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Arts majors receive national award for achievement in creativity

By Emma Yarbrough | Emory Report | May 8, 2018

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Film and media studies major Leila Yavari and business and music major Eric Newell are the 2018 recipients of the Louis B. Sudler Prize in the Arts, honoring graduating seniors with exceptional promise in the arts. Emory Photo/Video

Business and music major Eric Newell and film and media studies major Leila Yavari are the 2018 recipients of the Louis B. Sudler Prize in the Arts, honoring the graduating senior or seniors who have demonstrated exceptional promise in the performing or creative arts.

Awarded annually at Emory and a select group of colleges across the nation, including Princeton, Duke and MIT, the Sudler Prize is accompanied by a $6,000 award.

Faculty members who supported the nominations of Newell and Yavari say the two will leave extraordinary legacies behind when they depart campus following graduation.

“Eric is a rare and very special talent,” says Eric Nelson, professor of music and director of choral studies at Emory. “I know him as one of the most singularly gifted undergraduate music majors I have ever taught.”

During his remarkable undergraduate career, Newell, who will graduate May 14 with a BBA from Emory’s Goizueta Business School, served as a resident adviser, Concert Choir president and the music director of a cappella group Dooley Noted. For this year’s Barenaked Voices, the annual celebration of a cappella music at Emory, Newell composed the arrangement for the performance of the finale, engineering the moment when over 150 student voices join in song without instrumental accompaniment.

This spring, Newell became the first vocal performance major at Emory to complete a senior recital that was half vocal performance and half choral conducting.

“I wouldn’t be surprised that other students will come after that will want to follow this model,” says Nelson. “They will have Eric to thank for establishing the precedent.”

Atlanta local Leila Yavari, who has earned her degree through Emory College of Arts and Sciences, has also left a mark on campus that will not fade any time soon. During her tenure at Emory, Yavari and her collaborators founded FemmeFilms, a student group dedicated to encouraging female filmmakers to tell their stories and pursue work behind and in front of the camera.

“Leila Yavari is a fine and inspired filmmaker who has greatly advanced Emory as a place for filmmaking and especially filmmaking by women,” says Rob Barracano, lecturer and director of production in Emory’s Department of Film and Media Studies. “Her work grapples with the compelling issues of gender, representation and political oppression.” 

Yavari’s first documentary film, “Hooked,” explored college hookup culture from the woman’s perspective via anonymous interviews. The film won the Jury Award at Campus Movie Fest (CMF) and Yavari was among the 50 student filmmakers CMF invited to show their work at the Cannes International Film Festival in 2017. 

Yavari has been invited back to Cannes this year to screen “Petals,” a narrative film she co-directed for Campus Movie Fest that became the foundation for FemmeFilms.

Looking to a future in the arts

Newell, who will pursue a master of music degree in choral conducting at the University of Georgia this fall, credits his department and mentors with much of his success. 

“To me, the award serves as a testament to the malleability of the music department here in its ability to offer truly great possibilities of study and performance in order to fit the needs of its students,” says Newell.

“I have had several life-changing mentors in my time at Emory, but the way Dr. Nelson thinks and speaks about choral music helped reroute the trajectory of what I consider to be my life’s purpose,” he explains. “In the long term, my dream is to end up in a role similar to Dr. Nelson’s position at Emory.”

Yavari also plans to continue her studies in graduate school, but will take a year before applying to continue working on various film projects that focus on underserved communities and neighborhoods in the United States.

“The type of filmmaking I hope to do in the future will use this medium as a vehicle for social action and change,” says Yavari. “I feel lucky that I am fortunate enough to live in this moment where a new generation of filmmakers are being encouraged to build a more inclusive future both on and off screen.”