By Lauren Warnecke
Conversations about a Hip Hop Studies minor at Columbia College Chicago began about three years ago, as choreographer and educator Onye Ozuzu was transitioning from chair of the dance department to dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts. Ozuzu was instrumental to the development of the program, an interdepartmental, cross-cultural course of study exploring hip-hop culture through coursework and engaged learning that launches this fall.
Key to the mission of Columbia College is faculty participation in ongoing artistic practice, to bring the currency of art “right here, right now” to its students’ educations. The addition of a Hip Hop Studies minor is a symbolic extension of that mission, a way to provide a well-rounded and relevant education to Columbia’s diverse student body.
As dean, Ozuzu finds her artistic practice of choreography to be useful tool in negotiating between institutional costs and the pedagogical integrity of the curriculum — it’s about managing bodies in space and balancing complicated systems. “As in dance, finding balance is really about being constantly in motion,” she said in an interview with the Tribune. “There are constant adjustments and negotiations.”
And like dance, Ozuzu’s roles as an artist, administrator and parent achieve better balance and sustainability through the shared efforts of many people. Growing up, Ozuzu went back and forth between West Africa and the United States. “I was … looking at the women in the marketplace and their ability to multitask. The way that they did it was communal.” With the help of graduating students emerging into the field and artistic and administrative assistants, Ozuzu finds the time to continue a rich artistic practice, which includes a yearlong endeavor supported by a 2016 Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist grant called “Project Tool.”