Pew honors professors, alumnus

Three Temple professors and one alumnus were recently awarded 2015 Pew Fellowships.

Merián Soto, a dance professor at Temple, received a fellowship grant from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage for her choreography. | Margo Reed TTN
Merián Soto, a dance professor at Temple, received a fellowship grant from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage for her choreography. | Margo Reed TTN

One Temple alumnus and three professors were awarded fellowships from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage this summer.

James Ijames, who graduated in 2006 with a degree in theater, film and media arts ; Merián Soto, a professor of dance; Rea Tajiri, an assistant professor of film and media arts and Brian Teare, an assistant professor of English were honored.

The Pew Center has offered the fellowships in support of arts and culture in Philadelphia for the past 10 years.

“A Pew Fellowship means I am lucky to live and to write in Philly,” said Teare, who was recognized by the Pew Center for his poetry.

In the form of grants and fellowships, the Pew Center recognizes artists that “exemplify the diverse and dynamic cultural life of our region,” Executive Director Paula Marincola said in a press release from the Pew Center.

The same press release said that 12 people receive Pew fellowships annually, which are accompanied by a $75,000 award.

Teare said each fellowship applicant was nominated by a peer in his or her field. Then, the applicant’s work was screened by an interdisciplinary panel of working artists who chose the 12 recipients.

“It feels especially amazing to receive an award that comes from a jury of one’s peers,” Teare said. “It means that the work I’m doing speaks to artists in many disciplines, and it has the respect of other poets.”

Tajiri received a Pew Fellowship for filmmaking. According to the press release from the Pew Center, Tajiri’s films “straddle documentary and art film genres with an innovative approach to storytelling.”

She’s known for films that explore political, social and emotional themes through a “personal essay documentary” style, the press release added.

Soto, who received the fellowship for her work in choreography, said she was honored to receive the fellowship after competing with the top artists across all disciplines.

“I’m thrilled,” Soto said. “This is both an honor and a wonderful opportunity to take my work to the next level.”

Soto has danced all her life as a way to speak to her Puerto Rican roots.

“I became a choreographer in order to create work that spoke of my particular reality as a Puerto Rican woman living far from my home,” Soto said. “I didn’t want to dance steps that others created. I wanted to create my own movements and forms.”

Now, Soto is looking to reinvent herself.

“I want to perform more, and I am expanding into exhibition and video,” Soto said.

This reinvention includes Soto’s reconstruction of her performance altar, Todos Mis Muertos, which will be shown at Fleisher Art Memorial in Bella Vista for the Day of the Dead. She’ll present an exhibition of videos at IMPeRFeCT Gallery in Germantown this November.

Ijames said that receiving a Pew Fellowship for playwriting was surreal.

“The major thing that gleamed from [the Pew Fellowship] was a sense of, ‘I’m doing the right thing,’” Ijames said. “I’m not deluding myself. I actually am doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Ijames said that Philadelphia is his “home base.” After graduating with his Master of Fine Arts from Temple in 2006, Ijames has acted in and written plays in Philadelphia, become a tenure-track professor at Villanova University and started a playwright-producing organization called Orbiter 3.

Though Ijames was recognized by the Pew Center, he said he “still has a lot of work to do as an artist.” He hopes that in the next couple of years, his play-writing will move to a more national platform.

“I have to keep reminding myself that this is a fellowship about an artist at a moment in time,” Ijames said. “It’s not about arrival.”

Michaela Winberg can be reached at

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