Occidental hired Meldia Yesayan as the new Oxy Arts director August 2018. According to former Oxy Arts Director Deena Selenow, the college originally hired Yesayan in February 2018 as an interim director to replace Selenow, who went on maternity leave. Yesayan then received the job permanently after Selenow accepted another job opportunity to teach at the CalArts School of Theater. According to Allegra Padilla, Oxy Arts coordinator of community programs and part of the committee that selected the new director, the committee chose Yesayan for her leadership style, past work experience and connections to the broader creative community of LA.
Selenow said she led the search for a new director with the input of the Institute for the Study of Los Angeles (ISLA), the Center for Community Based Learning (CCBL), Associate Dean Susan Gratch and Padilla along with collaboration from the five arts chairs: music, art and art history, theater, Media Arts & Culture, and Interdisciplinary Writing. The committee narrowed down the list to three candidates and selected Yesayan.
“[Yesayan] is a passionate and well-rounded arts advocate and leader, as well as a kind and thoughtful individual. I’m excited to see Oxy Arts continue to flourish under her leadership,” Selenow said.
Yesayan said she applied to be the Oxy Arts director because she saw important potential in bringing students and faculty across all departments on campus together through the arts.
“I appreciate the sense of community on campus that comes with a smaller liberal arts college and having the opportunity to absorb knowledge from experts across departments and continue learning daily,” Yesayan said.
According to Yesayan, what draws her to the arts as a whole is its connection to humanity and the curiosity that it inspires. She is particularly interested in arts and art programming that engage the audience and create an interactive performance.
Before coming to work at Occidental College, Yesayan said she worked for Machine Project, an art non-profit based in Silver Lake. She said that working there provided a unique experience that was both creative and highly experimental, where artists brought their work to the public in innovative ways.
“It was a unique experiment in culture where we programmed works as varied as a swimming exhibition with underwater art to a floating library of artist books on a lake. Everything was possible. Nothing was off the table,” Yesayan said.
Before beginning her work in the art world, Yesayan worked as a corporate lawyer. She said that she always wished she had studied art history, but her degree has given her a certain analytical lens through which she views art.
Padilla said Yesayan’s background as a lawyer also makes her an effective mediator. Part of Yesayan’s role as Oxy Arts director is collaborating with the many stakeholders in Oxy Arts, including the five chairs, faculty, students, and off-campus community members.
“Especially within the arts, people are so passionate and committed to their craft that it is inevitable that conflict emerges,” Padilla said. “I’ve seen her navigate situations in a really great way that makes people feel that their needs have been met. She is someone who really brings together voices that are committed and passionate in their points of view.”
In addition to collaborating with stakeholders in Oxy Arts, Yesayan works with the other Oxy Arts staff, including Padilla, to plan new programs. According to Yesayan, Oxy Arts is beginning a new program called “Performance + Process.” With this program, Oxy Arts will invite artists to campus to display their art and hold conversations with interested students, faculty and community members. Oxy Arts is also bringing Carmina Escobar, an experimental voice vocalist from Mexico City to campus for a performance in Herrick Chapel.
According to Padilla, programming plans for the spring include the artist and playwright Keith Wallace, writer of “The Bitter Game.” Moreover, Yesayan hopes to host an interactive virtual reality exhibition in collaboration with Media Arts & Culture assistant professor Adam Sulzdorf-Liszkiewicz that will focus on how women are shaping the virtual reality field.
Additionally, Yesayan said that the construction of the new Oxy Arts building on York is expected to be finished Spring 2019. Oxy Arts will be launching several community-based programs at this location, including one by the student initiative ColLAborate, where Oxy students create their own arts curriculum and lead a six-week course for members of the local community.
“I’m most interested in representing voices that have not been historically heard, providing opportunities and frameworks for those artists to share their work and finding points of connection between unrelated fields, both on and off campus; the more perspectives you bring together, the deeper you can go,” Yesayan said.
Yesayan said that during her first year as Oxy Arts director, she will be focusing on continuing to engage the local community with the arts programming on campus and expand programming partnerships within the Occidental and local communities.