New Oxy Arts Director aims for inclusivity and collaboration

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Exciting things are happening with Oxy Arts, largely thanks to new Director Deena Selenow. Selenow has a wide array of artistic experiences. She has participated in multiple live performances, theater and operas throughout her career. Further, Selenow has applied her directing abilities in unique locations, ranging from roaming performances on wheels, underground mystery theaters and multidisciplinary exhibition in dilapidated New York City buildings.

Selenow completed an MFA in Theatre Arts at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and later received her MFA in Theatre Directing from California Institute of the Arts. She recounts being involved in the arts for as long as she can remember, and continues to be passionate about interaction between live performance and fine arts.

Selenow credits her education and experiences in shaping her focus of applying socially conscious ideas to art. Her hope is that social justice-oriented works and contemporary art projects will prompt community dialogue. While working at Occidental, Selenow hopes to promote live performance in gallery settings, as well as site specific exhibitions. In addition, she plans to focus on interdisciplinary arts on campus while incorporating the experiences of neighboring communities.

“It all comes down to people, community and connection,” Selenow said. “Human-to-human connection through art forms. Even framed paintings on the wall are a live experience since there is a human in the room looking at them.”

She described this idea as treating audiences or viewers as the protagonists in a piece, where they are the subject in an exhibit and can have a personal experience with the work.

Selenow was drawn to Occidental because of the school’s interdisciplinary approach to learning, and views the campus as an ideal environment where projects across majors and mediums can thrive. Her goal for the upcoming year is to make Oxy Arts a center for interaction where students and artists can collaborate and connect with one another to create something extraordinary.

Selenow plans to incorporate artists from the larger Los Angeles community and hopes to include local schools and neighbors in the discussion about gentrification occurring in Highland park.

“This country is founded upon gentrification and colonizers, and we need a conversation about how we move forward together and create a nourishing environment for everyone,” Selenow said. “It’s important to honor the people who live there already and work with community partners and residents, so it’s a real reciprocal relationship.”

More than just collaboration, Selenow is committed to inclusion, diversity and equity.

“It’s how I move through life.” Selenow said. “To be a leader in the arts, everything has to be personal. I only create and produce work that hits me on a personal level, because if it’s hitting me it will likely hit others in some way.”

Selenow stressed the value of work that is reflective of the environment in which it is created, including work depicting America.

“It’s a shifting landscape of bodies and humans.” Selenow said. “Art needs to reflect that and can’t keep telling the stories of one group of people.”

Selenow hopes to bring more performances like “What to Send Up When It Goes Down,”a live ritualistic performance, providing a space for personal emotional expression about racialized violence in America, which was performed at Occidental Sept. 9. Selenow is organizing a Performing Racial Justice Panel scheduled for October where artists dedicated to social justice will come together and discuss the current discourse concerning race and ethnicity in art. Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s play series, “Every 28 Hours a performance referencing the statistic that police brutality takes the life of an black individual every 28 hours, is coming in October. And, Nov. 2, Flora Wiegmann will perform choreography inspired by maps of the campus drawn by Myron Hunt in the 1930s.

Selenow eagerly anticipates what she calls question marks; the unexpected and open-ended opportunities in the upcoming year and awaits the opportunity to meet and collaborate with new people, especially students. Selenow is proud to introduce a new website she and Occidental alumni created, which will be a direct portal of information for all things Oxy Arts, hopefully soon including a weekly newsletter titled, This Week in Arts.” She is eager to engage with the student body to discuss using the arts to highlight, celebrate and unite the Occidental community. Selenow welcomes all visits to her office located in Booth, room 228 and can be reached by email at dselenow@oxy.edu.

“Why here? Why now? Is it relevant, and if not, can it be?” Selenow said. “If not, pass. Work needs to speak to this moment, and also remember what community it’s serving.”