School of Art Faculty and Graduate Students Receive Artists 360 Artist Awards

Clockwise from top left: Renata Cassiano Alvarez, Markeith Woods, Junli Song and Sean Fitzgibbon
Kat Wilson Photography

Clockwise from top left: Renata Cassiano Alvarez, Markeith Woods, Junli Song and Sean Fitzgibbon

The Artists 360, a program of Mid-America Arts Alliance, has announced the 2021 artists receiving project and student grant awards. Among the recipients are School of Art faculty member Renata Cassiano Alvarez, visiting assistant professor in studio art ceramics, two graduate students Junli Song and Markeith Woods, and alumnus Sean Fitzgibbon.

Mid-America Arts Alliance Artists 360, made possible through the support of the Walton Family Foundation, is a three-year pilot program that provides grant funding and professional development opportunities to individual artists of all disciplines in the greater Northwest Arkansas area. 

"We are excited to see another incredibly talented group of artists selected for the 2021 Artists 360 grants," said Marty Maxwell Lane, director of the School of Art. "Renata, Junli and Markeith are developing work inspired by their own heritage and diverse experiences, work that should be shared with the world to expand our own thinking and culture awareness."

Christopher Schulte, assistant director of the School of Art, echoed Maxwell Lane’s sentiments.

“It’s exciting to see the work of our faculty, current students and alumni celebrated through the Artists 360 program,” he added. “Sharing the success of our faculty and alumni, like Sean Fitzgibbon, shows current and future students the diverse opportunities in the art field.”

Renata Cassiano Alvarez is a Mexican-Italian artist born in Mexico City and visiting assistant professor in studio art ceramics. 

Cassiano Alvarez works predominantly in the medium of clay. Educated in Mexico, Italy, Denmark and the United States, she has had the opportunity to work in different artistic environments in a cross-cultural and multimedia experience. 

The Artist 360 grant will be supporting Cassiano Alvarez's project Siempre Voy a Volver an assemblage rooted formally in alters structured like pyramids used during dia de muertos that she will use to hold ritual and symbolic objects made of ceramic glaze. This evolving work draws on traditions from her Mexican and Italian heritage; arches from the aqueducts of Rome, colors used by Luis Barragán — celebrating her context and working like an archeologist slowly digging an ancient city from the ground.

Junli Song is a third-year printmaking M.F.A. graduate student. She grew up in Chicago, but lived abroad for four years in South Korea, England, Italy and South Africa. Song originally majored in economics and international development before returning to the creative path, first with an M.A. in children's book illustration and then to the University of Arkansas School of Art.

Her work is inspired by the ancient Chinese cosmography, Shanhaijing, which she reinterprets through a feminist, diasporic lens. Centering around a female re-imagining of the mythological headless deity, Xingtian, as a symbol of resistance, the world created within these images exists as an imaginary realm where the liminal becomes a space of alternative existence. 

"As a Chinese-American woman, I have undertaken the project of world-building as a way to create a space where I belong, and to make sense of the complex, often contradictory, realities of existing between cultures," said Song. "Drawing upon the fantasy and humor inherent in self-making within diasporic societies, my work reveals the fluid nature of identity as inherited stories and traditions continually evolve."  

Markeith Woods is a native of Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He received a B.S. in visual arts from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff prior to joining the M.F.A program at the University of Arkansas School of Art in Fayetteville. 

He is in his final year as a painting graduate student and is a nationally award-winning artist who has exhibited at Agora Gallery in New York, Texarkana Regional Arts and Humanities Council and Batesville Arts Council. 

Woods describes his work as an inspired narrative of life where people demonstrate love, respect, compassion, agony, oppositions, confidence and death. Using observation, he strives to recreate his personal experiences by using familiar symbols, words and emotions. He paints family members, friends, famous people, strangers and imagined images of enslaved people who were recorded as having run away from bondage.

Sean Fitzgibbon graduated from the Master of Fine Arts program in 2006. He is an artist that explores unusual, real places and events through his work. His work has been exhibited throughout the United States and uses his passion for visual storytelling by illustrating books.

Fitzgibbon recently completed writing and illustrating What Follows is True: Crescent Hotel, a  documentary-style graphic nonfiction novel that depicts the mythologies surrounding the Crescent Hotel’s years as the Baker Hospital, a Depression Era cancer hospital in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

The nonfiction graphic novel is a haunting and beautiful hand painted, exhaustively researched, work of art that blends oral histories, newspaper articles and Norman Baker’s vanity biography to examine this historical happening as well as the rise and fall of a demagogue.


Kayla Crenshaw, director of administration and communication
School of Art


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