Art History’s Sinclair Bell named 2021 Presidential Teaching Professor

Art History’s Sinclair Bell named 2021 Presidential Teaching Professor

Sinclair BellIn nominating Prof. Sinclair Bell for the Presidential Teaching Professorship, Judith Testa, professor emerita of the NIU School of Art and Design, described Bell as “that rare individual among university faculty members: a brilliant, innovative and extraordinarily productive scholar who is also a brilliant and inspiring teacher.”

Bell, professor of art history at NIU, is a world-renowned scholar and researcher with the ability to bring his knowledge of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman art, architecture and archaeology, and his experiences in the field, to his students in the classroom. In recent weeks he has received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to study ethnicity in antiquity, was awarded an Ailsa Mellon Bruce Visiting Senior Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, as well as being named one of this year’s four NIU Presidential Teaching Professors.

Fittingly, recipients of a Presidential Teaching Professorship are those who have demonstrated their commitment to and success in the many activities associated with outstanding teaching. As one undergraduate student wrote, “Professor Bell is a highly knowledgeable instructor who takes teaching seriously. He makes students work hard and think critically. These are both very helpful tools for the real world.”

For Bell, his interest in art history and archaeology originated from his parents, beginning with their travels together when he was a child.

“My parents have a passion for history, even though they both had careers in medicine. When I was eight, we left the US for Saudi Arabia,” he said. “As a result of being there for several years, I ended up seeing ancient sites all over the Mediterranean. I was not only able to visit all of the great monuments of antiquity in Egypt, Greece, and Italy, but I also witnessed firsthand my parents’ passion for the ancient world. It was very encouraging for me at an early age to know that studying the past was a legitimate interest.”

Bell majored in classical studies and history at Wake Forest University. He furthered his studies through a summer term at Oxford University, followed by a semester in Athens, Greece. He went on his first archaeological excavation in Carthage, Tunisia in 1994.

“In Carthage, we were digging at a site near a Roman circus—a venue for chariot racing—and that was when I first became intrigued by Roman entertainment,” he said. “It sparked a real interest in this topic.”

That interest led Bell to develop an expertise that has provided opportunities to present his research at conferences all over the world, write for dozens of publications including book chapters, journals, and encyclopedia articles, and to serve as lead presenter for the Smithsonian Channel series, “Rome’s Chariot Superstar.”

He says that one of the things he most enjoys about teaching ancient art and architecture at NIU is the challenge and the opportunity it provides to expand students’ horizons.

“Most students have only the slightest background knowledge of the material I teach every semester in my introductory and upper-level courses,” he said. “Few, or none, possess any knowledge of the ancient languages—Greek, Latin—that are key to the understanding of these cultures. There is no better example of this than my course on the Etruscans, a once-powerful but now-obscure ancient Italic people who lived in the modern region of Tuscany.

“They are commonly referred to as ‘mysterious’ because we lack a full understanding of their origins and their language, and because they were largely written out of history by the Romans who conquered them, the Etruscans are the subject of very few college courses nationwide. But in teaching this unfamiliar material to mostly first-generation college students, I frame it broadly as the story of a people who – although ‘mysterious’ now – left a material record of their lives, hopes, and dreams that is both radically different from and hauntingly similar to our own. Students learn several words of Etruscan and their English derivatives (such as the word augur) and hear about the contributions that the Etruscans bequeathed to our own civilization.

“By the end of each semester of this course, many students confess their enchantment with this ‘lost’ civilization: it is as if an entire new world has opened up to them. Each year, several even head to Italy on digs, to personally search for the Etruscans. This is my greatest source of joy in teaching: to promote a passionate interest in the past by those who had no or little previous knowledge or interest.”

Bell is returning to the field again as part of an excavation near the city of Viterbo in central Italy, a project which is directed by two colleagues, Profs. Lea Cline and Kathryn Jasper at Illinois State University. NIU students are already asking him, “Do you need any help in 2022?” He said he feels gratified that so many of his students develop an interest and enthusiasm in material that they had little or no exposure to before taking his classes.

“It’s not that they just graduate and disappear,” Bell said. “They tell me about how they continue to try to find ways to gain access to the material, whether by integrating ancient imagery into their own artistic practice or through visits to museums or going off on a dig in Italy.”

Bell said one of the things he appreciates about teaching at NIU is the opportunity to work with and learn from other faculty members who are able to integrate their fieldwork into the classroom. He considers retired colleagues Dan Gebo, a professor of biological anthropology, and Jeff Kowalski, professor of art history, to be two of his role models in this regard.

“Students really appreciate when you can ground your lessons with specific examples and not just speak in generalities,” Bell said. “That is, provide examples of you as a researcher at work, so that they can actually imagine: How does art history work? How does archaeology work? I’ve always done my best to illustrate my arguments through examples, such as ‘When I was in the field, this happened.’ I try to contextualize my lectures with examples from my own professional experiences and research interests.”

This approach has clearly resonated with his students. As one undergraduate wrote, “Dr. Bell’s knowledge and stories back up his claims. I love when professors can bring real life experience to their lectures.”

Echoing Prof. Judith Testa, another student remarked, “Dr. Bell is a spectacular professor who creates an environment that inspires his students to do their best work. I came in for a writing infused course and left an educated mind with a greater art historical appreciation.”

This article originally ran in the April 15, 2021 edition of NIU Today

CVPA’s Jessica Labatte and Paula Frasz among this year’s winners of Deacon Davis Awards

CVPA’s Jessica Labatte and Paula Frasz among this year’s winners of Deacon Davis Awards

The Presidential Commission on Race and Ethnicity (PCORE), formerly the Presidential Commission on the Status of Minorities (PSCM), has reimagined the annual Diversity and Inclusion luncheon as a virtual summit. The event will take place on Wednesday, April 14 beginning at noon.

The summit offers three programs including an afternoon awards ceremony, and afternoon program for students, and an evening town hall titled Policing on Campus in America. The town hall will feature Professor Rashawn Ray from the University of Maryland, Deputy Chief Darren Mitchell, and City of DeKalb Chief David Byrd. Dr. Simón E. Weffer-Elizondo, associate professor from the Department of Sociology will facilitate the discussion.

The afternoon awards ceremony will honor six McKinley “Deacon” Davis Award recipients and acknowledge their contributions towards building and sustaining an inclusive campus. The recipients are Jasmine Ivy, an NIU graduate student; Jessica Labatte, associate professor in the School of Art and Design; Paula Frasz, professor in the School of Dance; Michelle Bringas, director of the Asian American Resource Center; Jocelyn Santana, director of Social Justice Education; and President Lisa Freeman. Students, staff, faculty, and members of the community are welcome to attend the event and can register at

Jessica Labatte

Jessica Labatte, an associate professor in the School of Art and Design, and two student photographers created an extraordinarily moving project, Faces of Belonging, which can be viewed on Huskie Line buses within the DeKalb community and online at

Additionally, her nominator added, “Her work in the classroom focuses on access and empathy. She makes sure all her students have the best equipment possible, regardless of economic status. Jessica encourages, in fact requires, an inclusive approach to the art of photography, in which students are challenged to question not only what is photographed, but by whom and how. She was interrogating the dominant practices well before the current attention on such things.”

Paula Frasz

Paula Frasz

Professor Paula Frasz from the School of Dance is a legendary dance performance educator in the City of Chicago and at NIU.

Her nominator states, “her philosophy is to unite her community by bringing the art of dance performance to a myriad of audience members, illustrating that dance can universally convey ideas with compelling, creative and lasting images. In her research, she has voiced issues of BIPOC populations and those who have been silenced for so long. She has implemented her philosophy as founder and artistic director of DanszLoop Chicago, a not-for-profit dance company. For 14 years, DanszLoop showcased her choreography locally and nationally. DanszLoop audiences represent all strata of society, from a gymnasium full of African-American third-graders, to 250 artistic elites at the Manhattan Center for Movement and Music in New York City.”

Jasmine Ivy

Jasmine Ivy

Jasmine Ivy is engaged student leader who recently moderated a virtual Diversity Dialogue Series program on race-related trauma and was selected as the 2021 Phyllis Cunningham Social Justice Award winner for her efforts to pursue and support social justice initiatives.

Her nominator wrote: “Jasmine Ivy has been an exceptional student leader for her entire tenure at NIU, both as an undergraduate and graduate student. As an undergraduate student she was very engaged in service and promoted programs that uplift and empower students. She is a very talented, well-rounded young lady with a strong work ethic and is forthright in her pursuit of solutions. Jasmine is a leader that is committed to public service.”

Michelle Bringas

Michelle Bringas

Michelle Bringas has served as the director of the Asian American Resource Center for the past 19 years.  She has built sustainable programs that uplift, support and empower students of Asian descent while engaging and educating our campus about Asian American heritage and culture.

Her nominator states, “Michelle has been an exceptional alumna and leader on our campus for years. She has been engaged in advocacy for many groups which is demonstrated by her standing with Black students and advocating for the original erection of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. bust in the MLK Commons; walking in protest alongside students; and without recognition speaking up for those who have been silenced, especially in difficult moments. Michelle plays a major role in developing and sustaining an inclusive campus.”

Jocelyn Santana

Jocelyn Santana

Jocelyn Santana serves as director of NIU’s Social Justice Education program.  Her work extends across and beyond our campus and has helped develop programs, education and discussions that are transforming the climate at NIU.

Her nominator says, “Jocelyn is considered the staff expert on our campus because of her knowledge, willingness to engage in education and healing, and her enthusiasm and personality. Jocelyn works literally day, night and weekends to help provide the support, expertise, engagement and education for our campus and community to ensure we can enhance participants’ cultural competence, understanding and ultimately create environments that encourage conversations and cultural change.”

President Lisa Freeman

President Lisa Freeman

As our thirteenth President and first woman in the role, President Lisa Freeman truly leads our campus and community by example. She continues to lead our university with her consistent engagement, vision and efforts to create a community of inclusivity where all are welcomed and valued.

Her nominator shares, “Dr. Freeman is dedicated to ensuring our students, staff and faculty have the support they need to succeed on all levels. I have observed Dr. Freeman attend difficult meetings and conversations and address students with an empathetic and listening ear and then energize senior leadership to make immediate and lasting changes to meet the needs of students. Her personal engagement with students, her vision even through a pandemic and her relentless efforts to develop a campus that is a leader in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, technology and beyond is commendable.”

For more information, contact PCORE Chair Felicia R. Bohanon at: (815) 753-1868 or To attend for the Annual Summit, registration is required at

NIU Foundation launches crowdfunding campaigns, including one to support graduating artists

NIU Foundation launches crowdfunding campaigns, including one to support graduating artists

Those looking to make a difference at NIU have a new tool to help raise much-needed financial support. NIU Impact, the NIU Foundation’s new crowdfunding program at and features ten campaigns.

One of those campaigns is “Curtain Call! – Support Graduating Senior Arts Projects” to assist with the funding of capstone projects and industry standard portfolio and audition materials for students in the College of Visual Performing Arts as they prepare to start their exciting careers in the arts.

Here’s an example of just one of the senior arts projects funding could benefit.

The crowdfunding campaign for supporting arts students will run through May 10, with a goal of raising $2,000 for students in each of three schools that makes up the College of Visual and Performing Arts (College of Art and Design, College of Music, College of Theatre and Dance.)

The NIU Foundation has experienced significant growth in its digital giving program, seeing an increase of over 100% from fiscal year 2018 to fiscal year 2020 in dollars raised. “In 2018, we raised nearly $290,000 through digital giving ,” shares Michael Adzovic, Director of the Northern Fund. “Last year, in 2020, we raised $580,000.  Already, in fiscal year 2021, we’ve raised $683,000.”

Much of this growth can be attributed to the NIU Foundation’s Day of Giving program implemented in 2019, but other factors have fueled growth as well.

“The pandemic has been a factor,” shares Adzovic. “We’ve relied more on digital giving opportunities during this season and have found that many people are comfortable and prefer giving online. This is the future of our direct response program.”

That growth has inspired the NIU Foundation’s new crowdfunding program.

How Crowdfunding Works

Crowdfunding is not new, of course. This method of raising funds has been common for years, popularized through sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe.  However, it has just recently become popular in higher education fundraising.

“We see great potential in crowdfunding at NIU,” shares Adzovic. “The platform allows us to work with campus partners to conduct targeted, goal-oriented and time-sensitive campaigns that harness the power of volunteers and their individual networks.”

A key difference between crowdfunding and the NIU Foundation’s traditional methods of fundraising is that crowdfunding is driven primarily by volunteers reaching out and amplifying a cause to their individual networks, as opposed to communications being institutionally driven.  The dollar goal for crowdfunding campaigns tends to be smaller—commonly between $3,000-$5,000. These funds usually support very specific initiatives, such as student travel to conferences, research projects, and scholarships.  The duration of a typical campaign is four weeks.

“We see crowdfunding being a great fit for many of our campus partners to fund needs for which we wouldn’t normally fundraise through traditional methods,” shares Adzovic. “We also view it as an excellent way to attract new donors to NIU.”

Curtain Call! – Support Graduating Senior Arts Projects

Exhibits and conversations promote Belonging in DeKalb

Exhibits and conversations promote Belonging in DeKalb

While the pandemic has been keeping people apart, the City of DeKalb, Northern Illinois University and a collection of local agencies have been working to bring the DeKalb community closer together through the Belonging initiative.

The initiative to develop a belonging community was sparked by a virtual conversation in October 2020, led by Dr. john a. powell, who leads the Belonging Institution at U.C. Berkley. Joining the city and the university in the effort are Family Service Agency, the Ellwood Museum and the DeKalb County History Center.

Aided by a $30,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) in January 2021, and a $5,000 donation from the DeKalb County Community Foundation, those organizations have been working on a variety of public art and engagement activities designed to examine issues around race in the community. The goal is to make DeKalb a more welcoming, inclusive place that embraces diversity.

“We are delighted to be in partnership with the City of Dekalb and our community partners on such an important endeavor,” said Vernese Edghill-Walden,  vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion /Chief Diversity Officer and Interim Chief Human Resources Officer at NIU. “The positive support received from the entire community has been wonderful. We look forward to co-creating a community where all members are seen, valued and respected is a community where all members can live and more importantly can thrive.”

DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas is equally enthused about the program.

“The social justice movement that has positively energized the dialogue about racism in our country and in this community since May 2020 has also helped us engage one another in finding what unites and humanizes us,” Nicklas said of the project. “It is our hope that this initiative will encourage our diverse community in the further exploration of how we can better embrace one another as we work, learn and live together.”

Projects funded by the IDHS grant have come to fruition this month, creating opportunities for members of the community to explore issues that create division and potentially motivating them to find ways to tear down those barriers and make DeKalb a place where all can feel they belong. See below for information on each project.

Faces of Belonging

The Faces of Belonging project is a traveling exhibit that promotes “belonging” among individuals who live, work and study in DeKalb. It highlights the rich network of diverse individuals who make up the community through their unique photographs, perspectives and varied life experiences. The portraits capture individuals that work to create a sense of belonging for others in the community. Each shows a person in a place in DeKalb that creates a sense of belonging for that individual. The photographs are accompanied by excerpts from interviews with the subjects of the photographs, sharing insights into what belonging means to them and how to create a sense of belonging for everyone.

The project was created by Jessica Labatte, an associate professor in NIU’s School of Art and Design, and two of her photography students, Amy Fleming and Jacob Rivera. The photographs can be seen on Huskie Line buses. The exhibit can be viewed online at

Arts in Action

Developed by the DeKalb County History Center and the Ellwood House Museum, Arts in Action investigates the history of race relations in DeKalb County with the assistance of nine visual artists. Their work touches upon the themes of fear, exclusion, community and hope.

Arts in Action is designed to be a platform for community members and artists to tell their stories, especially for those whose voices have not always been heard. The project goal is to build a stronger community by sharing, listening to and understanding the stories of everyone in the community.

A virtual exhibit launched March 31 and can be viewed on the DeKalb County History Center Website.

Hateful Things

Northern Illinois University’s Pick Museum of Anthropology, in collaboration with the Center for Black Studies, is hosting the traveling exhibition, “Hateful Things.” Created and circulated by the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University, the exhibition represents nearly 150 years of anti-Black/racist memorabilia and imagery, each embodying the terrible effects of the Jim Crow legacy. This powerful exhibition lifts objects from their original purposes to serve as reminders of America’s racist past and challenges present-day images and systems of oppression. It is a representation of racial stereotyping with the aim of stimulating the scholarly examination of historical and contemporary expressions of racism, as well as promoting racial understanding and healing. The exhibit is open to the public for in-person and virtual tours through April 9, and reservations are required. A virtual tour is available online.

 Diversity Dialogues

The Diversity Dialogues series at NIU was created to allow participants to understand and discuss a wide range of topics from local and global perspectives. It focuses on participants enhancing their awareness, becoming comfortable in engaging in informed conversations and expanding to social justice actions to create positive change and solve problems. As part of the Belongings initiative, Dr. LaVonya Bennett led a virtual session March 25, co-sponsored by Target, to provide participants an understanding of the historic and current lived experiences of people of color and how trauma is caused and influenced by racial identity.

Belonging Council Formation

The grant has also supported work to create a community Belonging Council to guide such activities going forward. A team from NIU‘s Center for Governmental Studies has facilitated a series of formation discussions with a steering committee of community members working collaboratively to create foundational documents and a vision for a Belonging Council within the City of DeKalb. To date, the steering committee has created a working draft of the Belonging Council’s mission statement, a list of guiding values, and undertaken an analysis of the operating environment. The steering committee will work on the development of short- and long-term organizational and mission-driven goals along with an action plan for the remaining workshop sessions, which are planned to be completed in early April.

For more information about Belonging, visit

Header photo: One of the many striking images from Faces of Belonging, view them all online

Typography, Memory and Heritage – A Brazilian Perspective, lecture March 24

Typography, Memory and Heritage – A Brazilian Perspective, lecture March 24

TypographyPriscila Farias, PhD, a professor at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, will give a presentation on Typograpy, Memory and Heritage, A Brazilian Perspective as part of the NIU School of Art and Design’s Elizabeth Allen Visiting Scholars in Art History lecture series, Wednesday, March 24 at 2 p.m. via Zoom.

Farias is professor and coordinator of the Visual Design Research Lab in the School of Architecture and Urbanism at the University of São Paulo.

Typography and lettering are important elements in the configuration of public and private environments and documents, influencing the way we interact with all kinds of information, with each other and with other designed artifacts. Farias argues for the relevance of typography to design heritage and graphic memory studies, including examples of her research on Brazilian print culture and public lettering.

The lecture is free and open to the pubic, presented as part of the Elizabeth Allen Visiting Scholars in Art History Lecture Series and sponsored by the Art History division of the School of Art and Design.

Typography, Memory and Heritage – A Brazilian Perspective
NIU School of Art and Design Elizabeth Allen Visiting Scholars in Art History Lecture Series
Wednesday, March 24, 2 p.m.


Wrapped in Fashion: Japanese Kimono next up in Elizabeth Allen Visiting Scholars in Art History Lecture Series

Wrapped in Fashion: Japanese Kimono next up in Elizabeth Allen Visiting Scholars in Art History Lecture Series

“Wrapped in Fashion: Japanese Kimono,” is the next talk in the Elizabeth Allen Visiting Scholars in Art History Lecture Series. Presented by Janice Katz, the Roger L. Weston Associate Curator of Japanese Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, the lecture will be held virtually, via Zoom, Tuesday, April 6 at 11 a.m.

Furisode 19th century Japan

Furisode, 19th century, Japan
Silk, satin damask weave (rinzu); embroidered with silk and gold-leaf-over-lacquered-paper-strip-wrapped silk in satin stitches; laid work, couching, and padded couching; lined with silk, plain weave. Gift of Gaylord Donnelley in memory of Frances Gaylord Smith, 1991.637

Fashion in pre-modern Japan changed almost as quickly as it does today. Using images of kimono, prints, and paintings in the Art Institute as well as in collections worldwide, Katz discusses the meaning of the clothing chosen by various levels of society that inhabited Japan’s great 17th to 19th century urban metropolises.

Janice Katz has been with the Art Institute of Chicago for over 18 years where she curates quarterly exhibitions of Japanese prints.

She received her Ph.D. from Princeton University in 2004. Her research focuses on paintings from the Edo period (1615-1868) and the history of art collecting in Japan. Her publications include Japanese Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (2003), and Beyond Golden Clouds: Japanese Screens from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Saint Louis Art Museum (2009), an exhibition which traveled from Chicago to St. Louis and San Francisco.

Her most recent major exhibition at the Art Institute, Painting the Floating World: Ukiyo-e Masterpieces from the Weston Collection, and its accompanying catalogue, focused on ukiyo-e paintings of the 17th through 20th centuries.

The lecture is free and open to the public. Please register in advance.

Questions? Contact Connie Rhoton, or Helen Nagata,

“Wrapped Up in Fashion: Japanese Kimono”
Janice Katz, Roger L. Weston Associate Curator of Japanese Art, Art Institute of Chicago
NIU Elizabeth Allen Visiting Scholars in Art History Lecture Series
Tuesday, April 6, 11 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
Free and open to the public.