Campus News

Grant funds collaboration between School of Art, French university


In a news release from UH, Director of the School of Arts Rex Koontz said the grant is one of the largest given to the School of Arts in the past decade. | Courtesy of Abinadi Meza

The School of Art graduate program received $232,000 from the French-American Cultural Exchange Foundation, or FACE, that sent five graduate students to Marfa in Spring 2016.

The FACE Foundation, a U.S.-based nonprofit, chose UH as the first U.S. university after the School of Art applied for the grant to further L’école des beaux-arts Nantes-Métropole’s international collaborations.

The French university has already established programs in Canada, Asia and throughout Europe.

“The University is a dynamic research institution; they were very impressed with what we brought to the table,” said Abinadi Meza, assistant professor of art and director of interdisciplinary initiatives in the College of the Arts.

The grant is to be split between the School of Art and the French university over three years.

“They were impressed with the range and the depth and the status of the University of Houston,” Meza said.

Meza attended the grant award ceremony in September. He said the French Secretary of Foreign Affairs, who was in New York to address the U.N., stopped by the FACE reception to endorse the program.

Ida Soulard, Meza’s French counterpart, and five French graduate students were also at the ceremony.

Soulard and Meza created a program called DUST, shortened for Desert Unit for Speculative Territories, that is “an experimental research studio created to study the intersections of spatial practice, critical theory and contemporary art.”

The week spent at UH consisted of several seminars and lectures to expand the students’ understanding of what art could be. After the seminars, students and professors traveled to Marfa to apply the concepts they learned.

Marfa’s long history as an art hub made it an obvious destination for FACE. The art scene there began in earnest when Donald Judd, a minimalist artist, moved his family and studio there in the 1970s.

“We got to discuss a lot of artwork that had to do with site,” said MFA painting student Tracey Ceniceros. “It really got us to think about a space that is deeper than one which we can perceive.”

The grant connected these students with other cultures and an opportunity for fieldwork in the arts.

“Once we got out to Marfa, the time was spent between critical discourse and conversations around our work, then just fabricating work,” said MFA sculpture student Trey Duvall. “It’s nice the program was structured somewhat like a workshop and somewhat like a residency.”

The School of Art held a gallery opening Friday at Third Space in the Fine Arts building, where the pieces the UH students created in Marfa were exhibited.

The FACE grant will allow students to travel to France in the future. UH and L’école des beaux-arts Nantes-Métropole hope to offer a joint master program where students would travel between the schools and build a curriculum for an international arts degree.

“In order to be leading institution, we need to have an international presence,” Meza said. “We’re a research institution and fieldwork can mean a lot of different things. It has a specific meaning in the sciences, but in the arts it is equally necessary and important.”

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