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Posted under: News

Bowie State University Becomes First HBCU With An Animation Studio, Creates Career Pipeline For Black Students

The university plans to have the studio up and running for next year.

A new stop-motion animation studio is opening at Bowie State University, making it the first of its kind at a historically Black college or university, NBC Washington reported. The Maryland university partnered with the Oscar-nominated animation house, LAIKA, to make the dream a reality.

“The partnership will enhance BSU’s animation curriculum, with the goal of providing a career pathway for BSU students into the animation industry,” LAIKA said in a statement.

According to the press release, LAIKA will fund upgrades to Bowie State’s green screen studio, allowing stop-motion animation production. The art form includes the incremental movement of objects, such as puppets, filmed at a high rate to create the illusion of movement.

Tewodross Melchishua Williams, chair of the BSU Department of Fine & Performing Arts, said students now have the opportunity to learn valuable skills "that will carry them into the professional world of animation.”

“There is a lot of storytelling and narrative elements that have yet to be brought to life via stop-motion animation, especially in the arena of children’s programming," Williams said. "We are looking at this partnership to be an internship and career pipeline that can help diversify the animation industry, which has been a traditionally underrepresented sector when it comes to the voices of people of color, women, LGBTQ and other communities.”

Bowie State University senior Ronald Palmer, who’s studying digital art, said he didn't relate to the cartoons he watched as a child because they lacked diversity. Now, the student has a chance to change the trend.

“There could not be a better time for new voices to be heard, because they’re in demand,” Palmer told NBC Washington. “Everyone wants to see a new story. Everyone wants to hear new voices.”

The university plans to have the studio up and running for next year.

“When I was in school or my students’ age, I didn’t have these opportunities,” Williams said. “So I’m just really fortunate to be able to provide this for them and help them out in their journey.”

Last summer, a group of Black animators penned an open letter to the animation industry after noticing a trend of the newfound interest in Black animators. 

"In recent weeks, the Black animation community has received calls to action from studios and groups," the letter read.. We have been asked to submit our names for job consideration and provide portfolios for review by industry professionals. This unprecedented interest in our existence has not only put our ostracization from the industry into sharp relief, but it has also caused many Black artists to wonder about the timing. We are morbidly aware that this attention has come at the expense of Black lives and wonder whether our presence in this industry is only valued in relation to our trauma and pain. We desperately hope that is not the case."

LAIKA, which was founded in 2005, is particularly known for its award-winning movies Coraline and Paranorman

“LAIKA is thrilled to be partnering with as prestigious an institution as Bowie State University,” Arianne Sutner, the studio's head of production, said. "Helping BSU students to express their experience, their artistry and their potential through the stop motion art form speaks to our creative and corporate mandate. We’re so excited to explore their talents and to provide mentorship and tools that will enlarge the scope of their filmmaking vision.”

The animation and motion graphics concentration at Bowie State, which is part of the visual communication and digital media arts bachelor’s degree program, is considered to be one of the university’s fastest-growing majors. The Hundred-Seven, which offers a database of all academic programs at HBCUs, recognized Bowie State as one of the nation’s top HBCU art programs, specifically highlighting the five concentrations in the VCDMA program.

Blavity is celebrating HBCUs all month long with “The Highest Learning: HBCUs” series. Be sure to check out our complete coverage of these landmark institutions, from their founding histories to their continuing roles in shaping our greatest movers and shakers. 

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