Ben Barson and Gizelxanath Rodriguez

The UW–Madison Division of the Arts welcomed Ben Barson and Gizelxanath Rodriguez as the spring 2020 Interdisciplinary Artists-in-Residence.

Barson and Rodriguez guided and inspired students to participate in the construction of a new performance module of the recent jazz opera, Mirror Butterfly: The Migrant Liberation Movement Suite. Students experienced how dialogic art can be life-altering, in its communal generation and re-creation.

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About the Artists

artist Ben BarsonBen Barson is an award-winning composer, educator, baritone saxophonist, historian, and political activist. Barson cares deeply about the environment along with racial and social justice and inequities. Like his mentor Fred Ho, he composes music to impact change inspired by the jazz tradition.

artist Gizelxanath RodriguezGizelxanath Rodriguez is a Mexican Indigenous (Yaqui) renowned vocalist, cellist, educator, and artivist (art and activism) at the intersection of Indigenous rights, ecosocialism, and migrant justice. She is fluent in five languages (Spanish, Portuguese, English, French, and Italian) and her vocal work spans a range of styles and cultures.

Together, Barson and Rodriguez co-founded the Afro Yaqui Music Collective, an ensemble that combines Afro-Asian musical and political affinities with inspiration from the struggles of the Yaqui of northern Mexico. Barson and Rodriguez work to incorporate voices of regional and Indigenous communities in the creation of their boundary-pushing interdisciplinary works.


Asian American Studies Program logo Dance Department logo
Mead Witter School of Music logo Earth Day @ 50 Nelson Institute logo

The spring 2020 Interdisciplinary Arts Residency Program was presented by the UW–Madison Division of the Arts and hosted by the Asian American Studies Program with Associate Professor Peggy Choy as lead faculty. Co-sponsors included the Dance Department, the Mead Witter School of Music, and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

The UW–Madison Division of the Arts has hosted world-class artists-in-residence since 1995 and formally launched the Interdisciplinary Arts Residency Program (IARP) in 1999. The IARP is made possible by funding from the university’s Office of the Provost.

Guest Artists

performer Mama CCharlotte Hill O’Neal aka Mama C, is a writer/poet, visual artist, musician, healer, inspirational speaker, longtime community activist, and Director of United African Alliance Community Center (UAACC) based in Arusha, Tanzania in East Africa.

performer Nejma NefertitiNejma Nefertiti is a powerful Hip Hop/theater artist, sound designer, songwriter, and creator of natural perfumes. Her revolutionary matriarchal legacy is to create awareness, inspiration, and social change throughout the entire world, for all oppressed peoples, through Hip Hop culture and art.

Resources + Media Mentions


Artivism: Intercultural Solidarity & Decolonizing Performance

headshot of Gizelxanath Rodriguez (left) and Ben BarsonCourse: Integrated Arts 310 & 610/Asian American Studies 240/Music 497
Day/Time: Monday & Wednesday | 3:30-5:10 pm
Location: 249 Lathrop Hall

Credits: 3 | Prereq: None

Description: This course investigated the theory, practice, multidisciplinary and intercultural concepts connected with the recent jazz opera, Mirror Butterfly: The Migrant Liberation Movement Suite. The work is highly interdisciplinary, rooted in theories of history and social change, and above all, is modular in structure and scope. The intention is to grow from the intersection of local knowledge and local creativity where it is staged and re-interpreted. This course guided and inspired students to participate in the construction of a new performance module of Mirror Butterfly.

The course objective was that students leave with an expanded vision of how art can bring marginalized communities together to articulate a concrete and actionable plan for change in their communities and in the world at-large. Students experienced how dialogic art can be life-altering, in its communal generation and re-creation. The course counted towards the Chican@ and Latin@ Studies (CLS) certificate.

Download the course flyer (PDF).

Watch the course promo video.



Art Equals Politics: From the Streets to Social Justice

February 27 @ 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Bayview Community Center601 Bay View
Madison, WI 53715

Nejma Nefertiti shares her experience as an EmCee, an open mic session follows.

Tandem Press Friday Jazz Series

February 28 @ 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Tandem Press1743 Commercial Avenue
Madison, WI 53704

Performances by Blue Note Ensemble (directed by Chris Rottmayer) and the Contemporary Jazz Ensemble (directed by Johannes Wallmann). Spring 2020 interdisciplinary artists-in-residence Ben Barson (saxophonist) and Gizelxanath Rodriguez (vocalist), as well as Nejma Nefertiti and all of the Afro Yaqui Music Collective, will join this session as guests.

Just Bust!

March 6 @ 8:00 pm – 10:00 pm
August414 State Street
Madison, WI 53703

Guest artist Nejma Nefertiti will participate in this free monthly open mic session.

Just Bust! Workshop

March 7 @ 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
249 Lathrop Hall1050 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706

Just Bust! is Madison’s longest running all-ages open mic.

Contested Homes: Migrant Liberation Movement Suite

June 30 @ 7:30 pm

The final event of Interdisciplinary Artists-in-Residence Ben Barson and Gizelxanath Rodriguez’s spring 2020 residency will be virtual—the online premiere of a new multimedia work that combines jazz, hip hop, spoken word, dance, and visual art, created together with students from their Artivism: Intercultural Solidarity & Decolonizing Performance course.