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Moss Arts Center receives grant to foster diverse cultural connections and understanding

October 4, 2016

Itraab ensemble
Itraab, an Arabic music ensemble that grew out of the Moss Arts Center’s 2015 Islamic Worlds Festival, will be involved in the center’s newest project, “Jusūr: Exploring Muslim Identities.” Consisting of Virginia Tech students, faculty, staff, and community members, the ensemble will complement story circle sessions and participate in live performances. Photo courtesy of Hayley Pottle, mass communications student at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Virginia Tech’s Moss Arts Center has been awarded a $204,000 grant by the Association of Performing Arts Presenters through its Building Bridges: Arts, Culture and Identity program to strengthen cross-cultural understanding by engaging Virginia Tech students and other communities in Southwest Virginia with the diverse cultural identities of Muslims living in the U.S. and around the world.

The Moss Arts Center is one of only  five grantees (four universities and one consortium) in the nation to receive funding to build knowledge and appreciation for arts and culture with roots in Muslim-majority societies.

 “At Virginia Tech, we’re committed to preparing students to enter the world with global perspectives and a rich understanding of the world’s diversity,” said Thanassis Rikakis, Virginia Tech’s executive vice president and provost. “The Moss Arts Center is an important part of this process, and the Building Bridges award is a testament to their strengths as a professional arts presenter and community builder.”

Jusūr: Exploring Muslim Identities” is the Moss Arts Center’s three-year project designed to create opportunities for cultural exchange through story-sharing, service, and engagement with music, theatre, and literary and visual arts. Jusūr (Arabic for “bridges”) will bring together an extensive network of campus and community partners to integrate arts participation, dialogue, service-learning, academic inquiry, and the production of new creative work.

“Central to our mission at the Moss Arts Center is providing arts experiences that embrace the traditions, cultures, and ideas that reflect our diverse world,” said Ruth Waalkes, associate provost for the arts at Virginia Tech and executive director of the Moss Arts Center. “We believe that engagement with the arts is a catalyst for breaking down stereotypes and creating healthier relationships between those with different cultural backgrounds.”

In 2015, the Moss Arts Center presented its Islamic Worlds Festival, a series of events designed by a team of Virginia Tech faculty, students, and staff, along with community partners, to promote understanding about Muslim cultures. Research following the events found that story-sharing, curricular ties with arts activities, and hands-on arts experiences were the most impactful aspects of the festival. This information guided the creation of the current project.

Jusūr: Exploring Muslim Identities will include a range of activities to raise awareness of Muslim identities and cultures and foster a more inclusive community among individuals from different cultural and religious backgrounds. A peer network program will encourage cross-cultural relationships through home visits, while public story circle sessions will provide a space for sharing personal stories related to Muslim identities and culture. 

Embracing Virginia Tech’s tradition of service, service-learning opportunities will encourage relationship building through community project work. Partner organizations, such as Legacy International, will lead workshops in cross-cultural understanding and communication with members of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, and the project team will work with faculty members to design a team-taught, interdisciplinary, two-semester course to cultivate knowledge about Muslim identities and cultures through the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

The Moss Arts Center will bring guest artists to campus who will work across these cultural boundaries and areas of inquiry to perform, exhibit, lead workshops and class visits, and participate in sustained work with a cross-cultural cohort of Virginia Tech students and community members. This work will culminate in original live performances and exhibitions that will be presented in Blacksburg, Roanoke, and the National Capital Region.

Jon Catherwood-Ginn, associate director of programming for the Moss Arts Center, leads the central project team, which also includes Nadine Sinno, assistant professor of Arabic in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at Virginia Tech, and local ethnomusicologist and educator Anne Elise Thomas.

Virginia Tech’s Moss Arts Center presents renowned artists from around the globe and from close to home, with a special focus on experiences that expand cultural awareness and deepen understanding. Uniquely partnered with the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology, the Moss Arts Center houses the Street and Davis Performance Hall and its Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre, visual art galleries, the experimental venue the Cube, and research studios.

The Building Bridges: Arts, Culture and Identity grant program is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and serves as a unique medium for both foundations to partner with the Association of Performing Arts Presenters to support mission-critical projects that demonstrate the power of the arts to strengthen communities and increase intercultural understanding across America. 

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