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New visiting artist program at Northwestern to highlight underrepresented theatre works

Anonymous gift to the School of Communication honors educator and star of award-winning television series
Astere E. Claeyssens Artist in Residence
The theatre department in the School of Communication tells stories of underrepresented communities. In July 2022, students performed in José Rivera’s “Marisol” at the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts.

A $3 million gift to Northwestern University’s School of Communication (SoC) will bring to campus high-profile artists focused on telling the stories of underrepresented communities. The gift will establish the Astere E. Claeyssens Artist in Residence, SoC’s first visiting professorship dedicated to expanding the diversity of the school’s theatrical works and curriculum.

The gift was made anonymously in memory of Claeyssens, who served as a professor of English at George Washington University and was the producer, director, writer and star of “One to One,” an Emmy Award–winning public television program, prior to his passing in 1990.

“At Northwestern, we are committed to supporting a diverse and inclusive campus community,” President Michael H. Schill said. “Thanks to this generous gift, the Astere E. Claeyssens Artist in Residence will enable access to a more diverse theatre faculty, promote equity in the stories we tell and enrich the education of the next generation of imaginative theatre-makers.”

SoC is known worldwide for educating leaders across the communication arts and sciences. Its five departments — communication sciences and disorders, communication studies, radio/television/film, performance studies and theatre — set the standard for excellence in their fields. The school’s new visiting artist program aims to connect students with prominent industry leaders and increase Northwestern’s capacity to engage international artists, ultimately helping contribute to a more inclusive learning environment at the University and beyond.

“The Astere E. Claeyssens Artist in Residence will have a profound effect on how we engage established artists and prepare our own for careers in the creative arts,” said E. Patrick Johnson, dean of the School of Communication. “The American theatre needs diverse voices in order to thrive, and this unique position will enable Northwestern to become a pivotal pipeline for the industry’s changemakers.”

Claeyssens was born in Waukegan, Illinois. He served as an infantryman in the Army during World War II and earned the Silver Star, two Bronze Star awards and the Purple Heart. After the war, Claeyssens graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in English and Columbia University with a master’s degree in American literature. Prior to serving on the faculty at George Washington University, he taught at Carnegie Mellon University. Claeyssens’ book “Words and Music: An Introduction to American Musical Comedy” was published by the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1982.

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