National Endowment for the Arts award to support 'Surge,' an afrofuturism festival

Afrofuturism is an aesthetic and philosophical framework at the intersections of the arts, science and technology, intent on imagining and creating a world where African-descended peoples and cultures can live and flourish

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Hesterian Musicism (top), tinypistol (left), and Pamela Z (right).

The National Endowment of the Arts has awarded UC Santa Cruz’s Institute of the Arts and Sciences a grant of $50,000 for “Surge,” an event series on the theme of Afrofuturism organized by Professors Karlton Hester and Gerald Casel, Department of Performance, Play & Design, in collaboration with Aaron Samuel Mulenga, PhD student, Visual Studies. Events for “Surge” take place throughout the current academic year, culminating in a month-long festival in May 2022 with live music concerts and dance performances.

“Surge” is among 1,248 projects across the United States totaling more than $28.8 million selected to receive this first round of fiscal year 2022 funding in the Grants for Arts Projects category.

Afrofuturism is an aesthetic and philosophical framework at the intersections of the arts, science and technology, intent on imagining and creating a world where African-descended peoples and cultures can live and flourish.

For the organizers of “Surge,” afrofuturism, and the rich history of Black culture it emerges from, has never been more important.

“As Covid has rampaged through communities,” Hester said, “there is another kind of ‘surge’ taking place in society to which our programming responds. People are increasingly focused on how to heal, transform society and promote racial justice. By organizing a festival drawing on global Afrofuturist traditions of cultural resistance (and resilience), as conceptualized in the 1950s by cosmic philosopher and jazz giant Sun Ra, we aim to highlight how this intellectual and creative genealogy can help us build a better, post pandemic future for Black people and for all people.”

“The importance of dance, music and the arts broadly are often overlooked when considering what is necessary to advance social transformation,” said Casel. “We are grateful for the National Endowment for the Arts for recognizing the importance of culture – and particularly for supporting a project which highlights the work of musicians, artists and choreographers of color. The arts have certainly not been immune from racial inequalities, and that makes it all the more exciting to have the opportunity to create this programming.”

Online events have already begun for “Surge,” with Aaron Samual Mulenga, a graduate student in Visual Studies and researcher at the Institute of the Arts and Sciences, hosting a series of online conversations with artists and performers from African and its diasporas. Additional discussions, film screenings and events will take place online and in person in the lead-up to the concerts and dance performances taking place every weekend in May.

“We are honored that this vital and collaborative arts initiative is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts,” said Institute of the Arts and Sciences director Rachel Nelson. “Working with our faculty and graduate students to create arts programming which engages critical social issues is our main goal at the Institute, and I am thrilled for the opportunity to bring these experiences to our students and the public.”

Learn more about “Surge” and the calendar of events.