The College of Fine Arts is excited to announce a new endowment established to fund a student-driven interdisciplinary arts project, empowering students to actively engage in raising awareness about environmental and climate issues through the arts.
A generous gift from Kyria Sabin, long-time School of Dance supporter and instructor, along with gifts from friends, family and community, has endowed the “Expanding Horizons Arts & Environment Fund.”
“We couldn’t be more grateful to Kyria Sabin,” said Andrew Schulz, vice president for the arts at the University of Arizona and dean of the College of Fine Arts. “She has been fundamental to the success of the School of Dance, serving on the advisory board and creating and leading our transformational Pilates curriculum as an adjunct instructor since 1998. Her company, Body Works Pilates, has been a sponsor of our dance performance seasons for decades.
“And now she is funding an endowment that directly aligns with Arizona Arts’ division-wide strategic initiative of exploring environmental and climate issues through an arts-based lens of inquiry. It’s the first of its kind at the college.”
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Sabin says that initially she began supporting the dance program because it was a way to stand up and tell the community, “I believe in this.” She aligned her business with the School of Dance because she believed in the program.
Now supporting an endowment for the arts and the environment, that was a family decision of sorts.
“For me it’s about inspiring students to use the arts in meaningful ways,” she said. “What’s hugely important to me is more of an awareness of our environment, an awareness of climate change. I have children. My daughter’s 22, she’s graduating from the university this year. My son is 20, he’s at NAU. And what I’ve seen both through them and their friends is an oscillating fear and avoidance of what’s happening to our world.
“What’s going to happen to the next generation? I really do think that there’s an opportunity for this generation and following generations to be active. And I think that when you’re proactive about issues and problems, there’s a sense of hope, there’s a sense of team building, there’s a sense of, ‘let’s do something about this.’”
Sabin hopes that this grant will inspire other students to act and collaborate.
“I love the idea of the collaboration. I love the idea of perhaps a dancer collaborating with a musician or someone in theater arts to bring the arts together. The idea excited me. It felt timely. Plus, one of the missions of my family’s foundation, Expanding Horizons, is to get young people involved in environmental issues.”
The fact that the first recipient of the grant is a dancer just seemed to make sense.
“I think it’s wonderful that it’s a dancer. I learned a little bit about him, and he sounds like someone who’s very much of a collaborator and a doer.”
The fund’s first recipient is Jack Haskins, a senior at the School of Dance. Haskins organized the inaugural “Earth Day in the Arts District” event at the Center for Creative Photography last year, partnering with Students for Sustainability, Wildcat Events Board and the College of Fine Arts. This new grant will go to supporting this year’s event. Haskins is a double major in Dance and PPEL (Philosophy, Politics, Economics and Law) with a minor in Climate Change and Society. And he has served as the ASUA CFA Senator since the 2020-2021 academic year.
“I feel so grateful that there is a grant of this nature at the CFA,” said Haskins. “The fact that our college has dedicated this funding specifically to ensuring artists have more of a say in the environmental space demonstrates the University’s multidisciplinary strength. An investment like this in environmental art will help us share the stories of people and ideas who historically don’t get the attention they deserve in conversations about climate change.
“Thanks to Dr. Ellen McMahon, the College of Fine Arts, and Kyria Sabin’s “Expanding Horizons” grant, we are putting on an event that can authentically live up to the ideals of sustainability—social equity, environmental responsibility, and economic viability.”
Jack Haskins is just starting out. He is graduating this May and he will undoubtedly have his pick of opportunities to pursue. He plans to go to law school to study environmental law.
Kyria Sabin studied art history and political science at Duke University.
“My father is an artist. My grandmother was an artist. My mother’s a writer, so I come from a family of creative types and art history sort of came naturally to me, and I think it’s a wonderful way to study the history of the world through art.
She started her career working at the Museum of Modern Art in the education department. She earned the New York State Council for the Arts curatorial grant, and worked under Marcia Tucker at the New Museum of Contemporary Art. Later she helped curate several corporate art collections, including Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch. She worked with Jeffrey Deitch, a major figure in modern and contemporary art world, as his curatorial assistant, traveling the world working on private art collections from London, Tokyo and Athens.
She moved to Los Angeles to direct an art gallery. There, in the City of Angels, she was introduced to Pilates.
“I fell in love with the work. I would go after work every day and then Saturdays. I never thought I would teach Pilates; I just was going as a client. It was really stimulating, not only physically, but also intellectually. It’s really challenges you to think about how the body’s put together and what the purpose of the movement is, working with body symmetry and, really working the body efficiently. That’s a big part of Pilates.”
Her instructor Ron Fletcher, one of the first generation master teachers in the world, became her mentor. He suggested she consider teaching. (Like Jack, she planned to go to law school to study art law.) But Fletcher put together a whole program for her. She traveled to Houston, Denver, Los Angeles and London learning different teaching skills from different teachers.
Enter Tucson. Karma Kientzler from Canyon Ranch contacted Sabin about developing a Pilates program. The plan was to come out for three months. She fell in love with teaching and stayed.
Ron helped with another connection. He introduced Sabin to Gertrude Shurr, who collaborated with Martha Graham and later taught Robert Joffrey, Ben Vereen and Liza Minnelli. And her Shurr’s partner, Rachael Yocom, who was the chair of the dance department for 18 years and directed the High School of Performing Arts in New York City in the mid-70s. Both were early supporters of developing a quality dance program, and they introduced Sabin to Jory Hancock and Melissa Lowe, founders of the School of Dance. In 1998, Sabin developed a Pilates program that remains going strong to this day.