Alumni and Donor News from the Arts and Sciences

February 2019

Every year, the month of February provides Ohio State students, alumni and friends the opportunity to show the world what #BuckeyeLove is — whether it was a chance encounter on the Oval that led to you meeting your future spouse, a professor that believed in you and took an interest in helping you to succeed, or perhaps even a baby Buckeye or two! 

#BuckeyeLove means something different to everyone. For me, some of my favorite activities involve interacting with Arts and Sciences students, especially at the monthly Donuts with the Dean, and showcasing our all-star faculty via our Voices of Excellence from the College of Arts and Sciences podcast — it’s opportunities like these that remind me what my job is all about.

Donuts with the Dean Donuts with the Dean 2 Donuts with the Dean 3Whatever your passion, Buckeye Nation has been paying forward and sharing their love of Ohio State these past few weeks, and I am excited and invigorated after reading all of these stories and experiences. I hope that you will continue this momentum and join us in supporting our college as we head into our annual Day of Giving on March 22.

Janet M. Box-Steffensmeier
Interim Executive Dean and Vice Provost
Vernal Riffe Professor of Political Science

In this Issue

Musician, composer Mark Lomax, II debuts epic new work

Mark Lomax IIComposer, musician, educator and activist Dr. Mark Lomax, II is in the midst of a major year.

Lomax, a three-time graduate of Ohio State — he received his BA, MA and DMA from the School of Music — has been logging some impressive milestones in the last year:

Lomax is receiving due recognition as a major artist, pushing boundaries and creating ambitious and powerful work, culminating in a sold-out performance of selected pieces from "400: An Afrikan Epic" in Columbus’ historic Lincoln Theatre.

Arved Ashby, professor and area head of musicology in the School of Music, says of Lomax, “I call Mark our own Columbus ‘auteur,’ meaning he is a visionary artist with high ambitions, a sure sense of purpose and a lot of energy. A Mark Lomax evening is an event, in ways that I sometimes still find myself trying to assimilate several days later. And the great thing is that so much of his work doesn't seem (at least to me) to fit in with accepted musical genres.”

Lomax recently shared his thoughts on a life-changing Ohio State class, his current class on African American Musical Traditions, being recognized with the Wexner Center residency and "400: An Afrikan Epic" with us.

A life-changing class

A class with Linda James Meyers (professor, Department of African American and African Studies) changed my life! Her book, Understanding an Afrocentric Worldview: An Introduction to Optimal Psychology, gave me the framework and language that undergirds my work to this day.

On the Wexner Center residency 

As a student, I found refuge and inspiration at the Wex. Academically, school was easy, but it was much more difficult socially. The Wex offered a space where I could reflect on contemporary masterpieces, center myself and envision myself among the great artists of the world. The inspiration drawn from my experiences with the art at the Wex helped me find the strength to push through and finish each degree, so being recognized as a resident artist is extremely special. The support the Wex gave allowed me to experiment and theorize.

On his African American Musical Traditions class, contexts and active listening

It’s an overview of the history of music in America.

For example, you take a song like "Say it Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud" and you tell the story of how it brought communities together. It gives the piece more meaning. Anybody can hear the drums and may not be able to describe it technically, but we can ask why is the drummer doing that? Or why is the vocalist doing that? Anybody from Sam Cooke to Whitney to Marvin to Aretha to Louis to Coltrane, you ask why did they play the way they play and give it more context.

The students are absorbing things, and I’m asking them to do active listening: What do you hear? What do you think? Why are you listening? Actively engaging with art, regardless of its form, is a skill that is being lost because of ease of use and access.

On "400: An Afrikan Epic"

2019 marks the 400th commemoration of the Ma’afa (great tragedy), which is a Kiswahili word used to represent the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in North America. Upon realizing the importance of this upcoming year and subsequent investigation, I found that no one I knew was thinking about ways to tell this important story, so I decided to compose, record and release 12 albums that give artistic snapshots of the past, present and future of Africa and the diaspora with respect to accept and heal from the impact of slavery and colonization. The key being that we allneed to heal.

The institution of slavery negatively impacted all who participated directly and indirectly. Descendants of enslaved peoples continue to suffer from epigenetic changes as a result of ongoing trauma. Those who descend from people who financed, captured, owned, oversaw, lynched, raped, beat and otherwise oppressed and benefited from profits gained from 246 years of forced labor and an additional hundred years of the Jim Crow-style American culture, have also been negatively impacted, though in ways that aren’t always obvious.

"400: An Afrikan Epic" seeks to celebrate the beauty, strength and resilience of a people who, against all odds, continue to create culture where there is none and thrive in parts of the country and world where others couldn’t survive. The work also seeks to establish productive dialogue between those who have lived with the trauma of slavery and colonization and those who have been socialized to believe in, and benefit from the institutions and systems built to perpetuate the inhumane values that birthed the practices. 

Ashby notes of the work, “As we'll all see with '400: An Afrikan Epic,' he takes atrocities very seriously and very deeply, and thank god for that — we need oversized and fearless consciences all around us these days, maybe in this country in particular.”

On the collaborative aspects and impacts of "400: An Afrikan Epic"

I’ll be working with seven ensembles across the 12 recordings. I’m excited to be working with Olev Viero and the Greater Columbus Community Orchestra (Uhuru); the Columbus-based cello quartet UCelli (4 Women); an Atlanta-based Afrikan drum ensemble Ngoma Lungundu (First Ankcestor); my Urban Art Ensemble (Ma’afa); trio with saxophonist Edwin Bayard and bassist Dean Hulett (Ankh & the Tree of Life, Up South); my quartet, which adds pianist Dr. William Menefield to the trio (Song of the Dogon, The Coming, Songs of the Orisha, Tales of the Black Experience); The Ogún Meji Duo (Spirits of the Egungun); and some solo work (Afrika United). 

We are also curating a website that will launch in 2019 featuring the work of 400 artists from Africa and the diaspora. This is an effort to elevate black artistic excellence beyond popular culture. I hope this site will become a starting point for anyone interested in learning about art and culture — how we are telling our stories through our work.

How "400: An Afrikan Epic" impacted him

It was an experience on the whole that changes you, and you literally manifest something out of nothing. It changed me. I’m not sure what that means yet, but I appreciate it and I’m looking forward to process what that means and what will come of it.

Sports law expert guided by economics degree at Ohio State

Matthew MittenMatthew Mitten '81 has helped to shape the national and international sports landscape, helping ensure athletic competition around the world is fair, safe and governed with integrity.

From chairing an NCAA committee charged with protecting student-athletes’ health and safety to serving as an arbitrator at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Mitten’s knowledge of sports law has had a profound effect on sports and how they are regulated and played. He has nearly 30 years of experience in academia and has co-authored some of the industry’s leading academic textbooks. Last June, the National Athletic Trainers Association recognized his efforts regarding the advancement of legal, ethical and regulatory issues in the area of athletic training and sports medicine. Recently, the Association of American Law Schools’ Section on Law and Sports honored him with an award recognizing his significant contributions to sports law scholarship, teaching and service.

And he attributes much of this professional achievement to the economics degree he earned at Ohio State.

“I use my economics background almost as much as my legal background in teaching, writing and speaking about a wide variety of sports topics,” Mitten said. “It’s absolutely critical to understand the underlying economics at all levels of sports competition.”

Mitten’s wealth of sports law expertise led to his appointment on the advisory board for the College of Arts and Sciences’ Sports and Society Initiative (SSI), an interdisciplinary group of faculty and professionals that explores how athletics impact society socially, culturally and politically. 

“The SSI’s establishment was quite visionary because it’s the first multidisciplinary sports institute associated with a university that’s focusing on these important issues,” Mitten said. “Because Ohio State is a leader in the college athletics industry and its teams excel on the playing field, it’s important for its renowned faculty to combine to study the many and significant sports industry off-field issues arising in the 21st century.”

Mitten, who is originally from Toledo, Ohio, received his BA in economics from Ohio State in 1981 before earning his JD from the University of Toledo College of Law in 1984. He practiced antitrust and intellectual property law for an Atlanta law firm until 1990, when he entered the academic world at South Texas College of Law-Houston. In 1999, he moved to Marquette University, where he currently is a professor of law and is executive director of the National Sports Law Institute.

Sports is one of the top revenue-generating industries in the United States. Cash flow stemming from things such as player salaries, media contracts, ticket sales, licensing agreements and trademarked merchandise led to an industry that was worth nearly $70 billion in 2017.

“When you have a hugely popular industry that is extensively broadcast and generates billions of dollars of revenues, there’s all kinds of economic disputes,” Mitten said. “That’s why getting my economics degree from Ohio State was essential for understanding these issues.”

An artwork with the power of multiple universes

Imagine seeing the universe.

Now imagine seeing five.

That’s exactly what the room-sized, cosmology-inspired artwork “Island Universe” seeks to portray. The elaborate installation, which is on view at Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center from Feb. 23 to Aug. 19, was created by artist Josiah McElheny and designed in collaboration with David Weinberg, Distinguished University Professor and chair of the Department of Astronomy.

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"Island Universe" hangs at White Cube gallery in London in 2008. Image credit Josiah McElheny Studio

The unlikely pair began collaborating in 2004 when McElheny was a resident artist at Ohio State’s Wexner Center for the Arts. McElheny sought Weinberg’s guidance on his quest to make a sculpture reminiscent of the chandeliers at the New York Metropolitan Opera House that also depicted a scientifically accurate view of the Big Bang, as the chandeliers were made the same year astronomers discovered clear-cut evidence for the Big Bang theory (1965).

“I expected it would be lunch plus a few more conversations, but it ended up becoming a quite involved collaboration as we figured out how to design this chandelier that would represent the whole history of the universe,” Weinberg said.

He eventually developed computer codes based on precise measurements of the origins and structure of the universe to generate a design for the 2000-piece sculpture.

"An End to Modernity\" by Josiah McElheny. Image credit: Josiah McElheny Studio"

"An End to Modernity" by Josiah McElheny. Image credit: Josiah McElheny Studio

That sculpture, “An End to Modernity,” paved the way for four additional projects between the artist and scientist, culminating in the biggest and boldest piece — “Island Universe.” The five-sculpture work is a visual interpretation of a theory called eternal inflation, in which the universe consists of many universes with different properties.

In eternal inflation, our universe is “part of a much bigger universe that’s eternally expanding, and in this universe there can be multiple Big Bangs, and each one gives rise to its own cosmos,” Weinberg explained. “These universes can be radically different — they might even have different species of subatomic particles or different numbers of spatial dimensions.”

Each of the five sculptural elements in “Island Universe” represents a potential one of these universes and was modeled using variants of the computer language Weinberg created for “An End to Modernity.” Although the eternal inflation theory could allow universes in which the laws of nature have changed, Weinberg and McElheny wanted to create five universes that had familiar enough properties to use their established visual architecture and that also represented something plausible in terms of physics.

The collective “Island Universe” sculpture — made of chrome-plated aluminum, hand-blown glass and electric lamps — is suspended from the ceiling, with each element based on detailed calculations.

Each of the five sculptures represents its own universe with quasars as lamps and galaxies as glass discs and spheres, with time increasing from the center to the edges. Image credit: Josiah McElheny Studio

The sculpture at the center is titled “Heliocentric,” formed in the image of our universe. “Late Emergence” represents a universe in which a dark age lasting billions of years delayed the growth of the first stars and galaxies. “Frozen Structure” embodies a universe that began with more dark energy relative to dark matter, freezing the growth and clustering of galaxies soon after they started to form. In “Small Scale Violence,” galaxies start to form early and intensely, leading to frequent collisions. And perhaps the most unconventional is “Directional Structure,” in which galaxies and quasars form only within a disc-shaped zone — a cosmic super-galaxy.

It’s important that they are conceptually one piece,” Weinberg said. "As you walk among them, you’re really walking through this inflationary sea of the universe.”

The name “Island Universe” is a nod to philosopher Immanuel Kant, who was the first to speculate that distant nebulae were actually other galaxies like the Milky Way — “island universes” scattered throughout the emptiness of space.

Since its completion in 2008, “Island Universe” has been exhibited in Boston, London and Madrid, among others. The installation’s appearance at Stanford is its first on the West Coast. Stanford is also home to physicist Andrei Linde, who developed the theory on which the artwork is based.

“I want people to have the experience of coming into this installation and trying to figure out for themselves what’s going on,” Weinberg said. “And that’s partly an artistic or aesthetic experience, but it’s also a scientific experience.”

He and McElheny will give a joint talk at Stanford on March 2 about “Island Universe” and their longtime collaboration.

“With each of these pieces, we work together pretty closely through the design, but then there’s the whole separate problem of actually making the thing, and that’s all Josiah,” Weinberg said. “Josiah is super smart and super creative, ad he makes intellectual connections to an astonishing range of subjects. I’m lucky that he got interested in cosmology at the same time he got connected to Ohio State.”

Enjoy favorable tax benefits with the flexibility to support Ohio State and your favorite charities

With The Ohio State University Foundation's Donor Advised Fund, you decide which programs at Ohio State and other eligible charities to support according to your own interests and timetable. Your fund has the potential to grow tax-free in one of our investment options, ready to support your next philanthropic endeavor when the moment is right for you. Learn more.

Make a difference during our annual Day of Giving

You can change the world — by starting right here. On Friday, March 22, Buckeyes from all over will come together to help Ohio State tackle the local and global challenges that affect us all. This year, the College of Arts and Sciences is rallying our alumni and friends in support of The Lantern, our training ground for future journalists, and to help us construct a new home for our music and theatre programs. Please save the date to join us for the most remarkable 24 hours of the year. Read more.


11th Annual Alumni Society Hockey Night
March 2, 3 p.m.
Schottenstein Center

Opera & Lyric Theatre presents "The Marriage of Figaro"
March 3, 2 p.m.
Mershon Auditorium

SCIENCE SUNDAYS: The Story of Earth — How Life and Rocks Have Co-Evolved
March 17, 3-5 p.m.
Ohio Union, U.S. Bank Conference Theatre

March 20, 7 p.m.
Wexner Center for the Arts, Film/Video Theater

42nd Annual Ohio State Jazz Festival
March 20-24
Weigel Auditorium