Watch: Dr. Ellen Winner’s guest lecture, “How Art Works: Five Puzzles”

Watch: Dr. Ellen Winner’s guest lecture, “How Art Works: Five Puzzles”

In her lecture, “How Arts Works: Five Puzzles,” presented to NIU School of Art and Design, November 10, artist and experimental psychologist Dr. Ellen Winner discusses puzzles about the arts that have preoccupied philosophers as well as the general public. Can art be defined? Why do we seek out art that elicits negative emotions like sadness and fear? Why do we devalue a revered work once it is outed as a forgery? Is abstract art something “my kid could have done”? Does art enhance empathy? As a social scientist, she has tried to answer some of these questions through interviews, observations, and experiments. What she and other psychologists have found reveals surprising answers to these artistic mysteries, and helps us understand how art works on us.

Thousands Strong kickoff video features CVPA talent

Thousands Strong kickoff video features CVPA talent

The NIU Foundation kicked off its annual Day of Giving with a Thousands Strong video event, Wednesday, November 18, and the video featured a number of students and alumni of the College of Visual and Performing Arts.

The video is hosted by Kate Drury, a B.F.A. candidate in acting. The music for the video was performed by the NIU Jazz Orchestra and the celebrity interview was Joe Minoso, a 2004 M.F.A. acting graduate and the star of the NBC series “Chicago Fire.”

The Day of Giving runs through November 19. Gifts of all sizes will go a long way to helping ensure the next classes of Huskies have what they need to make the most of their time on campus.

NIU’s “Thousands Strong” Virtual Events Celebrate Huskie Pride

NIU’s “Thousands Strong” Virtual Events Celebrate Huskie Pride

In celebration of our positive impact throughout the world, Northern Illinois Huskies and friends of the university are invited to participate in the NIU Foundation “Thousands Strong” virtual events, which will take place Nov. 18-20.

From 7-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 18, NIU will commemorate all that makes NIU extraordinary. The Opening Night kickoff show will include an inspirational and entertaining lineup on YouTube Live, with NIU President Lisa C. Freeman and special celebrity guest Joe Minoso, M.F.A. ’04, who plays firefighter Joe Cruz on the NBC drama “Chicago Fire.” Minoso’s unique NIU story and post-graduate experience in theater and television make him an ideal as star for this tribute to Huskies’ success.

This event, which borrows its name from a famous line of “Hail NIU,” the University’s alma mater, will honor the outstanding alumni and donors who help make NIU an engine for innovation, creativity and social mobility. It will also feature inspiring stories of scholarship recipients who are making their dreams come true.

If the kickoff show reaches 1,000 total views, it will unlock $100,000 towards student scholarships, thanks to a special giving challenge instituted by NIU Foundation board member John ’74, M.S. ’75, and Anne Landgraf, ’73.

Beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 18, and going through 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 19, the Huskie community will come together for an online Day of Giving, supporting the NIU Foundation’s incredible scholarship and fundraising opportunities.

Alumni and friends are asked to dig deep and pull together to show that we are truly “Thousands Strong” by making a donation or being a champion for this important day of philanthropy. Gifts of all sizes will go a long way to helping ensure the next classes of Huskies have what they need to make the most of their time on campus.

Additionally, if 2,000 people donate, at any amount, during the Day of Giving, it will unlock another $400,000 challenge towards student scholarships, courtesy of the Landgrafs.

In addition, over the last few weeks, alumni and friends of the University had the opportunity to upload videos of themselves describing why they are proud to be among the “Thousands Strong” who represent NIU. On Nov. 20, the NIU Alumni Association will select video submissions to include in a special “Thousands Strong” highlight reel on its social media pages, which will also include some exciting celebrity messages.

To learn more about how you can take part in this special event and change NIU history for the better from your favorite spot on the couch, visit

David Spoehr, ’02, gets creative with Chicago-based design company Monroestar

David Spoehr, ’02, gets creative with Chicago-based design company Monroestar

It is the year 1998, and NIU visual communication student David Spoehr is passionately cheering on the Huskies football team (who were on a significant losing streak) while decked out in full face and chest paint at Huskie Stadium.

He is there with his best friends—friends he has met on campus and friends he will keep the rest of his life.

Fast-forward two decades and Spoehr, ’02, is a well-respected co-founder of Monroestar, a Chicago-based design agency that specializes in website design and development. He leads the design and project management side of the business, which he founded with fellow alumnus Vinay Mullick, ’00. In his role, Spoehr takes projects from concept to deployment, and so much of his success over the last two decades can be tied back to the connections he made at NIU and his love for sports.

“I transferred to NIU after spending my first year in Colorado,” he recalled. “NIU was and still is one of the area’s leading design schools. The professors and curriculum at NIU set me up to succeed in my career after graduation, both with design theory and real-life applications.”

Spoehr worked several jobs on campus during his time at NIU, including for the athletic marketing department and at the Northern Star.

After college, when Monroestar was in its infancy, Spoehr and Mullick took on a special web project as a way to give back to the University.

“We had immense pride in what running back Michael Turner was doing in 2003 for NIU and for the Mid-American Conference,” Spoehr said. “We made a Heisman website for ‘Turner the Burner,’ and it was a great opportunity to show off his talents and get him in the Heisman conversation, along with the other talented athletes.”

At the time, there was no social media to help athletes campaign for the Heisman Memorial Trophy, which is awarded annually to the most outstanding player in NCAA Division I football. Instead, they had to rely solely on national television and the early infancy of the web.

“Taking that into consideration, looking back on the site, it holds up pretty well,” Spoehr said. “While the site might be dated in terms of technology and design it doesn’t seem that out of place when compared to current sites.”

In July 2020, ESPN named Monroestar’s 17-year-old Heisman website for Turner the Burner one of the best of its kind of the 2000s. And while this is a small feather in the cap of a company who has gone on to do websites for Dick’s Sporting Goods, GEICO and Kehoe Designs, to name a few, Spoehr never forgets where it all started.

“I always knew I wanted to do something creative, but I wasn’t always exactly sure what that would be,” he said. “As I navigated my early years at NIU, it was clear that the path to a lasting career was through design, or what NIU calls ‘visual communication.’ Website design was just taking off when I was at NIU and it was very exciting to me.”

Today, Monroestar is a small firm so Spoehr wears many hats, and every day is not like the last, as he is presented with new and exciting challenges to overcome.

“Web design and development is constantly changing, so the learning never stops,” he said. “No project is the same, there is always something to learn and expand upon.”

Spoehr learned a lot during his time on campus, relentlessly keeping the faith with his favorite football team, and finding his own creative life path.

“Huskies embody what it is to be a hard worker and have positive attitude,” he said. “Huskies like me are trying to take that spirit and applying it in every aspect of our lives and careers.”

This article originally appeared on the Alumni Association website.

Mike Rea and friends present, “I Yell Because I Care, He Needs Me” on instruments real, and imagined

Mike Rea and friends present, “I Yell Because I Care, He Needs Me” on instruments real, and imagined

One of the most talked about pieces in the NIU Art Museum’s current installation, the NIU School of Art and Design Faculty Continuum is a sculpture of a piano, “Tight Notes and Black Holes, CTINH (Conceptualize there is no Heaven”  created by Mike Rea, associate professor of sculpture. While it’s not a fully functioning piano, it didn’t stop Rea and a couple dozen of his friends from forming a “band” and performing Harry Nilsson’s “He Needs Me.”

Art and Design’s Mike Rea presents “I Yell Because I Care, He Needs Me” music video, November 14

Art and Design’s Mike Rea presents “I Yell Because I Care, He Needs Me” music video, November 14

Artist and Associate Professor of Sculpture Mike Rea puts together “a band” to produce a music video featuring his ​sculpture Tight Notes and Black Holes, CTINH (Conceptualize there is no Heaven), 2019.

I Yell Because I Care, He Needs Me, ​is a site-specific performative installation,​ which combines our desire to see Rea’s sculptural works engaged in the gallery while straddling the virtual environment of digital interactions we are currently immersed in. Performing 1970s singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson’s “He Needs Me” from the soundtrack of Popeye (1980) directed by Robert Altman, Rea combines alternative performances with actual musicians, recorded remotely in the homes and spaces of the various participants. The “band” members are NIU alumni, current students, artists and musicians Rea has cultivated since his own time at NIU as a student in the late 90s.

The performance will be presented in a live Zoom stream (meeting ID 827 9464 1112, passcode 526115), Saturday, November 15 at 7 p.m.

Mike Rea has conflated the notions of working hard and playing hard for over two decades with his bombastic wooden sculptures. Whether as conventional sculptures standing alone, or as props in interactive installations and performances, these often-massive objects reflect a culture of humor, violence, vulgarity, and sensitivity.

This program is sponsored in part by the Illinois Arts Council Agency through federal funds provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Northern Illinois University Arts and Culture Fee with additional support from the Division of Information Technology and University Marketing and Institutional Communications.

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 827 9464 1112

Passcode: 526115