At CFA, music, theatre, and visual arts students are given the tools needed to succeed once they’re ready to take their talents beyond BU. With the Kahn Career Entry Awards, nominated students receive an extra boost to launch their artistic careers. Remember these names, as you’ll hear about these emerging artists before you know it!
The 2022 Esther B. and Albert S. Kahn Award Reception took place on Thursday, April 28, where six CFA students were recognized for their work and received grants to support their artistic pursuits. The Esther B. and Albert S. Kahn Career Entry Award Fund was established in 1985 with an endowed contribution of $1 million from Esther Kahn (SED’55, Hon.’86). Each spring, students completing their last semester of graduate or undergraduate studies are eligible to compete for the award. Winners are chosen based on proposals from students detailing how they would use the award to launch their careers, their concern for social issues, and their take on the artist’s role in contemporary society.
Join us in congratulating this year’s winners, all Class of 2022 graduates, and read more about the students’ projects!
School of Visual Arts
Gavin Fahey, Grand Prize Winner
MFA Painting student, Gavin Fahey, recalls his artistic practice prior to coming to BU – directionless and myopic. “Upon arriving at BU, I discovered I had been investigating the wrong questions. I had never questioned how a painting could be in service of something outside of the two-dimensional picture plane. I never considered how my own context influences the art I produce, nor how those art objects, in turn, influence the physical, social, and political space they inhabit,” says Gavin. “BU not only equipped me with a new toolbox of questions but also a keen critical eye and a community of intelligent, driven artists who fundamentally transformed my art. I believe these tools will sustain a career in the arts for decades to come.”
Gavin is creating a series of sculptures that celebrate political failures throughout history. These failures include the entirety of the political spectrum, from the hunger-striking separatist-terrorist to the failed neo-conservative State Department appointee. Gavin paints an oil portrait of each of these individuals and then hides the portrait deep within a wooden sculpture. The simple marquetry and faux-weathered finish he applies to these sculptures point to American vernacular architecture and furniture traditions. “In turn, this suggests my sculptures are embracing their own American tradition: one which paradoxically celebrates individualism yet grants the atomized individual no ability to enact lasting change.”
As the grand prize winner, Gavin received a stipend of $20,000, which will help with buying supplies, renting out a studio, plus living and transportation expenses. He plans to join the Artisan’s Asylum, a not-for-profit community workshop and maker space in Allston. The space will provide Gavin with access to a studio and a woodshop, as well as technique, professional development, and political action workshop.
Follow Gavin’s journey and check out more of his work at gavinfahey.com.
Chen Peng, finalist
Growing up in Taiwan, MFA Painting Student Chen Peng witnessed and experienced loss through tragic family events. However, “in Taiwanese and Chinese cultures, we are taught not to ask questions about other people’s losses and grief. We are told that it’s not “proper” to evoke sadness and sorrow, and it’s not polite to look into other people’s private lives and internal feelings,” says Chen.
Loss and longing have become prevalent in the last two years caused by the pandemic. After losing her mentor and old dog during the pandemic and isolation, MFA Painting student, Chen Peng began using various painting languages to explore the idea of loss. “It is hard to make work that is personal, but I realized that there is power and immediacy in sharing personal experiences through painting. Although grief, sorrow, and regret are extremely personal emotions, the experiences are universal. I ask myself: how do I expand my work and challenge myself based on what I’ve learned?”
Chen began working on a year-long project called A Proper Mourning Project, which began with background research and interviewing family, extended family, and Chen’s community on their experiences about loss and mourning. From there, she’d transform these stories into works of art. Chen’s goal is to first have an exhibition in Taiwan to showcase the final works and ultimately, “my goal for this project is to convey the idea that it is okay to be vulnerable, to share our deepest sorrows, and to acknowledge that we all need to have a proper mourning for ourselves.”
During the past four years, Chen has actively participated in local and international exhibitions and residencies, including an artist-in-residence opportunity at The Studios at MASS MoCA (Barr Foundation Fellowship) and Vermont Studio Center. For more on Chen, visit chenpengstudio.com.
School of Theatre
Noah Putterman, finalist
MFA Directing Candidate, Noah Putterman, is a theatre director, actor, teaching artist, and arts administrator. After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 2010 with BFA Acting and BA Psychology degrees, Noah worked for several years as a professional actor with appearances at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, two seasons of Off-Broadway, and touring engagements with The Acting Company of New York City, and more. From 2013-to 2018, he served as the Director of Education and Theatre for Youth at the Casa Mañana Theatre in Fort Worth, Texas, where in addition to growing a robust education department, he directed over a dozen professional Theater for Young Audiences (TYA) musicals, as well as large-scale youth productions.
At BU, Noah volunteered with the BU Prison Education Program, assisting in arts classes at the Suffolk County Jail. He also completed a month-long teaching residency with The Actors Shakespeare Project and directed undergraduate Theatre Arts Performance major, McKayla Witt’s play The Corruption of Morgana Pendragon.
As Noah re-enters the theatre arena, now with an MFA degree, he is partnering with Collin Knight, owner and operator of Live Like a Local Tours Boston, to develop a new and exciting theatre piece about the histories of three incredible women from Boston. “The working title for the play is Roxbury’s Hidden Figures and it tells the story of three historically significant African American women from Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, two of whom happen to be Boston University graduates,” says Noah. “Their names are Elma Lewis, Ruth Batson, and Melnea Cass. All three women were prominent civil rights and education activists.”
In the to-be-developed play, which is Collin’s brainchild, Collin and Noah imagine the play focusing on the history of Boston during the 1960s as told through the real-life experiences of these three monumental and influential women. “Despite Boston’s large historical tour-guide industry, and its prominent and diverse arts and culture scene, Collin and I believe there aren’t enough stories being shared about the extraordinary Black women who are a major part of Boston’s unique history. This piece would help to correct this overt omission. Another essential purpose of this play is to support both urban and suburban communities in their urgent need and desire to foster dialogue and connection, and to build empathy, particularly around issues of race, history, and youth development.”
For more on Noah, visit noahputterman.com.
Mya Ison, finalist
For BFA Theatre Arts major, Mya Ison, Black-woman-led artistic spaces create the opportunity for embodied learning and change. Mya came to BU to pursue BFA training as an actor, and after three years of interdisciplinary training, “I have a much more holistic view of my artistic work and readily identify as an actor, playwright, and Black studies scholar,” says Mya. “All of these aspects of my work hold equal weight and the conversation between them is what builds the foundation of my artistic freedom practice. My studies and research in African-American studies have given me language for the types of stories that I think are important to tell. These stories are theoretically based on Black feminist theory which means they are always about the body. They reclaim and reimagine what Western patriarchy has tried to steal, erase, and squash out of marginalized peoples. They ask the question of who we have been told we are and who we could be if we rewrote those definitions with our own pens.”
After graduation, Mya’s heading to the big apple (New York City) to pursue a career as an actor and playwright. She looks to continue deepening the dramaturgy of her play, Laure, which received its first full production at BU in fall 2021. Mya also plans to facilitate a two-week workshop of a new draft of the play and would love to curate a “Reading Series” that could be made available to community members of any age interested in exploring the Black studies sources. “This idea is inspired by the work of the Black feminists in the 70s who founded the Combahee River Collective. These women found it essential to share their education and academic knowledge with wider communities that may not have had access to higher education. I believe that it is extremely important to make scholarly work in the field of Black studies accessible because the scholarship is rooted in the experience of marginalized peoples yet many of those communities are unable to engage with the work,” adds Mya.
In addition to Laure, Mya was the lead for many productions at BU and was hired as an actor for the professional theatre company, Actors’ Shakespeare Project. For more on Mya, visit myaison.com.
School of Music
Savannah Panah, finalist
With a goal to share her voice as a composer, continue to strengthen her artistry, and teach communities the importance of music and how it can positively affect our livelihood, Savannah Panah, Master of Music in Vocal Performance major, is looking to create an album with writings from the Baha’i faith, which highlights themes of social justice, gender equality, and unity of all races and ethnicities.
“The foundation of the Baha’i faith centers around moral principles of solidarity and unity for all of humanity, elimination of prejudice, and equal opportunities, topics that have connected and inspired people globally. Current wars and injustices in the world are what moves me to use these divine messages as a vessel of peace,” says Savannah. “As an artist, I feel committed to unearth the truth. Whether it be the truth about myself, which takes courage and vulnerability, or truth about the social issues we are facing on a global level, artworks illuminate the margins and create social changes.”
At BU, Savannah has performed in several opera productions including BU Opera Institute’s Cosi fan tutte and Proving Up.To listen to Savannah’s work, visit here.
Devon Russo, finalist
In 2019, Doctor of Musical Arts in Vocal Performance Candidate Devon Russo, and colleague Piere-Nicholas Colombat began working together as a lieder duo, creating moving creative moments together. This summer, the two look to record an album of the music they have worked on together during the past few years at BU. As a future arts professional, Devon sees his life taking two consecutive paths: one as a performer, the other as an educator. “I anticipate a life where one informs the other and can combine to create a higher understanding of both. I want to fill my teaching with the practical knowledge I earn while performing and I endeavor to create a performing life where my practice is informed by the things my own students are grappling with. I love the word practice as it is applied to mindfulness, and I think making and understanding music can very much act as a meditative practice. At its best, I think education can act as an anchor to your roots as a musician,” says Devon.
Devon is seeking out musical opportunities that will push him to new levels. He’s applied and auditioned for various choruses across the country. On the composing side of things, Devon composed a score for his first full length movie, Burbage Theatre Company’s recorded performance of Macbeth. “I intend to continue to write for the theatrical stage after graduation as well as working on a collaboration with a doctoral candidate in Jazz Music Education at the University of Maine called Perennial. Perennial is a new kind of cross-over that includes elements of classical music, metal and rock, and jazz that we have applied to text settings of Shakespeare, Hafiz, C.S. Lewis, and other authors.”
Devon’s thesis at BU focused on the connection between early music and contemporary music and included interviews with Christian Immler, Dashon Burton, Patrick Dupre Quigley, Caroline Shaw, Christopher Lowrey, Jonathan Dove, Juliana Hall, Nico Muhly, and Eriks Ešenvalds.
For more on Devon, visit devonrusso.com.