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George Mason University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) is pleased to announce the recipients of the fourth round of its Young Alumni Commissioning Project Awards. Three alumni were chosen based on the artistic excellence, career impact, and feasibility of their proposals and will receive financial, marketing, and production support to have their projects presented by the College at a Mason venue during the 2022-2023 season. Two additional alumni were awarded an inaugural grant of financial support, designed to assist in the completion of their proposed projects, which were selected because of their timeliness and significance to the Mason community.
For consideration, applicants must have graduated from CVPA from the class of 2011 and after. Proposals could include original new work in any art form suitable for performance, exhibition, or screening in a Mason venue. The size, length, duration, magnitude, and content are at the artist’s discretion. Potential venues include Mason’s traditional theater spaces, galleries, and cinemas, but proposals for non-traditional venues, including digital spaces, were also considered.
The Young Alumni Commissioning Project is made possible by a generous bequest from the estate of Linda E. Gramlich for the support of young artists and by donors to Mason’s Giving Day, including Shugoll Research.
2023 Recipient of the Young Alumni Commissioning Project Award Including $5,000 in Commissioning Support
Juan Megna (Doctor of Musical Arts, 2021) received the Young Alumni Commissioning Award and $5,000 in commissioning support. In 2015, Juan started a master’s degree at the College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati. In this city, he played with Phil deGreg group, Rusty Burge, Steve Alee, among others, and got the degree in 2017.
In 2017, Juan moved to Fairfax, Virginia to pursue his doctoral degree at George Mason University. Juan played with Wade Beach, Wayne Wilentz, and Steve Kirby in the Washington DC musical scene, among others. Also, he formed The Juan Megna Quintet. The repertoire is centered on a mix of Juan’s compositions, blended jazz, Argentinian and Afro-Brazilian rhythms.
At George Mason University he leads the Latin-American Ensemble. The DownBeat Magazine has awarded this group with the 42nd (2019), 43rd (2020), and 44th (2021) students awards as an “Outstanding Performance”.
As an active researcher, Juan performed a clinic at the Jazz Education Network, New Orleans 2020, entitled "The Brazilian 16th-note phrasing through Cabula rhythm, Samba, and Bossa Nova", focusing on developing Afro-Brazilian popular genres.
Megna's new project, which this award will fund, is titled Trailblazer, an album of original compositions that will build a dialogue between jazz and Afro-Brazilian genres. The concept for the project is inspired by traditional melodies and rhythmic patterns of Candomblé (a diasporic religion syncretized from traditional religions of West Africa and Roman Catholic Christianity). “It is a real honor to receive this generous award coming from my alma mater institution,” said Megna. “It will help me crystallize a project that I dreamed of for so many years.”
2023 Young Alumni Creative Development Award Winners Including $3,000 in Commissioning Support
Carlehr Swanson (vocalist, pianist, speaker) is a 1st year Ph.D. student at the University of Virginia. She is a graduate of George Mason University and the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami with degrees in Jazz Vocal Performance. Before college, Carlehr accompanied and directed multiple church choirs. She credits this experience as significantly influencing her musicality. Upon entering college, she realized the absence of gospel music in higher education. Consequently, she co-founded and directed the Frost Gospel Ensemble. Her research interests include gospel music, Black studies, women's studies, and civic engagement. Giving back to her community and connecting with others has been an important theme in Carlehr's life, as she brings people together to serve a greater good. She is the founder and director of the organization, "Music is Unity," where she takes music performances to people who may not experience them otherwise. Throughout this year, she has planned and performed more than a dozen virtual events for the community.
Swanson receives the Creative Development Award for Growing Pains, an extended play record of original music, combining the styles of jazz, R&B, and gospel, exploring love, loss, faith, and hope along the transition to adulthood.
Born in the same place as American cinema (the great state of New Jersey), Kyle Finnegan is a filmmaker living in Alexandria, VA. He graduated in 2017 with a BA in Film and Video Studies. After shooting and editing for several years, he currently works at 522 Productions with a focus on directing branded documentaries. His work won him a DC TIVA Peer award in 2021 and he’s interviewed all four of Time Magazine’s heroes of 2021. He has created short documentaries exploring subjects ranging from car hackers in Seattle to an artsy coal mining town in Utah. Whether it’s a film, a website, or a delicious meal, he aims to create something every day.
Finnegan’s award will support his new documentary film, exploring the complicated role of MSG (monosodium glutamate) in the United States, as influenced by pervasive misinformation and the uniting love of food across cultures. "I'm excited to have received a grant from the institution that has supported so much of my development as an artist," said Finegan. "I'm looking forward to making a mouthwatering film about the complex world of MSG."
2023 Young Alumni Artistic Support Grant Winners Including $2,000 in Unrestricted Support
Mohammed Saffouri is an award-winning Palestinian-American filmmaker based in Fairfax, Virginia. Saffouri distinguished himself early on in his film career by earning a Capital Emmy for his debut documentary film, The First. His next film, Touchline, was recently selected to participate in Tribeca Film Festival. Touchline will be the first Jordanian film to be screened at Tribeca, and Saffouri will be the first alumni from George Mason University to have a film screened at Tribeca in the festival’s history. Saffouri graduated from George Mason University in 2020 with a degree in Film and Video Studies and a concentration in Film Directing. Throughout his eight years in the film and media industry, he has directed three films, produced four films, written three films, and created more than ten promotional videos for companies and non-profits. His work has been screened at such festivals as the Washington DC International Film Festival, the Virginia Film Festival, the Malmo Arab Film Festival, and others. Saffouri is currently developing his first narrative feature film.
Saffouri’s award will support the development of his first narrative feature film, a deeply personal story about the experience and perseverance of a Muslim-American immigrant woman in the United States. "I'm always happy and thankful to see how George Mason University is the first to support its alumni and students," said Saffouri. "This is the first grant I get into this project, and I'll make sure to make them proud when this project is done."
Meagan Arnold (Film, 2018), Mike Rose (Film, 2016), and Hannah Looney (Film, 2018) began collaborating on creative projects together as students in the Film and Video Studies program at Mason. Over the past 6 years and alongside Film at Mason alumnus Jason Cortez (BA, 2015), the group has produced numerous fashion, narrative, and music video projects. Often working under the alias ‘negativs,’ their recent project FLORENCE toured internationally at the Sarajevo and Croatia Fashion Film Festivals.
Arnold, Rose, and Looney receive the award to assist in the creation of Momentum/Memoriam, an experimental music video that explores and contextualizes the group’s grief over the loss of their late collaborator and Mason alum, Jason Cortez (Film, 2015).
"Jason Cortez was an award-winning filmmaker and a 2015 graduate of the Film and Video Studies program at Mason. He lost his life on September 10, 2021, at the age of 29. Momentum//Memoriam is an experimental, fashion music video honoring Jason’s legacy as an artist, as well as the impact he left on his closest artistic collaborators," said Arnold.
"We are at the beginning of a long process in creating art for, and posthumously with, our dear friend. Jason left behind many projects unfinished, and we bear a responsibility to complete his life’s work. We have several projects planned in the coming years to celebrate Jason and to continue his artistic vision. Momentum//Memoriam will be our first venture into creating art as a collective since he passed."
Information about the next round of applications will be announced at a later date. Details on previous year's recipients and criteria for consideration can be viewed on the Young Alumni Commissioning Project website.