PAFA 2021 Commencement

After a year of remote and hybrid learning, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) will host the 216th Commencement ceremonies on-site May 14. PAFA will recognize 70 graduating students, including 5 Certificate program graduates; 42 Bachelor of Fine Arts graduates; 1 Post-Baccalaureate graduate; 22 Master of Fine Arts graduates; and 4 students completing the 2021 Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree Graduates in coordination with the University of Pennsylvania. 

Faculty and staff of the college and museum will take this opportunity to celebrate, in person, the tremendous achievements of the 2021 graduating class. Reginald M. Browne, Chair of the Board of Governors, will make the welcome remarks, followed by Elizabeth Warshawer, Interim President & Chief Executive Officer. The ceremony includes the distinguished commencement speaker Dyani White Hawk and the two prestigious alumni awards presented by Clint Jukkala, Executive Dean of the College of Fine Arts. The 2021 Class speakers are Jill Adler for the Masters in Fine Art Program and Nasir Young from the Certificate/Bachelor of Fine Arts Programs. 

An artist, and curator whose work reflects both her Western, American upbringing and her indigenous ancestors' mediums and modes for creating visual art, Dyani White Hawk will address both graduating classes virtually as the commencement speaker. White Hawk's art inspires conversations that challenge the lack of representation of Native arts, people, and voices in our national consciousness. She received her BFA in 2-D Studio Arts from the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) and an MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her work is in the Museum of Modern Art, Walker Art Center, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, among other public and private collections. She has received numerous and significant grants and prizes and participated in residencies in Australia, Russia, and Germany. PAFA recently acquired White Hawk's striking painting, She Gives (Quiet Strength VII) (2020), for the permanent collection. This work celebrates the quiet power of women artists' invisible labor and resilience by using oil paint and minute brushstrokes on canvas to evoke beadwork traditions of her heritage. She Gives (Quiet Strength VII) is currently on loan to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art for a significant solo exhibition of White Hawk's work. This summer, it will return to PAFA and rejoin Taking Space: Contemporary Women Artists and the Politics of Scale (open through September 5, 2021).

Each year PAFA's Alumni Council presents two annual alumni awards, the Distinguished Alumni Award and the Alumni Service Award. Established in 2015, the Alumni Service Award recognizes individuals who have demonstrated a sustained commitment to their community. The Distinguished Alumni Award, established in 2003, recognizes those who have shown outstanding artistic achievement. Collectively, the recipients reflect the diversity and talent of the alumni body. Clint Jukkala, Executive Dean of the College of Fine Arts, will present the awards. 

The 2021 Alumni Service Award recipient, Sedakial Gebremedhin, received his BFA from PAFA in 2012. For Gebremedhin, art and community are intertwined, and he views art as a platform to engage the community, particularly youth. He is deeply committed to social justice, as exemplified by his work with the Justice for Kaleb Committee. Gebremedhin is a true collaborator and a member of the Philadelphia-based artist cooperative workshop space Traction Company, composed entirely of PAFA alumni. As the community outreach coordinator at Philadelphia Contemporary, Gebremedhin supports its mission to reflect the diversity and vitality of Philadelphia through a global art lens.

Aaron Fowler, a prolific visual artist whose monumental works are universal and deeply personal, is the 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient. Fowler explores his family history, American history, Black culture, and contemporary public icons in his art. He received his BFA from PAFA in 2011, followed by an MFA from Yale University School of Art in 2014. Fowler won several prizes while at PAFA, including the Schiedt Travel Scholarship and the Angelo Pinto Memorial Prize for Experimental Work. In 2015, he was the recipient of a prestigious Hort-Mann Foundation grant. Fowler has exhibited throughout the United States and abroad, including shows at Saatchi Gallery, the Hammer Museum, Seattle Art Museum (solo), New Museum, and the Studio Museum in Harlem. PAFA was pleased to acquire Fowler's You Are Not The Father (2017–18), a mixed-media sculpture that includes a mirror, cotton balls, and a motorized spinning globe on a little girl's deconstructed bedroom set, in 2018 for the permanent collection. He has returned to PAFA as part of the Visiting Artist Program. Fowler lives and works in Harlem, Los Angeles, and St. Louis.

PAFA's Annual Student Exhibition (ASE) is one of the most celebrated student-artist group shows in the country and the only one in a world-class museum. While art exhibitions for matriculating students are expected, PAFA's is singularly unique, and this year ASE celebrates its 120th anniversary. The show is an academic capstone event and the longest-standing student exhibition of its kind. The ASE offers PAFA's emerging artists the opportunity to curate, install, and sell their work in a professional setting. In addition to its role as an exhibition and sale, the ASE includes a competition for the coveted Cresson, Schiedt, Von Hess, Ware, and Women's Board travel scholarships, to name a few. The 120th ASE is a hybrid format and is open to the public from May 14 through June 6. 

Last Updated
May 27, 2021 - 1:46 PM

About PAFA

Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is America's first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, PAFA offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the fine arts, innovative exhibitions of historic and contemporary American art, and a world-class collection of American art. PAFA’s esteemed alumni include Mary Cassatt, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Thomas Eakins, William Glackens, Barkley L. Hendricks, Violet Oakley, Louis Kahn, David Lynch, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.