UMSL delegation brings art, music to Balkans

Rita Csapo-Sweet (second from left), associate professor of media studies at UMSL, led a delegation of UMSL faculty to the Balkans this summer. She was accompanied by (from left) her husband Fred Sweet, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis; Jim Richards, interim dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication at UMSL; UMSL Chancellor Tom George; and Barbara Harbach, professor of music at UMSL.

Art and music are the great equalizers to language barriers.

The two played an important role when an official delegation from the University of Missouri–St. Louis recently visited Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Dubrovnik in Croatia.

Rita Csapo-Sweet, associate professor of media studies, spearheaded the trip for Chancellor Tom George, Barbara Harbach, professor of music, and Jim Richards, interim dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication.

“I have been working for years to find the best time to bring all the important players together,” Csapo-Sweet said.

With only five days in Sarajevo and two in Dubrovnik, the schedule was jam-packed with events.

“The visits were very focused and intense,” she said.

In Bosnia, the group met with their counterparts at the University of Sarajevo, the director of the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra, American Ambassador Patrick S. Moon, the U.S. Embassy staff and the Bosnian Minister of Education.

As guests of the University of Dubrovnik in Croatia the delegation met with the most important educational, cultural and civic leaders of the city to plan future educational and cultural collaborations.

“For both the University of Sarajevo and also the University of Dubrovnik, UMSL is their sole partner in the United States. This represents a tremendous opportunity for UMSL to shape the future of higher education in the countries of the former Yugoslavia. Bosnia is the birthplace of over 70,000 residents now living in the St. Louis area,” Csapo-Sweet said.

Aside from the high-profile meetings by the group, Harbach and George performed several concerts. George’s jazz improv concert played to a full house and inaugurated the opening of the University of Dubrovnik’s historic and newly restored central building. George also presented a scientific research seminar.

Harbach’s series of recitals and lectures included a performance of her compositions during a harpsichord recital at the University of Sarajevo. In Dubrovnik, she held an organ recital to an enthusiastic audience at the ancient Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

“We had a delightful time working with students, faculty and staff in both Sarajevo and Dubrovnik,” Harbach said. “The students were knowledgeable, enthusiastic and receptive to new ideas.”

She said the trip paved the way for stronger interactions on program developments and student and faculty exchanges.

The UMSL delegation was at the opening of Csapo-Sweet’s exhibition, “Promises, Promises,” mounted at the Academy of Fine Art Gallery in Sarajevo. According to Oslobodenje, Bosnia’s most prestigious daily newspaper, “Csapo-Sweet’s work explores the struggle for power, the transience of time and the iconography of images and text in an election atmosphere.”

The exhibit was a collection of Csapo-Sweet’s collages and photographs, together with four video pieces by St. Louis multimedia artist Zlatko Cosic, a native of Bosnia. The artwork conveyed themes of limited democracy, political promises and shifting ideologies. The exhibition was a visual essay on “man in the political environment.”

Harbach noted the art exhibit was “outstanding.”

St. Louis is home to one of the world’s largest Bosnian communities outside of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In 2007 UMSL established student-faculty exchange agreements with the University of Sarajevo and the University of Tuzla. Csapo-Sweet promoted the partnership between the Bosnian universities and UMSL, which was honored in 2010 during the 60th anniversary celebration at the University of Sarajevo.

UMSL’s first exchange students to Sarajevo in spring 2010 both later said it was a life-transforming experience. Joshua Lassing, who majored in media studies and is now an in-demand cinematographer, studied with Aida Begic at the University of Sarajevo’s film institute. Begic is one of Bosnia’s most distinguished young directors whose newest film, “Children of Sarajevo,” won the Special Distinction Award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, as had two of her earlier films.

“Through the Bosnian exchange program, I can offer our students the possibility of working with some of the world’s best filmmakers and artists,” Csapo-Sweet said. “It’s exactly equivalent to their studying with famous American directors and producers in Los Angeles or New York.”

Next spring, two students coming from Bosnia will study at UMSL, one in fine arts and the other in media studies. The program’s goal is to annually send two of UMSL’s students to Bosnia and two to Dubrovnik, and to have four students from the Balkans study at UMSL.

For the past five years, Csapo-Sweet traveled to Bosnia and Croatia twice a year, working with the universities to set up the exchange programs. But her latest trip was most special.

“It was the first time that the most important university and U.S. Embassy officials at both ends could meet and concretely plan for the growth and development of this historic international, educational, and cultural exchange program,” she said.

Rita Csapo-Sweet, associate professor of media studies at UMSL, held an exhibition of her collages and photographs at the Academy of Fine Art Gallery in Sarajevo. Also on display were four video pieces by St. Louis multimedia artist Zlatko Cosic, a native of Bosnia.

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