This year’s College of Fine Arts 2019-2020 Distinguished Award celebrates the work of three faculty members and are chosen by a panel of senior faculty in the college. This honor is given annually in three different categories: Distinguished Research Award Winner, Distinguished Service Winner and Distinguished Teaching Award Winner.
Distinguished Research Award Winner: Gesel Mason
As a choreographer, performer, producer, educator and arts facilitator, Associate Professor Gesel Mason uses “dance and performance to stimulate dialogue, reveal the invisible and catalyze transformation in effort to build bridges that lessen the differences between us.” Mason’s creative work uses the craft and techniques of dance to upend “normality” as both a political act and creative tool for exploration. Mason believes that by understanding the ways we manufacture “otherness,” perhaps we can find pathways that bridge our experiences.
For more than 20 years, Mason has supported the contributions of African American communities and artists by connecting audiences with the diverse array of African diasporic artists. She’s currently focused on two significant research projects: No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers and Yes, And.
No Boundaries is a 15-year dance performance project that is evolving into a digital humanities archive, offering a way for dancers and scholars to disseminate, access and interact with the legacies of African American choreographers. In the project, Mason filmed her solo performances of works created by several of the nation’s leading Black choreographers. With the documentation, she’s created a digital archive of a discipline that can be inherently ephemeral and prompted further discussions around the role of Black dance over seven decades.
In Mason’s choreographic and performance project, Yes, And (working title), she re-centers Black womanhood and femininity as the norm and operating force in the creative process. She’ll will be developing Yes, And as part of the inaugural cohort in a yearlong residency supported by Texas Performing Arts and Fusebox Festival.
Distinguished Service Award Winner: Beili Liu
As an educator, Beili Liu is committed to providing the highest level of service for her community, institution and, most importantly, her students. Her goal as an educator is to help them to develop into productive, independent, culturally aware and creative individuals. Dedicated service is the driving force at the heart of everything she does: from research that offers meaningful engagement with diverse audiences, to successful teaching that nurtures her students, to effective leadership that strengthens her program and department.
Throughout her academic career, she has dedicated her service first and foremost to her undergraduate students, specifically, first-year students. Liu joined the faculty at the Department of Art and Art History at UT Austin in 2008. Her colleagues say that the passion and dedication she exhibits in her research extends equally to her teaching and service commitments and that she is a driven, focused and generous leader in the department. “Beili has given the Core program a needed jolt, orchestrating a new freshman foundation that includes three re-imagined classes and one new course,” Associate Professor of Practice Eric McMaster said.
Beyond the curriculum, Beili has been a constant voice in shaping the department, from her involvement in various leadership roles and search committees to her work advocating for anti-racism.
Distinguished Teaching Award: Louis Waldman
Louis Waldman’s approach to teaching puts respect and love in the center of practice. Instead of separating intellect from emotion, he has come to believe that, used in the right way, affection can enhance learning. He has said that radical respect and love are, in fact, critical elements of successful pedagogy. His experience in recent years bears out one simple fact: “when we make students know they are important to us, that we care about them as people, and that we respect them, they learn better.”
Waldman has received several messages from students who shared how appreciated and valued they have felt by him. One student e-mailed him and said, “I wanted to tell you that you have done more than any other professor or teacher has done in my life without even knowing me personally. You made me excited to wake up and learn something new. Your class made me feel relieved and a new passion towards art I never knew was in me.
His practice of Empathetic Pedagogy is all about creating meaningful connections that build community, even from a distance, responding to students’ needs, and helping them students develop their passion for art history, and encouraging them to follow their dreams and goals.