MFA@CIIS graduate Heidi Kraay describes the creative process that has supported her for years.

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Playwright, writer, and theater-maker Heidi Kraay. Photo by Chaz Gentry

The creative process I can count on listens to the underbelly of my mind, taking myself apart and putting me back together. Later I pick up the pieces and type what resonates, but more important is holding a pen, tracing each blue line: the physical act of writing. …

Candidate for an MFA@CIIS Dean Talamantez shares his thoughts after curating a showcase of creative work from MFA alumni

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There is a strange building in San Francisco at 10th and Mission with a Zen garden on its roof where student counselors, psychologists, and artists alike use a holistic approach to study consciousness.

Among the offered paths of academia, California Institute of Integral Studies’ MFA department is a quiet program — quiet in that it doesn’t tout its accomplishments. Like the Room of Requirements at Hogwarts, the professor’s heads are brimming with endless objects, but none will clink out until required.

When I was searching for the perfect MFA program, I asked CIIS Professor Carolyn Cooke about the program’s publishing history. She did not answer me — not really. Instead, she told me about a current student who was afraid of wasting time. So, for a project, the student filmed herself sitting quietly for hours, doing nothing. The project was called Sitting with Time, and at the time, I did not yet realize that Carolyn was Buddha. I was only confused. …

Artist, writer, curator, producer and CIIS MFA graduate Marie Marković invites you to dive into imagined elsewheres

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The line between audience and performers is blurred at Marie Marković’s “A RETROSPECTIVE”. Photo: Deirdre Visser

In the Before times…

I was working on an immersive performance. It’s the form that resonates the most with me, on stage. Having the audience participate in the work, completing the beauty and the meaning by receiving it, and gifting their response. I came to a point in my lifelong exploration of performance where I just couldn’t do the thing where I am on stage and you are all looking at me. I froze. …

Tribeca Film Festival Winner Jessica Habie’s new workplace drama Here She Comes attempts to push the conversation around sexual intimacy past its final taboo: reality.

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Jessica Habie, the filmmaker who created Mars at Sunrise and several award-winning documentaries about the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, graduated from California Institute of Integral Studies, earning her Masters of Fine Arts in the Summer of 2018. Her new television series, Here She Comes, seeks to entertain, educate, provoke dialogue, and, ultimately, make your sex life better. We had a chance to catch up with her this summer in the form of the following interview.

First, I understand there is a community-building aspect to your work. …

Writing and performing with The Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women/HIV Circle, Lisa Frias utilizes the medium of Dance and Theatre to teach the healing power of gratitude.

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Lisa is the director of the Dance Department at Thomas R. Pollicita Middle School in Daly City, California. For more than 20 years, she has performed as a core member of The Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women/HIV Circle. In 2019, she graduated from California Institute of Integral Studies, receiving her Master’s of Fine Arts. Her stage production, Gratitude, will run at Stagewerx in San Francisco from January 28 to 31, 2021.

At some point, it becomes impossible to separate life themes from art, which, of course, with all that is happening in the world, makes perfect sense. As the Black Lives Matter movement courageously changes history, the clarion call to pay attention, unpack privilege and allyship and walk the walk of anti-racist work blasts with deafening clarity. And in the throes of COVID, we are challenged to investigate the very core of our personal narratives. …

Novelist Steven Armstrong outlines the internal conflicts of heroes, the necessity of black representation in media, and discusses his experience as a black man in America.

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Still from Steven’s new video series: My Black Experience

Since graduating from the California Institute of Integral Studies MFA program in 2011, Steven Armstrong has written and traveled for a nonprofit organization assisting women in developing nations who suffered childbirth injuries, while dreaming of publishing his novel. Today, he stands on the precipice of his novel’s publication, Dragon Daughter, and all it took was the world falling apart. We had the chance to reconnect with him recently in the form of the following interview.

Steven, what would you say makes a hero?

So, I examined this in my graduate thesis, and I’ll tell you, it’s not all about powers. I’ve found, as a writer, that it is their vulnerability that makes a character stronger — when you’re able to take the armor off a bit. …

Working across mediums, Quin de la Mer listens to the natural world as it communicates its experience of the Anthropocene and creates artwork that provides a means to look beyond contemporary formations.

Patterned Ground: A Visual Conversation Concerning Climate Crisis as Distillations of Human History
Patterned Ground: A Visual Conversation Concerning Climate Crisis as Distillations of Human History
Patterned Ground: A Visual Conversation Concerning Climate Crisis as Distillations of Human History (Fresco painting inspired by Quin’s time in Arctic Norway watching melting permafrost)

Quin de la Mer is a graduate of the California Institute of Integral Studies’ Creative Inquiry and Interdisciplinary Arts Program, earning her Master of Fine Arts degree in the Summer of 2019. Since graduating, Quin has continued to create and develop as an artist, most recently completing a residency at Murze Magazine. It is for her devotion and perseverance to the field of art that we proudly spotlight this exceptional alumnus. In the year since Quin graduated, she has continued her practice as a nomadic artist internationally pursuing the effects of the climate crisis. …

MFA graduate Xiaotian Liu uses music therapy interventions to help patients and their families come to terms with their fatal diagnosis.

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Xiaotian Liu

In 2017 Xiaotian Liu graduated from California Institute of Integral Studies with a Master of Fine Arts. In her practice, she employs music therapy interventions to treat both hospice patients and their families. Outside of hospice therapy, Xiaotian writes collaborative songs to help others who live with unresolved feelings. With her collaborators’ consent, Xiaotian performs concerts both in the United States and China, where she shares some of their songs and stories. We caught up with her this summer in an interview to learn more about her practice.

When did your passion for music first emerge?

I started learning piano when I was four. And I first realized that I had a more intimate relationship with it in junior high school. When I started to play pop songs, not just classical pieces, then I started to feel like, OK, this is the tool I can use to connect with myself. …

An emerging genre provides uncertainty and opportunity for fiction writers

By MFA@CIIS graduate, Emma Webster.

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Photo by Gabrielle Dickson on Unsplash

When I tell people I still love and read YA, they typically picture me holed up in my bedroom pouring over The Hunger Games or lusting after Edward in Twilight. While I will admit I read both those novels when they first came out, the Young Adult genre is far more than just its small fantasy fiction subcategory. The YA books that I enjoy typically involve college-aged characters or older, and many are coming-of-age stories for people in their early twenties.

A 2015 Nielsen survey revealed that 80% of YA books are actually purchased by adults for themselves, assuring me I am far from alone in my rabid consumption of these stories. Today, Young Adult has become far too broad of a genre to encompass everything it currently holds — from Twilight to The Perks of Being a Wallflower to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Characters can range from 13-year-olds experiencing their first periods to 25-year-olds navigating the working world. It’s impossibly vast, and it leaves many writers wondering where their work might fit. …

CIIS MFA graduate and would-be Arctic Explorer Andrea Lynn Weighs Worldwide Warming, Pandemic, and Protest

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Photo credit: Unsplash

My trip to the Arctic is postponed, of course.

I found out on Earth Day. I read the email announcement to the stream of the Earth Day Live virtual concert that featured musicians from around the globe led by Grammy-award winning musician and Earth Day Network ambassador Ricky Kej.

The complex, soulful tone color of the Hindustani classical music, as it came to my unfamiliar ears, felt fitting.

From that sour place in the gut that thumps hollow air into your throat when you are angry, disappointed, upset or afraid came one word: “Damn.”

I never curse. That’s a lie. I never swear out loud beyond the ears of those closest to me (I had a provincial upbringing). …



Blog of the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts and Writing program at California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, CA, U.S.A.

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