Visions and Voices gives artists a platform to engage with students

A 2018 Visions and Voices event hosted a panel with female artists of color in partnership with Arts Leadership at USC, the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs and the International Association of Blacks in Dance. (Daily Trojan file photo)

The Daily Trojan spoke with Visions and Voices: The Arts and Humanities Initiative Executive Director Daria Yudacufski on what goes into planning each year’s calendar, and how certain artists are chosen. On Aug. 22, Bovard Auditorium will host the 14th annual Visions and Voices inaugural event, SPARK!, which will kick off the Arts and Humanities initiative’s 2019-20 season. 

According to Yudacufski, most Visions and Voices events come to USC through a competitive grant process, after which a board of over 30 representatives selects events and performers nearly two years in advance. Yudacufski has organized the program since its founding in 2006. While the Arts and Humanities Initiative has since grown, Yudacufski said that her team has always focused on events that will kindle connections between people with diverse ideas. She believes the arts offer a unique opportunity to talk about tough issues in a way that is  enjoyable, emotional and effective.

Yudacufski said the entire program began as a way for students to interact directly with composers, choreographers and other professionals in a variety of genres. For her, transforming performances from a passive to active experiences is part of what sets Visions and Voices apart from similar programs. Visions and Voices events usually include time at the end of the show for audience members to ask performers questions about their background and involvement in the arts.

“Looking at the brochures from over the years, I could see how much the initiative has grown,” Yudacufski said. “We now have a better understanding of what programming works best, how to publicize it, as well as how to get involved with the program. So the involvement amongst faculty and departments from throughout USC has grown and we are presenting a stronger series of programming as a whole.”

In the past, SPARK! has served as a variety show to introduce students, faculty and visitors to a myriad of creative genres, giving them a taste of the season to come. But, since 2018, Visions and Voices has taken a new approach to its inaugural event. This year, the USC community can expect to see the Los Angeles based Versa-Style Dance Company perform a full-length show, “Box of Hope.” 

Yudacufski said she is excited to see upcoming performances by Ali Stroker, the first actress using a wheelchair to hold multiple lead roles on Broadway and win a Tony Award, and Neil Ieremia, a New Zealand choreographer. 

Yudacufski said she expects to expand the new Visions and Voices initiative called Arts in Action, where students partner with community groups and bring art — and subsequent social activism — to the streets of South Los Angeles. Last year, under the direction of UC Santa Barbara professor William Warrener, Thornton School of Music students collaborated with members of the Urban Voices Project, a choir that provides Skid Row residents a place to harmonize and deal with the challenges of homelessness. 

“The program is still very new,” Yudacufski said, “But just from the few projects that have already taken place, there’s been a really powerful impact on the students and community members involved. The projects allow our students to expand their perspectives and awareness about a variety of issues while actively collaborating with often underserved communities.”

The new program also pioneered a series of theater demonstrations last year that took place in Los Angeles public transit. In “Jails and Justice: Rethinking Public Safety through the Arts,” performers boarded buses, waited for the vehicle to fill up and began a conversation about incarceration. After a while, bus passengers who did not know about the performance joined the conversation and expressed their views on the matter, and an unstaged discussion about the sensitive topic would ensue. 

“Experiences in the arts can be incredibly powerful,” Yudacufski said. “We live in a world where we’re becoming increasingly disconnected from each other and more connected to our devices. There’s increasing divisiveness, violence, anxiety and depression … In this world, the arts are more vital than ever.” 

This season, Visions and Voices plans to further such interactions between students and visitors, hoping to inspire and teach through every performance. 

“The arts inspire us, create a sense of connection and help us become more human,” Yudacufski said. “We want students to experience the arts in a way that is truly transformative and will encourage them to expand their perspectives, gain a better understanding of themselves and each other and make a positive difference in the world.”