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Stanford Report, January 23, 2002

New art institute examines deeper meaning of diversity


The 2000 Census shows in the starkest way -- with numbers -- the racial diversity of California.

But with all due respect to demographers, it may take a different kind of soul -- the poet, the painter, the musician, the dramatist -- to extract a deeper meaning from the reality of this wildly diverse state. This is where the newly created Stanford Irvine Institute for Diversity in the Arts comes in.

The institute, funded by the James Irvine Foundation, was founded to examine questions of diversity, race and identity through a more creative lens. "Art can speak to the issues," said drama Professor Harry Elam, director of the institute.

"Cartographies of Race: Mapping Race and Space in California" is the theme of the institute's first program, which began this quarter. It sets out to examine the intersections of race and space -- geographical and cultural -- in local communities.

The program includes a course for students and a series of Thursday noontime lectures featuring scholars and artists. Their talks will explore how art affects people's views and attitudes toward the interplay of race and geography in California. The events are free and open to the public. A free lunch will be provided at some of the events, said Georgina Hernandez, associate director of the institute. Check the web at for updated information. Those interested in attending should contact Hernandez by calling (650) 724-3657 or e-mailing to by the Tuesday before the lecture. Following is a list of upcoming speakers and dates:

  • Brenda Wong Aoki, a writer, performer and two-time National Endowment for the Arts fellow, will speak from noon to 1:15 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24, in the Donald Kennedy Conference Room of the Haas Center for Public Service. Aoki will perform her latest piece, Uncle Gunjiro's Girlfriend, at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, in Dinkelspiel Auditorium. It tells the story of the first Japanese-Caucasian marriage in California. (For more information or tickets, call (650) 725-2787 or visit the web at
  • Aya DeLeón, a spoken-word poet and youth worker in the Oakland area, will speak from noon to 1:15 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31, in the Donald Kennedy Conference Room of the Haas Center for Public Service. DeLeón directs the Mothertongue Institute for Creative Development. A graduate of Harvard University, she returned to the Bay Area after a national tour that included a performance at New York's Lincoln Center.
  • David Henry Hwang, a playwright and Stanford alumnus, will speak from noon to 1:15 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7, at the Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center. Hwang is the author of the renowned M. Butterfly.
  • Mildred Howard, a mixed-media and installation artist whose work draws on a wide range of historical and contemporary experiences, will speak from noon to 1:15 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14, in the Donald Kennedy Conference Room of the Haas Center for Public Service. She has received several fellowships and awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts grant in sculpture and a Rockefeller Artists Fellowship to Bellagio, Italy.
  • Mark Izu, a composer and musician whose work is characterized by cross-cultural instrumentation in the jazz genre, will speak from noon to 1:15 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, in the Donald Kennedy Conference Room of the Haas Center for Public Service. Izu plays the double bass as well as the several Asian instruments. He has performed throughout North America and Europe. (He also accompanies Aoki's performance of Uncle Gunjiro's Girlfriend on bass.)
  • Thursday, Feb. 28: to be determined.
In addition, students in the course, which is divided into four workshops with different artists-in-residence, will perform or exhibit their quarter's work in March. Students' visual-art projects will be displayed starting March 5 in the Stanford Art Gallery; music and performances are scheduled to be staged March 15 (the location will be announced later).

The student work, in the spirit of the program's title, will deal with issues of race and space, but do so in very different ways. "Art can probe those questions and think about how spaces are defined, and then it can create alternative spaces," Elam said.

For example, Howard plans to have her students interview several different members of the community and use the stories they get in producing their art, Elam said. The artists-in-residence also will work with various community groups. DeLeón, for example, will conduct a spoken-word workshop with East Palo Alto High School students.

The institute originally was the brainchild of Charles Lyons, the late Margery Bailey Professor of English and Dramatic Literature, who died in 1999. Elam agreed to head the project after his death. Georgina Hernandez, a Stanford alumna who earned her Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of California-Los Angeles School of Theater, Film and Television, was hired as the institute's associate director. She said she is fascinated to find out what kinds of productions result from the workshops.

"We postulate that the arts are a vehicle for dialogue about issues the university and community are dealing with," Hernandez said. "Through art, that dialogue can go further, getting to the heart of the matter where words simply cannot."


Brenda Wong Aoki

Aya DeLeón

Mildred Howard

Mark Izu

Photos courtesy of: Stanford Institute for Diversity in the Arts