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Dr. Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin, Creative Force Behind AT BUFFALO, Named 2017-2018 WBFO Visiting Professor in the Arts

By Elin Hawkinson

Dr AmmaLast March, UB students had the exciting opportunity to meet Dr. Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin and take part in a series of workshops and discussions centered around her epic new musical AT BUFFALO, a study of race and the 1901 Pan-American Exposition. In the coming year, students will get to know Dr. Amma (her preferred title) on a deeper level when she returns to campus as the 2017-2018 WBFO Visiting Professor in the Arts.

Dr. Amma is a nationally-renowned “scholartist” who practices and studies the intersections of academic history and the stage and screen. Her research interests focus on the African Diaspora, particularly how performance mediates the interactions between continental Africans, first-generation Africans in the US, and African-Americans. Dr. Amma’s creative research has garnered numerous awards, including a $45,000 Innovative Seed Grant (CU-Boulder), a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship, and a Ford Foundation Fellowship. In 2006, she received the Beacon Award, cable television’s highest honor for public affairs, for her educational work on the documentary Save Our History: Voices of Civil Rights. In addition to AT BUFFALO, she has a forthcoming book entitled Laughing after Slavery, which explores the relation between laughter and the American slave experience.

Lynne Koscielniak, chair of the Theater and Dance Department, and Cecil Foster, chair of the Transnational Studies Department, in partnership with Christian Flaugh of the Humanities Institute of the Performing Research Workshop, proposed Dr. Amma in part because of the overwhelmingly enthusiastic and positive response to her previous short visit. They also note the work she has done to shed new light on a critical moment in the construction of modern black and American identity, navigating rich creative research problems that transcend disciplinary borders.

“Dr. Amma’s practice serves as an example of how performance theory and lab-based projects explore research questions in performance,” says Dr. Koscielniak. “This concept is central to the MA and PhD in Theatre & Performance programs in UB Theatre & Dance. Additionally, the departments have worked together to create a plan for the residency whereby Dr. Amma’s work will introduce ‘big idea’ questions to students at all levels, within UB Curriculum courses and those in the majors.”

Under the WBFO Visiting Professor in the Arts Endowment, Dr. Amma will work alongside UB faculty to bring these questions to the classroom, allowing students the opportunity to innovatively find solutions, cooperatively collaborate, and contribute to a professional theatre production.

Dr. Koscielniak and Dr. Foster are eager for faculty members in departments with related concentrations to engage Dr. Amma. As Dr. Amma and her team enter into the final stage of development of the musical AT BUFFALO, they believe her presence will solidify UB as a destination for Broadway-bound productions to create new material in conjunction with UB students, as well as a pioneering site for the combination of performance practice and historical methodology.

Some of the proposed student-centered activities include:

  • A visit with Dr. Amma to a local archival institution such as the Buffalo History Museum or the Buffalo Museum of Science to demonstrate how to combine performance practices and archival research.
  • A discussion on artistic collaboration with Dr. Amma and core members of her creative team, including the director, development producer, and New York City cast of AT BUFFALO.
  • An interactive, performative lecture explaining AT BUFFALO and the history of 1901 Pan-American Exposition.

The WBFO Visiting Professorship in the Arts Endowment was created in 2013 from partial proceeds of the sale of the WBFO news station. The program seeks to support a unique array of world-class scholarly artists while providing one-of-a-kind educational and creative opportunities to UB’s student body. Dr. Amma is the fourth recipient, joining the celebrated ranks of former Visiting Professors Douglas Fitch, Shelley Jackson, and Isaac Julien.

(Photo credit: Kenneth Kootin)