Projections bring poetry to new heights

MU’s Artist in Residence program returns with "In Focus: Poetry." The six-day event uses work by Mizzou Made creatives to illuminate walls around campus.

Sept. 5, 2020
Contact: Kenny Gerling,

  • projection on jesse hall at night
    Mizzou's Artist in Residence program returns with "In Focus: Poetry." The six-day event uses work by Mizzou Made creatives to illuminate walls around campus.

As a graphic designer for Warner Music Group in New York City, Cynthia Perez spends her days collaborating with artists such as the Flaming Lips, Logic and Joni Mitchell. After Perez, a 2017 University of Missouri graduate with a BFA in graphic design from the School of Visual Studies, began working remotely in the spring, she retreated to her family’s home in Sedalia, Mo.

A few weeks after returning to Missouri, Perez received an unexpected message. “My former professors at Mizzou mentioned that a project may come my way from the university,” she said. “While I was in lockdown with the rest of state, I thought I might as well do something productive.”

That assignment was In Focus: Poetry, an initiative by Mizzou’s Artist in Residence program to project poetry onto the sides of buildings around campus. Perez’s job was to take excerpts from poems — all written and submitted by Mizzou alumni — and design short animated graphics to accompany the text.

Perez said she jumped at the opportunity. “This is the type of project that I’d have loved as a student,” she said. “At the end of the day, I wanted to honor the poets and make sure everyone can experience their work.”

A creative solution

Artist in Residence is a special initiative of the Office of the Chancellor and a program of the College of Arts and Science. It was launched in 2019 to bring established and emerging artists to Mizzou for interdisciplinary creative events. In Focus: Poetry continues that mission but with some necessary adaptations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Marie Nau Hunter, coordinator of the Artist in Residence program.

“Anyone presenting in the arts right now has this incredible challenge: What can you do?” Hunter said. “We couldn’t travel artists in, and we couldn’t plan a performance. We also knew whatever we were going to do needed to be outside and nothing that would cause people to stop and congregate for long.”

After examining their options, the Artist in Residence team found a solution. “There’s a rich history of projection in public art, and we have all these buildings that are essentially blank canvases,” Hunter said.

The poems and visuals will be featured on the following buildings from 8 to 10 p.m.:

  • Sept. 8: Jesse Hall, east side
  • Sept. 9: Agriculture Building, west side
  • Sept. 10: Sinquefield Music Center, southwest side
  • Sept. 11: Jesse Hall, east side
  • Sept. 12: Agriculture Building, west side
  • Sept. 13: Sinquefield Music Center, southwest side
Off the page

While Perez provided the visuals, she relied on the words of five poets who are Department of English alumni: Katy DiddenJennifer Maritza McCauleyMarc McKeeKathryn Nuernberger and Rebecca Pelky.

One of the participating poets, Katy Didden, is an assistant professor at Ball State University and a 2011 Mizzou graduate.

Didden said the public, ephemeral nature of the event can bring new meaning to the work. “Poetry is flexible and it has shape, like sculpture; it makes sense that a poem can live outside of a book, in a public space,” she said. “If you’re in the presence of a projection, and if it’s animated, that will give you a totally different reading experience.”

Another featured poet, Rebecca Pelky, is an assistant professor at Clarkson University who graduated last May. She said selecting the right poem and excerpt was a difficult task

“I submitted one that was in Mohegan, which is one of my native languages, but that didn’t work out in the English translation,” she said. “But I’m really happy with the one they chose, and it’s going to be great with what the graphic artist did.”

Pelky noted that the accessibility of In Focus: Poetry is an important feature of the project. “The arts can help us get through difficult moments, but you often have to go looking for it,” Pelky said. “But, here, the access is immediate, and hopefully it will strike people in ways they didn’t expect.”

To view full versions of the poems excerpted in In Focus: Poetry, visit the event page on the Artist in Residence website and click on the individual poets.

Previous Artist in Residence coverage

Marc McKee narrates his poem, "Blooper Real"



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