Students & Faculty from UC Irvine Heading to Ghana
Project Initiated by Professor and Dancers
from Claire Trevor School of the Arts
"The University of California, Irvine is a global village campus with a number of important bridges to Sub-Saharan Africa.  While many of our connections to Africa are related to public health, I am particularly proud of the emerging artistic and cultural bridge that our faculty and students are fostering through the 2010 Ghana project."   
— Chancellor Michael V. Drake

            Sixteen undergraduate and graduate students from five academic departments who share a passion for music, dance, and humanitarianism will depart Orange County’s University of California, Irvine on Aug. 15 for a three-week research trip to Ghana, West Africa. Led by faculty members from departments of dance, political science and history, the group will be based at the University of Ghana, Legon, under the auspices of that university’s African Studies Institute.
            The students have been preparing for the trip since last September when Sheron Wray, assistant dance professor at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, returned from Ghana and shared her experiences with members of a new performance group called “Insight.” The group became committed to taking dance into the local community and university life. Now, they will become part of UC Irvine’s Global Village initiative.
            Although only one student has traveled to Africa (and several others have never left the U.S.), they all possess an embodied inheritance from their destination.  “The impact of West African culture on American life is sizeable, but often not articulated in a world where general terms like ‘modernity’ and ‘jazz’ have obscured the ways in which Africa is woven into North American culture,” Wray explained.
            “The cultural nexus between the U.S. and the African continent is palpable in language, gesture and, especially, in cultural production – from stage to screen to popular music. A direct engagement with principles of Ghanaian aesthetics will increase embodied knowledge and enable discursive analysis of this cultural capital in Americans’ dance ecology,” she added.
             The group also intersects with the Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies’ Critical Investigations into Humanitarianism in Africa. Crossing disciplinary boundaries and geographic areas of North America and Africa, the center develops sustained discussions on philosophies, economies, imagery, aesthetics, and public health aspects of humanitarianism on the continent.
            “This is an incredible opportunity to build positive relationships with a major African University in ways that are creative and innovative and that promote understanding and equality between cultures and modes of experience,” said Cecelia Lynch, center director.  Joining Lynch and Wray In Ghana are UCI Professors Jennifer Fisher (Dance), Jessica Millward (History) and Magda El Zarki (Computer Science).
            While efforts to complete the fundraising required for the project, partners in this new initiative include the chancellor’s office, vice chancellor of student affairs, dean of graduate studies, Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), Claire Trevor School of the Arts, Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies, International Studies Research Center and the Africa and Middle East faculty working group. Additionally, planning and preparation support has been provided by UCI's Center for International Education.
            "I applaud Professor Wray's international perspective to her research, and her desire to create similar engagements for our students. Every opportunity our students have to travel and experience other cultures is a step toward fulfilling the potential of global interdependence. For our students to be able to understand the different cultures of the African continent is especially important, not only for greater cross-cultural understanding and appreciation, but also to meet the urgent need for greater global humanitarianism," Vice Chancellor Manuel Gomez stated.
            The residency consists of three parts:
Training in immersive dance and music with the Ghana Dance Ensemble
Gaining an understanding of the dancing body beyond the context of the studio and stage through lectures by University of Ghana and UCI faculty members. Topics will include embodied knowledge, tradition and innovation, religion, humanitarianism, and diaspora in contemporary Ghanaian society.
Touring nationally and historically significant sites to build cultural connectivity and create alternative perspectives for global citizenship, strengthening the tangible Ghana/U. S. relationship. Outreach with the Noyam Institute, a local NGO that provides dance opportunities in underserved communities, will also make this a prime learning experience for those wishing to enhance their teaching skills.
        These “Collaborative Conversations on the Continent” will foster teaching and research on topics relating to Africa and the African Diaspora and, in sum, further the University of California’s vision of a global village by encouraging intellectually embodied exchanges beyond formal classroom boundaries.
The future: The Cape Coast Performing Arts and Media Academy.
            Extending this project, Professor Wray aims to co-create a sustainable performing arts training organization for young people in the Cape Coast region of Ghana. The Cape Coast Fort and Elmina’s Castle, both UNESCO World Heritage sites designed and used to hold Africans before export to the Americas as slaves, are the inspiration for this project. In Cape Coast district today, roads leading to the fort are bustling with young people desperately seeking to augment their family income by selling trinkets or snacks to tourists. Most children in the area have little or no knowledge of the slave forts’ histories. The Cape Coast Performing Arts and Media Academy will create the environment for them to recognize their unique potential in the 21st century and empower them to transform the tourist experience that sets them up as subordinates.
            Developing in stages from this summer project into a full-time, world-class academy, this multidisciplinary performing arts institution will celebrate diasporan dance and music such as jazz, tap, hip hop, samba, reggae and capoeira – forms created as expressions of resistance and reformations – while demonstrating retentions of distinct African cultures. The academy will also teach traditional Ghanaian storytelling, and will likely be fertile ground for the emergence of fresh, hybrid storytelling forms. In the 21st century, such training also benefits from grounding in new media, such as video, sound engineering, and web and interactive technologies.
            Leaders in Ghana, including the local chieftaincy, as well as Brazilian ambassadors to Ghana have responded positively to initial project development ideas. Brazil has the largest
population of diasporans whose ancestors were likely transported from Elmina’s Castle, which was erected by the Portuguese in 1482. Ambassadors for the project include Wynton Marsalis, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Sir Willard White and Donald McKayle, renowned dancer and choreographer who recently retired from the Claire Trevor School of the Arts faculty after more than 20 years.