The cultural forms that persist, remix, or emerge along the tributaries of human movement generate abundant tangible and intangible value.
Over 350 people joined the University of Florida College of the Arts for a virtual event on August 27, 2020, to celebrate the formal launch of the Center for Arts, Migration, and Entrepreneurship (CAME).
The center’s mission is to “connect networks of scholars, artists, creatives, entrepreneurs, and advocates to the engines of creative and cultural economics at the heart of migration.”
When migratory groups arrive in new places, they lean on the cultural practices that are unique to them, College of the Arts Dean Onye Ozuzu explained at the launch event.
In the United States, African and Latinx communities have had cultural influences on music and dance practices, including the development of American jazz, R&B, hip hop, swing, and Broadway styles.
“We know that significant intangible value generation proliferates at the liminal spaces that movements of people etch into our lived experiences,” Ozuzu said.
The cultural products of migratory communities can also be seen in multi-billion-dollar industries. Ozuzu mentioned the history of the hip-hop industry, and more recently, the Disney corporation’s recent releases—Black Panther, a rereleased Lion King, and Beyonce’s Black Is King—as examples of profit made from the aesthetic and creative values of a specific cultural diaspora.
“The question though is how and whether the value and the profits generated from diaspora cultures actually return to them to bring wealth and well-being to their communities,” Ozuzu said.
Highlights from the Center for Arts, Migration, and Entrepreneurship's Launch and Evening with the Maker virtual event on August 27, 2020. To watch the complete launch event, click here.
Oşubi Craig, CAME’s inaugural director, leads multiple projects that focus on advancing research knowledge and producing creative works that generate new power alignments for migratory communities.
“What we're talking about at the core for CAME is about future-making,” Craig said.
CAME’s projects serve both local and global communities. In Gainesville, CAME helped sponsor the Virtual Creative Arts Academy for Howard Bishop Middle School, programming that brought creative activities to students participating in remote learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The development of the VCAA is an innovative and sustainable solution,” Craig said. “It pilots an interactive digital platform that could allow the representatives and practitioners of creative cultures, anywhere in the U.S. or internationally, to engage with the educational system and share their own knowledges, on their own terms, be remunerated for their work, as well as contribute to the sustenance of culture itself.”
Dr. Dionne Champion, an affiliate faculty member of CAME and a research assistant professor at the UF Center for Arts in Medicine, led development of the academy’s various challenges that encourage students to move and create with whatever technology is available to them.
On a global scale, the Center for Arts, Migration, and Entrepreneurship is involved with AI4Afrika, a consortium dedicated to the inclusion of African talent and perspective in the development of artificial intelligence, according to its website.
“Given the unparalleled support and infrastructure emerging for AI research at the University of Florida right now and the focus of CAME, we are proud to be collaborators in this multi-university industry building initiative,” Craig said.
In addition to its community-facing projects, CAME hosts a Maker in Residence program, an incubator for makers—artists, entrepreneurs in creative industries, scholars, designers—whose work is consciously located within a cultural diaspora and engaged with the contexts, impacts, and opportunities of migration and entrepreneurship in creative fields.
CAME selected Qudus Onikeku as its first Maker in Residence. A self-described “movement artist,” Onikeku is the co-founder and creative director of QDanceCenter in Lagos, Nigeria.
In his current creative and research agenda with CAME, Onikeku is working on Atunda, a technological project that uses artificial intelligence and augmented reality to identify, analyze, and share dance traditions across space and time, building a bridge between technology and Afro-Diasporic dances and cultures.
“The main question for us at this point is: Can we copyright a dance move?” Onikeku said at CAME’s launch event.
The question arises out of intellectual property law and its lack of protection for dancers, particularly those of marginalized cultures. Atunda engages possibilities of revolutionizing the dance industry much like recording software did to music production decades ago.
As Maker in Residence, Onikeku is appointed to a three-year research term professorship at the University of Florida.
“The Maker in Residence has the time to take a long, deep look at the intersection of the work they're doing, the diaspora they're a part of, and the entrepreneurial economic factors that impact that work,” Ozuzu said. “They have an opportunity to experiment on developing some kind of a tool that creates an opportunity for them to turn the tide of the way value flows through their activity in the culture and out into the many-cultured world.”
Craig and Onikeku, alongside administrative experts Hajarat Alli and Kathy McKee, are the leaders of CAME’s current team. These four appoint and support affiliate faculty—individuals who receive a courtesy appointment to CAME’s team.
CAME welcomed 36 members to its first cohort of affiliate faculty, which includes academics in the College of the Arts, other UF departments, and scholars and creatives outside of the University of Florida.
The center currently supports 14 faculty-driven research projects that connect with communities or scholarly and industry partners relevant to the center's mission. Current 2020-2021 projects include historical documentation of Florida farmworkers during COVID-19, musician residencies at UF that use performance to explore connections of migratory cultures, and student competitions related to arts, engineering, and entrepreneurship.
The Center for Arts, Migration, and Entrepreneurship was formed in response to an initiative set forth by the College of the Arts deans in 2018. At the time, UF Provost Joseph Glover was calling on UF colleges to propose “moonshots,” big ideas aimed at solving some of society’s most urgent problems.
Entrepreneurial arts programming was already a prominent area of growth in the College of the Arts thanks to the efforts of Dean Emeritus Lucinda Lavelli and Associate Deans Jennifer Setlow and Anthony Kolenic. Simultaneously, 23 faculty members in various departments were leading individual projects related to Latinx cultural studies, and Setlow and Kolenic were working to start a larger conversation by connecting these researchers.
As Onye Ozuzu joined the college as its new dean in 2018, the three deans proposed “Migration Redefined: Arts, Diaspora and Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century,” which became one of the eight formal moonshots of the university.
“Onye's experience and work creating innovative futures in and through the African diaspora combined with our nascent efforts to systematize our expertise across the Latin American diaspora at a uniquely fortuitous moment,” Kolenic said.
Craig and Onikeku were hired the next year and spent their first year building the infrastructure and formalizing the mission of the new center.
“The flexibility of thought and concept that we've utilized to even do this launch virtually as we are today speaks to really a new and amazing horizon for the center,” Craig said.