Before a welcoming crowd in Colgate Memorial Chapel on Friday evening, April 14, ballerina Misty Copeland talked about the challenges that come with being first.
Her visit, sponsored by the Kerschner Family Series Global Leaders at Colgate, was the keynote event during a weekend-long celebration of arts, creativity, and innovation at Colgate — a first initiative within the Third-Century Plan and a key priority within the Campaign for the Third Century.
In a discussion moderated by professors Padma Kaimal and Amy Swanson, Copeland shared how powerful mentors — pioneering Black ballerina Raven Wilkinson, her first dance teacher Cynthia Bradley, and legendary pop artist Prince among them — helped her embrace her individuality on the path to become the first Black principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre.
“I’ll never forget Prince telling me, ‘Don’t you realize being different is cool?’” said Copeland.
The dancer, author, philanthropist, and producer went on to express her frustration with the ballet world’s lack of diversity — and the importance of representation in the arts.
“Ballet has been allowed to exist in this bubble,” Copeland explained. “But ballet has become part of American culture, and it’s time to change the narrative to reflect who we are and what we look like. That’s the only way to stay relevant.”
Experiencing Arts, Creativity, and Innovation at Colgate
Hundreds of alumni, parents, and friends visited campus April 14–15 for performances, workshops, presentations, and panel discussions. Prior to the Copeland event, Colgate hosted Kyle and Dinita Clark, co-founders of Just Sole!, a street dance theater company based in Philadelphia. The couple delivered a lecture followed by a dance demonstration in Brehmer Theater.
Later in the afternoon, campus guests participated in a series of faculty-led workshops, part of Arts, Creativity, and Innovation in Action. The workshops, hosted by faculty in music, computer science, art and art history, film and media studies, and theater, provided campus guests an opportunity to experience the arts, creativity, and innovation through hands-on experimentation and creation.
Other events on Friday included a screening of Nan Goldin’s documentary All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, featuring the film’s editor, Amy Foote, part of the Ryan Family Friday Night Film Series; a concert from co-ed student a cappella group the Mantiphondrakes; and performances by Scout Gillett and Sarah Shook and the Disarmers at the Palace Theater, presented by the Colgate Live Music Collective.
Student startups — and a new vision for the future
Saturday, April 15, kicked off with a faculty panel discussion featuring arts and innovation faculty members Aaron Gember-Jacobson, Lynn Schwarzer, Margaretha Haughwout, Mary Simonson, and Ryan Chase. Provost and Dean of the Faculty Lesleigh Cushing served as moderator.
The group explained how the deliberate and thoughtful design of the new Benton Center for Creativity and Innovation — at the heart of a new, intentional Middle Campus — will help to enhance collaboration across disciplines and encourage curiosity and creativity among students.
“We thought about flow and proximity and points of intersection, where creative encounters can happen organically,” Schwarzer said of the facility, which is currently under construction and expected to open in fall 2024.
Haughwout shared how cutting-edge tools housed in the Benton Center — like a digital loom, a laser printer, and a 3D printer that extrudes only biological materials like paper, pulp, and clay — will allow students to experiment and create in new ways.
“I’m excited to think about students working with these tools, which hit a lot of their different interests, from textiles and fashion to the environmental sciences,” said Haughwout.
At the Thought Into Action Entrepreneur Showcase, presented by the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, 17 student startups presented their ventures at booth displays. They competed for investment certificates (called “iggies") given to attendees, with the instructions to award their dollars to the startups most worthy of their investment. A total of $5,000 was awarded, with ventures receiving an amount proportional to the number of iggies they received.
The informal showcase was followed by a panel discussion featuring five Colgate alumni entrepreneurs, including Britty O’Connor ’12, MA’13, the 2023 Entrepreneur of the Year award winner and owner of Hamilton’s Flour & Salt Bakery and Martha’s On Madison. The conversation, moderated by Carole Robinson ’83, P’18, chief communications officer at Buzzfeed, focused on the importance of perseverance and flexibility.
“Be OK with hearing no,” advised Justin Polk ’03, co-founder and director of Invisible Collective. “You can’t let it stop you. You just have to move on.”
The formal pitch competition followed, and six student teams presented their ideas to the panel of judges. Among the student ventures: Raider Rides, a student-run ride-sharing service; Geeckon, a social platform for monetizing wagers and predictions; and Cha’Gate, an Asian bubble tea business.
After hearing each pitch and asking questions, the panel of judges met to determine a winner. During their deliberations, Colgate’s entrepreneur in residence, Travis Millman, took the podium and shared his experience working with the groups and helping them to refine their pitches. He commended the “caring, engaged community of alumni entrepreneurs,” who also helped guide the students, and emphasized the resiliency entrepreneurs need to bounce back after failure and rejection.
“Innovation is not for the faint of heart,” he said. “But all entrepreneurs and innovators have one thing in common: a desire and the action to make the world a better place.”
The judges returned to the stage to deliver the results, which included cash prizes of up to $5,000 for first place.
- Third place was awarded to Everlasting Technology, a renewable energy solution founded by Macdonald Chirara ’25, with team members Carter Steinberg ’26, Harshitha Talasila ’26, and Nishelle Phansalkar-Michalik ’26.
- Second place went to Far Owl Studios, a video game development company founded by Kai Davis ’23.
- First prize was awarded to Rude Strength, functional fitness apparel for female strength athletes, founded by Riley Decker ’23 and Emily Untermeyer ’23.
At the Arts Open House, guests were free to explore both the Dana Arts Center and the Picker Art Gallery and talk with student docents about the work on display.
Other events on Saturday included the annual African Student Union fashion show; Akfest 31, the Colgate Resolutions’ spring concert; and a live show from singer-songwriter Ana Egge at Flour & Salt Cafe, also part of the Colgate Live Music Collective.
Artistry in its many forms
The creative exchange of thoughts and ideas that transform into ventures and further visions of the way things could be: this is the stuff of Middle Campus and of Colgate’s inaugural Arts, Creativity, and Innovation Weekend. “We have high hopes,” Schwarzer says, “and I think we can’t begin to imagine the possibilities.”