Kahn career awards give three CFA grads a head start
Originally published by BU Today
One College of Fine Arts grad will use the award money to expand her chamber music ensemble’s concert schedule in hospitals, schools, and underserved communities, another hopes to build a theater company for young women actors, and the third will support the classic post-diploma artist move to New York.
In addition to a great deal of gratitude, a certain pragmatism marks the three winners of this year’s Esther B. and Albert S. Kahn Career Entry Awards for graduating CFA artists. Flutist Alexandra Conway (CFA’09,’17), actor and director Emily Brown (CFA’17), and painter Kayla Suverkrubbe (CFA’17) will each receive $12,000 to jump-start their career in any way they choose.
Conway will be able to fund more concerts by the New England Chamber Players, an ensemble that provides opportunities for young professional musicians in the Greater Boston area to bring their performances to venues where people might not otherwise hear chamber music, places like libraries, hospitals, retirement centers, and schools.
“Up until this point we’ve been constricted to places with already established concert series, just for financial reasons,” says Conway, who teaches more than 20 private flute students and works a day job in a local hospital. “We’re hoping that with this grant we’ll be able to be even more creative with some of the locations we go to.” The money, which she hopes will last for at least two seasons, will pay for hall rentals and advertising and perhaps bump up the players’ modest stipends.
“A lot of the advertising budget has come out of my own personal finances in the past, so I’ll be able to not do that anymore,” she says.
The group’s artistic and executive director, Conway cofounded the New England Chamber Players in 2013 with her friend Thomas Weston (CFA’09,’12), a clarinetist and the ensemble’s artistic director. Both had noticed many opportunities for freelance performers with orchestras, but few with smaller groups playing the chamber music they love. So they decided to start their own group, hoping to find willing players among the city’s young musicians.
“We started not knowing anything about what we were doing, just booking concerts and asking friends to play,” says Conway, a full-time member of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra and a part-timer with the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra on the South Shore, among others.
Established in 1985, the Kahn awards are funded by a $1 million endowment from the late Esther Kahn (SED’55, Hon.’86) and are presented each year to three CFA students in the final semester of their undergraduate or graduate studies. 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.
Kahn award recipients are chosen by members of the Kahn family and a changing trio of local arts leaders. On the panel this year were Linda Kahn Green (SED’63), daughter of Esther Kahn and the late Albert Kahn (SED’59,’62), and her husband, Dr. William Green. The arts leaders were Louise Kennedy, WBUR senior producer, arts engagement, Joanna Fink of the Alpha Gallery, and former Boston Globe classical music writer Richard Dyer.
Brown has graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theater arts, and she’s already on her way to an acting career. In June she will join a yearlong tour with the National Players, an educational theater company and the country’s longest running touring theater company. Its 69th tour will bring Othello, Alice in Wonderland, and The Great Gatsby to cities and towns across America.
“That tour is actually going to be an incredible resource for what I want to do with the funds, which is create a company of my own that hones in on facilitating the creativity and the voices of young women aged 8 to 18,” Brown says.
She plans to focus on comedic work and spoken word poetry, accessibility of the classics, and movement and dance, giving the young people a safe place to be for a couple of hours after school each day. She’s already written a business plan for the company for a theater management class. “I centered that project around Roxbury,” she says, “but my goal would be to find the community that needs me the most, that needs this program the most, hopefully in the Boston area.”
She’s hoping to charge low tuition and low ticket prices and aim performances at the community where the company is based. Her ultimate goal is to start conversations between the young people and the adults in their lives.
Brown started as a summer theater educator when she was 14, in a program at the Summer School for the Performing Arts in Westford, Mass., where she had been a student since she was 8. “They’re amazing,” she says. “I’m looking to bring the skills I got there elsewhere.”
Suverkrubbe’s graduate thesis work for her MFA in painting earned her a place in a Boston Globe feature on up-and-coming local arts graduates in late April. Her “squirmy, giant, shaped canvas bubbles off the wall, which makes sense, given the gyrations of the people depicted on it,” the piece reads. “It’s a comic marvel of sex and gore, with hearts bursting from chests, knobby, tangled limbs, and jutting penises.” Suverkrubbe says Japanese manga is a main influence; the Globe references underground comics titan R. Crumb and notes the “Pepto-pink” and flaming-red palette.
Sitting in her paint-splattered but mostly empty studio at 808 Comm Ave., Suverkrubbe explains what she was after with the 40-foot-long set of seven irregularly shaped paintings. “The thing about the erotic is, you’re expressing the self through the other. It expresses the fears and desires of the individual. But it’s also expressed through this more caricatured other,” she says. “When people make an erotic piece of work, they’re kind of projecting what they want, but also a little bit what they’re afraid of, and of course that’s shaped by the wider culture.”
She’s headed to New York soon, and the award should help keep food on the table until she finds a studio assistant job or some other arts-related gig. The money will also help her set up a studio of her own.
“The goal is just to be able to make work and have a decent job that can support my practice,” she says. “That’s pretty much the goal of most artists, just to do it. The Kahn will certainly help me with that.”