Renowned Artist and Activist Sarah Crowell Works With Dance and Social Justice Course for the MFA in Dance Program

February 17, 2021

During January Term 2021, the MFA in Dance Program brought Sarah Crowell, a nationally-recognized leader of dance, activism, and community arts, to work with the Dance and Social Justice course. In collaboration with Associate Adjunct Professor Shaunna Vella, Crowell led graduate students and faculty in exploring how to decolonize the field of dance. The course illuminated the intersection of dance, social justice, and a range of human rights concerns of the twenty-first century while acknowledging the power of dance to heal and transform communities, to fight oppressive systems, and to create social change and beauty in the world. Students explored the relationship between individual creative practices and the ways in which dancers have historically and recently innovated transformation through their artmaking. 

As Artistic Director of the Destiny Arts Center for the past three decades, Sarah Crowell co-founded and co-directed the Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company where teens co-create original movement/theater productions based on their own experiences. The company has been the subject of two documentary films—A Place Named Destiny and FREE: The Power of Performance—and was awarded the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award in 2017, the nation’s highest award of its kind. Sarah received nine California Arts Council Artist in Residency grants for her work at Destiny and a National Endowment for the Arts grant to author a curriculum guide for artists working with teens called Youth on the Move: a teacher’s guidebook to co-creating original movement/theater performances with teens. Crowell believes that the arts are an essential component on the journey to social justice. 

Reflecting on the Jan Term experience, Crowell shared, “I was really excited to work with a group of art makers, performers, and teaching artists who were inspired to grapple with social justice issues through the lens of their own personal experiences, biases and passions, and incorporate them into both their performance work and their teaching artistry. The quality of interplay between the intellectual inquiry guided by Shaunna and the experiential exercises that I bring from 30 years of making collaborative performance work in community was exceptional. Shaunna and I are indeed a dynamic duet, and I was impressed with the quality and depth of the work that the students created after experiencing our collaborative leadership.”

Sarah Crowell’s work was funded through the MFA in Dance Program with generous help from Dean of the School of Liberal Arts Sheila Hughes through Planning for Inclusive Excellence (PIE). We look forward to welcoming Sarah Crowell back to Saint Mary’s College in the future.

Photo Credit: Kerry Kehoe