UNT faculty to explore trauma and healing, social justice and Regency-era music as IAA Fellows

June 11, 2024


Storytelling in pursuit of connection, change and cultural preservation is at the heart of three creative research projects being pursued by University of North Texas professors as the 2024-25 Institute for the Advancement of the Arts Faculty Fellows.

UNT launched the IAA in 2009 to support and advance excellence in the visual, performing, creative and literary arts. Each year, the university selects professors to be part of the Faculty Fellows program, which enables UNT faculty to spend a semester focusing on creative endeavors that will deepen their scholarship, enhance their teaching and elevate UNT’s national profile.

The 2024-25 IAA Faculty Fellows are:

Eugene Martin | Feature film chronicling economic, racial disparities in urban neighborhood
Photo of UNT prof Eugene Martin on the set of his feature film titled American Street.
Photo by Marcus Cardoza

Martin, professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Department of Media Arts, will create a 90-minute feature film titled American Street. The film will tell three distinct stories of people navigating the financial struggles of the first of the month in Kensington, Philadelphia, a working-class area that was once the hub of one of the largest manufacturing centers in America.

“At present, Kensington stands at a crossroads,” says Martin, whose work in Kensington over the past two years has allowed him to establish relationships with residents, outreach workers, pastors and business owners. “Opiates and synthetic drugs, chronic unemployment and the lack of affordable housing are all contributing to an accelerating and deepening crisis. Unfortunately, a similar version of this same story is occurring in America not only in cities but in suburban and rural areas as well.”

The central characters in American Street’s three vignettes were inspired by real people Martin has gotten to know over the years: a transgender man who needs money to continue his regular hormone treatments after losing his job; a woman facing eviction from her apartment; and an ex-con-turned-pastor who operates a non-denominational church.

“My goal is to create stories and characters that can be universally understood and felt by audiences who come from many different backgrounds and circumstances,” Martin says.

An accomplished filmmaker, Martin works fluidly between narrative and documentary forms. His work has aired on PBS, the Sundance Channel and the BBC, and his films have been screened at the Directors Guild of America, the National Gallery of Art and more than 100 film festivals internationally. American Street will be his 10th feature film.

Molly Fillmore | Multimedia showcase of Regency-era music
Photo of Molly Fillmore in an empty theater
Photo by Wes Geiger 

Fillmore, professor and chair in the College of Music Division of Vocal Studies, will pursue an interdisciplinary project culminating in a commercially released music album and accompanying music videos.

The album will consist of songs performed in London during the Regency era, roughly 1795-1837. Fillmore deliberately sought out lesser-known works — at least 60% percent appear to have never been commercially recorded — and almost half of the composers are women.

“These composers have not received the attention they should have in our standard repertoire from that era,” she says. “I look forward to helping increase the visibility of both this music and the composers.”

The official album release, tentatively scheduled for April 2025, will coincide with an on-campus recital at UNT. Confirmed UNT collaborators include professor of piano Steven Harlos and associate professor of harp Jaymee Haefner, associate professor of voice Jeffrey Snider and UNT alumna Nini Marchese (’20 M.M.).

After the album is recorded, Fillmore will visit the United Kingdom to collect photos and videos she will use to create music videos that enhance the audience’s sense of place and connect the music to its depiction in literature.

“I was inspired to record this album because of my admiration for several contemporary novelists who set their stories in the Regency era,” she says. “During the opening title frames of the videos, I wish to not only note the area or specific location where the images were made but also include a mention of a book that is set in that location.”

Seven writers have endorsed her project, including USA Today-bestselling authors Anna Lee Huber and Mimi Matthews, who provided Fillmore with a list of suggested sites to visit. Other locations on her list include Edinburgh, Scotland; the Brontë Parsonage in England; and Chawton House, widely known for its connection to Regency-era author Jane Austen.

Fillmore’s solo vocal performance career has spanned more than three decades. She was on the soloist roster of the Metropolitan Opera for seven seasons and made her debut in the Grammy-winning production of Wagner’s Der Ring der Nibelungen. Fillmore’s first album as principal artist, Bold Beauty, was released in 2021 to widespread critical acclaim.

Philip Dizack | Jazz exploration of trauma, resilience and healing
Photo of Philip Dizack playing the trumpet
Photo by Aaron Lacy

Dizack, assistant professor of jazz trumpet in the College of Music Division of Jazz Studies, will create “Brass Regalia,” an ambitious and emotionally charged musical project featuring a nine-member brass choir, a jazz trio and Dizack as both composer and trumpet soloist.

Through an original 60-minute work, Dizack will convey a personal narrative of resilience through childhood emotional trauma and sexual abuse, the long-term effects of those experiences and the healing process — most notably through eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.

“The brass choir provides both a means of conveying the harshness of trauma and the richness that can exist through perseverance and healing,” Dizack says. “In contrast, the jazz trio and I introduce elements of improvisation and resilience, mirroring the means and ways survival through abuse and trauma is necessary. The resulting compositions and performances will serve as an invitation to understand and heal through my personal journey and through the music.”

The cornerstone of “Brass Regalia” is the use of EMDR filtered through an artistic lens. EMDR uses multiple forms of bilateral stimulation, such as sound, to reframe traumatic memories within the mind’s normal information processing system and reduce their emotional intensity. The use of bilateral sound stimulation — as well as the methods by which it is administered — will be the creative engine heard throughout the work.

“At its core, this undertaking is an authentic and deeply personal narrative conveyed through music,” Dizack says. “I’m not only sharing a genuine story but also creating a musical experience that I hope will resonate on a profound level with listeners.”

A Grammy-nominated and internationally acclaimed jazz trumpeter, Dizack has released three solo albums and has been featured on more than 40 albums as a supporting member. He has performed and recorded alongside a wide array of musicians unencumbered by generation or genre, including Eddie Palmieri, Foreigner, Jon Batiste, Kamasi Washington, Shai Maestro and many more.