Commencement: Speakers and Honorary Degree Recipients
Acclaimed American actor, playwright, and professor Anna Deavere Smith delivered the Commencement address to the 2013 graduating class of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) on Saturday, May 18, at the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago's Millennium Park. Along with architect Jeanne Gang and artist Joe Zucker (BFA 1964, MFA 1966), Deavere Smith received an honorary doctorate from SAIC to recognize her achievements and commitment to the arts.
Anna Deavere Smith
Anna Deavere Smith uses her singular brand of theatre to explore issues of community, character, and diversity in America. Newsweek declared her "the most exciting individual in American theatre." Smith is perhaps best known as the author and performer of one-woman, multi-character plays that deal with social issues in America. The prestigious MacArthur Foundation awarded Smith the "Genius" Fellowship for creating "a new form of theatre—a blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism, and intimate reverie." In 2013 Smith won the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, one of the largest and most prestigious awards in the arts. In 1997 Smith founded the Institute on the Arts & Civic Dialogue at Harvard University, which is now known as Anna Deavere Smith Works. She is currently the Artist-in-Residence at the Center for American Progress and is researching and writing a new play called The Americans.
Architect and MacArthur Genius Fellow Jeanne Gang is Founder and Principal of Studio Gang Architects, a Chicago-based collective of architects, designers, and thinkers whose projects confront pressing contemporary issues. Through her practice, Jeanne seeks to respond to and reframe questions that lie locally (site, culture, people) and resound globally (density, climate, sustainability). Her projects include the 82-story Aqua Tower, the 2009 Emporis Skyscraper of the Year; the SOS Lavezzorio Community Center, an award-winning building designed using donated materials; and the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo, an educational pavilion and landscape that also function as stormwater infrastructure. In 2009 she was named a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.
A Chicago-born SAIC alumnus whose work has been featured in the Whitney Biennial three times and the Venice Biennale twice, Joe Zucker (BFA 1964, MFA 1966) has since the 1960s been creating paintings, mixed media works, and prints and drawings that combine innovative materials and processes with brainy, provocative, and timely content. One of the most unique aspects of Zucker's work is its indivisible affiliation between medium and message. The artist generates the subject matter of his art from the material substances with which he works, an approach made most memorable perhaps in Zucker's "cotton ball paintings" of the early 1970s with their narrative images of plantation life in the American south. Zucker attended SAIC, receiving his BFA in 1964 and his MFA in 1966. His work is represented by the Mary Boone Gallery, New York.