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2022 National Board Of Review

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The city of Philadelphia has birthed visionaries who have been at the forefront of artistic innovation. One of its luminaries is on a mission to empower the next generation of creatives. Musician and filmmaker Questlove—whose real name is Ahmir Thompson—has teamed up with the University of the Arts for the cultivation of a scholarship program, the Philadelphia Tribune reported.

The initiative—dubbed the Balvenie Fellowship—is collaboratively being led by the Philly-based institution, Thompson and the whisky distiller, The Balvenie. It was developed to create pathways for emerging innovators to join the university’s Ph.D. in Creativity program, which has been in existence for seven years. Sitting at the intersection of the arts, social sciences and humanities, the immersive curriculum is built on the pillars of ingenuity, imagination and inventiveness. As part of the three-year, fully-funded nontraditional program, artistic scholars will develop a dissertation centered on taking an unconventional approach to their craft.

The fellowship—officially slated to kick off this June—has selected saxophonist James Brandon Lewis as its inaugural scholarship recipient. The New York-based musician has been recognized by the ASCAP Foundation, NPR, The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and Macdowell for his distinctive and definitive artistry. Lewis—a Howard University alum who earned an M.F.A from the California Institute of the Arts—will lead work that intertwines music and molecular biology.

“We’re honored to be granting this scholarship to James Brandon Lewis, who is already a well-established and incredible saxophonist,” Thompson shared in a statement, according to the news outlet. “I’m looking forward to seeing what he achieves while honing his craft in my hometown of Philadelphia and the impact he will have on the music community.”

Jonathan Fineberg, who serves as the program’s director, says the Ph.D. in Creativity was created to “remove the constraints that many higher education programs have, and allow students to fully embrace new ideas and innovation in ways they may not normally have in other fields.” He also added Balvenie and Thompson “share the Ph.D. program’s core ethos that reimagines how we think about craft, in its many forms.”

It’s fitting for Thompson to be involved in an initiative like the Balvenie Fellowship, as his artistry has spanned far beyond the realm of music, exemplifying the different facets of creativity and innovation. In March, his critically-acclaimed film Summer of Soul won an Oscar for Best Documentary at the Academy Awards. He will receive an honorary degree from the University of the Arts on May 19.

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