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USC welcomes first group of International Artist Fellows

Jacinto Astiazarán, Vladimir Gorbach, Fei Kayser and Frederico Fernandez are part of the inaugural group of USC’s International Artist Fellowship Program. (USC Photo/Dietmar Quistorf)

Fei Kayser says she’s “desperate” to write plays about contemporary Chinese life. “There is so much story there,” the former Xi’an, Shaanxi, and Beijing resident said.

Vladimir Gorbach, a classical guitarist from Russia, is eager to explore chamber music opportunities in Los Angeles. “The guitar is kind of a lonely instrument,” he observed.

Jacinto Astiazarán, having spent the last three years reconnecting with his Mexican roots in Mexico City, wants to make videos that focus on social issues between his country and the United States.

Frederico Fernandez of Brazil hopes to continue his street art and make as many animated films as possible in the next three years. He’s already started on his first, about two 3-D characters obsessively playing ping-pong.

These are snapshots of the inaugural fellows in the USC International Artist Fellowship Program. The four began their scholarly pursuits on campus Aug. 26.

USC Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Elizabeth Garrett oversaw the creation of the new program, which highlights the university’s six arts schools and their place in the global metropolis that is Los Angeles. The program provides tuition, travel and living expenses for fellows, allowing them to focus on creativity and supporting the production of new work. Fellows stay at USC for two or three years, depending on the graduate arts degrees they are pursuing.

The program was announced at the university’s 2011 Global Conference in Hong Kong. A year ago, Robert A. Cutietta, dean of the USC Thornton School of Music and the USC Kaufman School of Dance, and USC Associate Provost Robin Romans visited Ministry of Education officials in Beijing, Seoul, South Korea, Taipei, Taiwan, and Hong Kong to promote the new fellowship. Other arts deans also promoted the program during a series of recruiting trips across the Pacific Rim, Southeast Asia and Latin America.

In a memo to the Trojan Family about the program last week, Garrett wrote that the program links with the university’s strategic vision of “bringing the best international artists from the Pacific Rim, South Asia and Latin America to our campus for study to form a cadre of creative leaders, whose work will influence USC, Los Angeles and the world.”

This first cohort is an accomplished group. Kayser, who is studying for an MFA in dramatic writing at the USC School of Dramatic Arts, completed her undergraduate work at Yale University. After college, she was a founder and consultant on scriptwriting for a film production company in Beijing. The young playwright has also written for China Central Television, China Daily and interactive media.

At USC, she will be working with professors Velina Hasu Houston and Oliver Mayer, and anticipates writing two plays per year during her three-year stay.

“I want to write things that are funny and accessible, and not in a didactic style,” she said. “China is in the news all the time, so I have much to write about.”

Gorbach is beginning doctoral studies in classical guitar at USC Thornton. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The University of Music and Dance in Cologne, Germany, and has recorded for Naxos, the world’s largest classical label.

He won the Guitar Foundation of America’s International Concert Artist Competition, which earned him a 50-city concert tour of the United States in 2012 and 2013, including his debut at Carnegie Hall. During his seven-month road trip, he said he was struck by the variety of beautiful and contrasting sites across the country, all held together by one language. His favorite stop on the tour? “Los Angeles was honestly my favorite,” he said.

At USC, he will be primarily studying with Grammy Award-winning classical guitar professor William Kanengiser, a founding member of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet.

Astiazarán will be working toward an MFA in fine arts at the USC Roski School of Fine Arts. The video artist, who grew up in Tijuana, Mexico, but attended high school in San Diego, is happy to be returning to USC, where he received his bachelor’s in production at what was then the USC School of Cinema-Television.

Since graduating in 2004, he spent three years producing video art projects in Mexico City — “trying to reconnect with my Mexican identity,” he said — and working on social issues that relate to the dialogue between the United States and Mexico. His multidisciplinary work, which often involves dance and performance, has been exhibited internationally, including at the Tate Modern in London, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Fernandez will also be pursuing an MFA in fine arts, but from the John C. Hench Division of Animation and Digital Arts at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. He studied advertising and communication at the University of São Paulo, and fine arts and animation in Lyon, France.

He has worked in animation, doing backgrounds and designing characters for television, commercials and institutional films in his native Brazil. In addition, Fernandez has created street art in São Paulo and Salvador, Brazil, as well as in Paris and Barcelona — some of which have been projected onto buildings and streamed live on the Internet.

He said animation is a way to express some of the experiences he has witnessed and hopes to continue experimenting in various platforms.

“In the future, perhaps I’ll be making independent live-action films as a director,” he said.

The International Artist Fellowship Program is expected to grow to about 15 fellows. Fellows will have planned opportunities to interact with their peers as well as with professionals working in Los Angeles’ leading arts industries, including the downtown arts corridor and Hollywood.

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USC welcomes first group of International Artist Fellows

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