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First Ohio State Artist Laureate shares dance across state

Nyama McCarthy-Brown excited about new role

The newly inaugurated Artist Laureate at The Ohio State University, Nyama McCarthy-Brown, just returned from a trip to Brazil. An associate professor in the Department of Dance, McCarthy-Brown accompanied students to the country for two weeks to study dance.

Movement, she said, is a good way to communicate across cultures. “When you’re a dancer, it’s nice to explore how you can connect with someone who doesn’t speak the same language. It opens doors for connection.”

McCarthy-Brown was named the university’s first-ever Artist Laureate earlier this year. In the position, she will elevate the university’s impact by bringing arts programming to underserved communities across the state. Focusing on creating shared experiences that enrich and inform, she will engage with diverse audiences in urban, rural, suburban and metropolitan areas.

Nyama McCarthy-Brown“For Nya, engagement is not an afterthought, not something separate or isolated from her work as a researcher and scholar, but, rather, is integrally bound up with it,” said Lisa Florman, vice provost for the arts. “In creating and performing, she calls on those around her to allow their ideas and identities to help shape the work. To my mind, she is the ideal inaugural Ohio State Artist Laureate, in that her practice embodies the transformative power of art to build inclusive communities and give visibility to the overlooked or marginalized. I couldn’t be more excited to see what she, her students and her community partners will produce.”

Upon learning the news of the appointment, McCarthy-Brown said she was excited.

“It can be hard to make time for your research. So I felt like, ‘Now I have this gift. I get to go make something I couldn’t have made otherwise.’”

McCarthy-Brown is looking forward to traveling the state and interacting with local communities. She has been asked to bring the program to all four regional campuses and at least two of the 88 Extension offices.

While not everyone is a trained dancer, she said, movement is a part of the human experience.

“All people dance. All people move their bodies. All people have rhythm. … Why not talk about the movement you’re already doing in your life?” she said. “We might have a different aesthetic or accent, but it all points back to the same thing: people’s way of engaging with the world.”

To help audience members who might still have some trepidation about participating, McCarthy-Brown is enlisting the help of her students.

“I’ve gathered a group of dance students who are going to be my hype team,” she said. “A lot of times, if somebody takes your hand, takes your arm, dances with you, these overtures can really support people through an experience.”

McCarthy-Brown thinks Ohio State’s development of the Artist Laureate role says much about how the university views the arts.

“This says there’s more than one way to engage people. This really is just an expansion of bringing people together around a mission,” she said.

The arts have this in common with something else: sports, McCarthy-Brown said. At a school like Ohio State, where sports play a large role in students’ lives, either as players or spectators, the arts can serve a similar purpose.

“Sports do a great job of getting people enthusiastic, but so can the arts,” she said. “Oftentimes, students who are engaged in sports or the arts are more likely to stay involved in other parts of their community.”

It is easy for the arts to be sidelined, however, McCarthy-Brown said, especially during times of stress. That benefits no one.

“Art is an expression of our humanity,” she said. “When we explore that, we are engaging our full humanity and our full potential to be creative beings. We need to really experience what life has for us, beyond the daily grind. We need to live our richest, fullest life.”

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