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ASU dance professor named finalist for 2018 Phoenix Mayor's Arts Awards

The Phoenix Mayor's Arts Awards are given based on the impact, integration and innovation of artists' work


ASU professor of dance, Mary Fitzgerald, dances during her project "Floating Chronology" in the Painted Desert of Arizona in March 2017.

Bookshelves lined with literature covering topics ranging from Buddhist philosophy to zoology might seem out of place in an office tucked away in an ASU’s Physical Education Building. 

The diversity of the collection, however, speaks volumes about the career and style of Mary Fitzgerald. 

As a member of Kei Takei’s Moving Earth for nearly ten years, guest artist for a multitude of professional companies, award-winning choreographer, dance professor at ASU and socially engaged arts practitioner, Fitzgerald’s diverse background is fundamental to her style and drive. 

Fitzgerald’s distinct footprint and empowering influence as a performer, choreographer, educator and community member is what set her apart from 220 nominees to be named a finalist in the dance artists category for the 2018 Phoenix Mayor’s Arts Awards

Annually, the Phoenix Center for the Arts hosts a gala to celebrate leaders in the local arts community.

Joseph Benesh, director of the Phoenix Center for the Arts, who coordinates the event each year, said the gala aims to tell the story of Phoenix’s vast pool of talent. 

“It is a strange thing to choose the best out of a group of artists, but really it is an opportunity for us to celebrate everybody and highlight how much amazing art there is in and around Phoenix,” Benesh said. 

Nominees are selected by a panel of judges comprised largely of winners from previous year. Benesh said this is significant because it means that the panel is composed almost entirely of artists.

Each of the nominees are judged based on the innovation, integration and overall impact of their work. 

Karen Schupp, assistant director of dance at ASU and a former student of Fitzgerald, said all three areas of critique can be clearly mapped through Fitzgerald's relationships and passions. 

“All three qualities are at the fabric of who she is as an artist and individual,” Schupp said. 

Fitzgerald has been an active member of the dance community in Phoenix for over 20 years and continues to choreograph and perform in her 50s, but Schupp said Fitzgerald’s passion for mentorship transcends her own artistic goals. 

“There is a strong legacy of her impact because she goes out of her way to be a good mentor and supporter,” Schupp said. 

Fitzgerald’s leadership and mentorship is largely driven by her efforts to give back through dance, Schupp said. 

“She is more than just a performer, choreographer or artist — Mary (Fitzgerald) is an active and thoughtful community member,” Schupp said. 

Sharon McCaman, who graduated from ASU with a master's in dance in 2018, first worked with Fitzgerald as her student and is currently working on her second performative piece with her. 

“You want to be a part of what she is doing,” McCaman said. “I know when I work with Mary (Fitzgerald), I am going to grow as an artist and as an individual.”

McCaman said Fitzgerald’s innovative and reflective approach to dance captures the audience in an impactful way.

“Once the piece is produced and disseminated, it definitely has far reaching impact due to the way the audience can connect with the simultaneous friction and stillness Mary (Fitzgerald) carries throughout the piece," she said.

Fitzgerald said she hopes to inspire and enable her students to use dance as a tool for social dialogue.

“I just want to pass on my love and passion for dance and to give (my students) the tools to know how to take their work out and find some way for it to have an impact on the larger culture,” Fitzgerald said. “We should be looking at how our work relates to current issues, how it’s relevant and how we are responding to what is happening in the world.”

Fitzgerald’s goal for her students is reflected in her choreography as she employs her innovative style.

Her current piece, “ShiftState,” is a meditation on time, matter and change aligning with the #MeToo movement and personal research about women, dance and aging. 

Adding dimension to Fitzgerald’s artistic endeavors, she has sustained lasting partnerships with youth and older generation organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of Arizona using dance and artistic expression as a tool to foster visibility.

“Community based work is always about developing relationships and not only making art more accessible, but also making it more meaningful,” Fitzgerald said. 

Fitzgerald’s socially engaged relationships with students, artists and the community is key to her legacy in Phoenix.

“A big part of what I want to leave behind is a message of inclusivity,” Fitzgerald said. “Everyone has a right to participate in the arts and a right to be seen and have a voice.”

Reach the reporter at and follow @graceoldham123 on Twitter. 

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