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‘Aesthetic Emergency’: New Series Explores Intersection of Art and Politics

A dramaturg and opera stage director from Croatia. A scholar who explores the relationship between theatre, immigration, and national identity in Turkey. A filmmaker who captures the fears of New Yorkers for a future threatened by climate change.

These distinguished artists and scholars are just a few of the dozen featured speakers scheduled to present their work on campus this academic year as part of a new initiative that Northwestern launches this month called Humanities on the MAP (Media, Arts, Performance).

The theme for the inaugural humanities series is “Aesthetic Emergency,” and the initiative aims to examine issues of urgency and importance in our world today. School of Communication faculty have curated events for each quarter of the 2019/2020 academic year and expect to present a new theme yearly.

“These events range from talks to artist residencies, lectures, panels, and more, bringing in really interesting people from the U.S. and abroad,” says Tracy C. Davis, Barber Professor of Performing Arts and Professor of Theatre, English, and Performance Studies.

The 12 events slated for this academic year appeal to students and faculty in the University’s PhD programs in theatre/drama, performance studies, and screen cultures. The series is also free and open to entire University and surrounding community.

“I hope the close connections between the practices of making art and the practices of analyzing and studying art in various ways will be clear through this series,” Davis says.  “I would like to see it become one of the celebrated hallmarks of the school, something that people look forward to and privilege in their calendars.”

The series begins October 25 at the Block Museum of Art with perspectives on horror, featuring author and scholar Robin Means Coleman. Coleman’s book, Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to Present, is the basis for the new documentary, Horror Noire.

A December event features Marin Blažević, who serves as artistic director of the Croatian National Theatre in Rijeka, in a lecture on theatre emergencies and “resistant dramaturgies.”

This spring, a two-week residency with visiting choreographer/dancers Eiko Otake and Merián Soto includes workshops, conversations, open rehearsals, and lectures by authors Karen Shimakawa and Lydia Platón.

The idea for the humanities initiative came about through a new entity created by the School of Communication for a humanities council, recognizing the complexity of how arts and humanities are spread across programs and departments and creating a basis for more cooperation between the doctoral programs in performance studies, screen cultures, and theatre/drama. The humanities council coordinates various activities for professional development, workshops, student-led initiatives and for this new program, Humanities on the MAP.

“Through Humanities on the MAP, we’re trying to convey the way that artistic practices are implicated in matters of great political significance,” Davis says. “That comes through sometimes by looking at what is happening in art fields, sometimes that comes through by looking at what is happening in institutions and the way institutions are being pressured, sometimes it can happen by looking at what’s going on in academia. Those are three realms that we are concerned about.”

For more information on the HMAP events, visit

By Katie Fretland