One of the missing links between refugees and Swedish citizens is performing arts. At least, that’s what Roosevelt music composition student Sean Hussey argues in his latest project.
The recipient of a Performing Social Justice Seed grant offered annually by the Chicago College of Performing Arts (CCPA), Hussey spent two weeks with vocal quartet Åkervinda in residence at the Inter Arts Center in Malmö, Sweden, where he spoke with musicians, refugees and locals about the often problematic integration of refugees in the Scandinavian nation.
“The [Social Justice Seed Program] could not have been more perfect,” Hussey said. “We needed funding for an idea, and every other funding opportunity required us to have a product. We didn’t have that. Our goal was to figure out what we wanted to do.”
“We want students to use this program to ask themselves what more they can do as artists besides performing at concerts in the community.”– Thomas Kernan, CCPA Faculty Member
Discoveries made by Hussey during the experience could form the basis for a future book and provide him with countless opportunities to grow the project in the future. This is exactly the kind of outcome CCPA music history professors Thomas Kernan and David Kjar had in mind when they launched the Performing Social Justice Seed Program two years ago.
“We want students to use this program to ask themselves what more they can do as artists besides performing at concerts in the community,” Kernan said. “We want them to explore what social justice should look like as a performing artist in the 21st century.”
“When musicians and creative types move themselves into other worlds and get to know others, they end up learning more about themselves,” Kjar added.
The two preside over the program that awards grant money, which has ranged from $500 to $3,500 per project. The faculty members mentor awardees in their work, giving them a financial head start in pursuing ideas that bridge performing art with Roosevelt’s mission of social justice.
Recent projects include a critique of gender inequality in the opera world, by Heidi Joosten. CCPA students Ian McGuffin and Cassandra Kaczor worked on the “Dried Tobacco Project,” a musical exploration of the emotional risks within the LGBTQ community.
“What’s been most satisfying about the program is that there’s a community starting to form in which CCPA students are sharing their ideas on how, as performing artists, they can best put social justice into action,” Kjar said. “All those who’ve applied for grants are joining periodically to meet, inspire others and give advice.”
CCPA students can apply for Social Justice Seed grants starting in their second semester. Applicants prepare proposals explaining why their idea relates to social justice, the support they need, and plans for the future. A group of CCPA faculty members reviews the proposals, working with students to refine ideas before a project begins.
It is a process that Hussey followed in order to get the grant that took him to Sweden, an eye-opening experience that has led to his growth both as a performing artist and a socially conscious citizen.
“This project has opened doors for new ways of thinking about my future and looking into PhD programs,” Hussey said. “It’s been remarkable to have the guidance of CCPA faculty members, and this wouldn’t be possible without their time and effort.”