Catapultin in support of her forthcoming film Bruce Conner and the Soul Stirrers. She was also invited to serve as a juror for the 2020 News and Documentary Emmy Awards.
  • Professor Sonali Gulati’s film I Am had 212 public television broadcasts on 26 public television stations in 16 states this past year.
  • Graduate student Cecilia Kim is a 2021 Trawick Prize Finalist, which includes an exhibition of her video and film installation work.

Sculpture + Extended Media

  • Professor Kendall Buster exhibited work in the group exhibition Miniartextil, 30th Anniversary Exhibition at the Palazzo Volpi gallery in Como, Italy.
  • Associate Professor and Graduate Director Corin Hewitt exhibited work in the group exhibition This Way at the MIT List Visual Arts Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • Associate Professor Michael Jones McKean exhibited work in the group exhibition Total Collapse: Clay in the Contemporary Past at the Arizona State University Art Museum and Ceramics Research Center in Tempe, Arizona.
  • Assistant Professor Massa Lemu published Creativity of Practice as Re-existence: Mowoso, iQhiya and Ozhopé in the winter 2021 issue of FIELD: A Journal of Socially-Engaged Art Criticism.


  • Elizabeth Byland, head of improv performance and applied improv, was awarded funding from the Association of American Medical Colleges to study the use of improvisational techniques to decrease homelessness.
  • The department’s production of She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms received several awards at the National American College Theatre Festival, including special achievements in Overall Production Design and Overall Production. Graduate student Dorie Barton, Department Chair Sharon Ott and Assistant Professor Wes Seals received the Special Achievement in Directing. In addition, Kirsten Katt (BFA ’21) received the Special Achievement in Costume Design, and Trinitee Pearson (BFA ’20) received the Special Achievement in Performance and the VASTA Voice and Speech Award.
  • The department hosted the National Virtual Improv Festival featuring performances by the VCU improv team Running AMok, as well as teams from New York University, John Hopkins University, Muhlenberg College, Savannah College of Art and Design, Northern Kentucky University, and the University of Nebraska.