Image: Gifts for the River

Gifts for the River Panel Discussion

Thursday, November 8
7:00 p.m.
Bovee U.C. Auditorium

Join Denison Visiting Scholar and interdisciplinary artist Ty Defoe for an engaging panel discussion on “Gifts For The River,” a celebration of the Chippewa River and the communities that live along it. Gifts For The River is an online living notebook of artistic, musical, cinematic, and environmental contributions which will be shared and discussed at the event, along with local poetry and video projections.

Gifts For The River seeks to:
  • Honor the intersections of nature, story, art, traditional ecological knowledge, and community
  • Encourage peace through intercultural engagements
  • Help foster a deeper sense of place
  • Preserve Mother Earth
  • Acknowledgment of local tribal nations and the sanctity of the earth's waters
Participants will include:
  • Ty Defoe, Interdisciplinary artist, Oneida and Ojibwe Nations
  • Denise Whitebread-Fanning, Installation Artist
  • Ari Berk, Ph.D., Professor of Folklore and Mythology, CMU
  • Kate Freer, Multimedia Design/Documentary Filmmaker
  • Adelka Polak, Mixed Media Performing Artist and the Artistic Director & founder of Sova Dance & Puppet Theater based in Connecticut
  • Taylor Brook, Watershed Outreach Coordinator, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe (Nation)
  • Heather Trommer-Beardslee, Dance Program Coordinator, Artistic Director, University Theatre Dance Company, Central Michigan University
  • Dani Sineway, Wabanaisee Singer, Swan Creek Black River Ojibwe Nation and CMU Safety Coordinator, Risk Management Environmental Health and Safety 
  • CMU student partners Alan Shi, Hunter Sagaskie, and Skylar Lynch

Master Class / Community Engagements

Thursday, November 8
Bovee U.C. Auditorium

Also on November 8th, join us in the University Center auditorium for two master class/community engagements with three outstanding artists. Open to all and free of charge.

1-3pm—Environmental Entanglement: Nature in Art & Performance. Adelka Polak, mixed media performing artist, and Denise Whitebread Fanning, installation artist, will discuss their respective and collaborative practices of integrating nature within their creative processes. Participants will be invited to explore the integration of nature, art, and performance through hands-on interactive activity. 

3-5pm—Projections of Place: Celebrating Daily Encounters with Nature How does an artist use video, interview, and projection mapping to highlight natural beauty while engaging in environmental activism? Join multimedia designer Kate Freer in exploring how technology can be used in art making practices to investigate, communicate, and celebrate. Participants will utilize on site filmmaking, natural resources, and documentary techniques to create a living digital sculpture to celebrate nature. You are invited to think outside the screen.

Poetry Slam

Poetry Slam with Word Hammer Slam Poets
Friday, November 9
6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
Pleasant City Coffee
(205 W Broadway St, Mt Pleasant, MI)

About the Panelists

Ty Defoe

Ty Defoe  (Giizhig) is from the Oneida and Ojibwe Nations. He is an interdisciplinary-hyphenated artist, activist, writer, cultural worker, and shape-shifter. As a two-spirit person Ty aspires to an integral approach to artistic projects, social justice, indigeneity, and environmentalism. Ty gained recognition in many circles around the world including a Grammy Award for his work on “Come to Me Great Mystery.” 

Ty’s global cultural arts highlights are: the Millennium celebration in Cairo, Egypt with the Call for Peace Drum and Dance Company; Turkey for the Ankara International Music Festival, and Festival of World Cultures in Dubai. Ty frequents his own community where he learned to hoop dance, eagle dance, and play a variety of wooden flutes. 

Ty is a co-founder of Indigenous Direction (with Larissa FastHorse). His writing publications can be viewed in the PitkinReview, Woody Guthrie Anthology, the Thorny Locust Magazine, and Howl Round. He has received degrees from CalArts, Goddard College and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. He is a Theater Communications Group Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Fellow alumni and an art equity facilitator. He co-starred on Netflix show, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as Young Anthony Black Elk and recently made his Broadway debut in Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men directed by Anna Shapiro. He lives in NYC and loves the color clear. He | Him | They | We | Us 

Adelka Polak

Adelka Polak is a Mixed Media Performing Artist and the Artistic Director & founder of Sova Dance & Puppet Theater based in CT. She is an internationally-acclaimed mask performer who has performed nonverbal visual theater with Masque Theatre in order to reach audiences around the globe, including in Bulgaria, Taiwan, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Turkey. She also performed throughout the USA with Squonk Opera who went “from junkyards to Broadway” and continues collaborations with various artists, including Ibex Puppetry, while interested mainly in the integration of puppetry and the movement of objects. The objects become an extension of oneself and enables the imagination and spirit of the performer to intermingle with the cosmos.

Denise Whitebread Fanning

Denise Whitebread Fanning is a sculptor and installation artist who has exhibited broadly in places that vary from industrial installation spaces and galleries in Detroit, MI, to galleries and museums in places like Philadelphia, PA and Berlin, Germany. She currently finds herself most frequently creating her site-specific work on the shared public land of the rivers, lakes, and forests of her home state of Michigan. Denise is an observer, gatherer, explorer, seamstress, and multi-media maker who traverses her daily environment, indoors and out, quietly searching for evidence of all that gets left behind, of the stories told and identities revealed by the lives and cycles of nature and of the human beings that inhabit this land. She holds a Master of Fine Arts degree, with deep training in the academic tradition of figurative sculpture and mold-making. She was taught the art of sewing from her mother and grandmothers from a young age. Denise combines her cumulative experiences to create site-specific installations incorporating traditional techniques with natural processes, often creating one-day projects within nature which speak to our human excess and neglect, the strength and frailty of nature and the places where these things intersect and converge. Among many other things, she makes work that comments on mortality, the human desire to control the uncontrollable, acts of futility, and raising a family in a culture of commodified fear, and on being human in a fragile world. 

Katherine Freer

Katherine Freer is a multimedia designer working in theater, installation, and film. Her work is driven by the love of storytelling and belief in its power to shift reality. Her background in narrative film, documentary, animation, and computer science combine to generate work that is not only aesthetically beautiful, but pushes convention boundaries. Frequent collaborators include Liz Lerman, Ping Chong, Tim Bond, Kamilah Forbes, Stein | Holum Projects, Talvin Wilks, and Tamilla Woodard. In addition to designing for the stage, Katherine’s installation work has been presented at museums and galleries around the world including: The Metropolitan museum of Art, the Smithsonian National Building Museum, and the Berlin Jewish Museum. Katherine currently teaches at the New School, University of the Arts, and is a teaching artist with Roundabout Education. She is a proud member of United Scenic Artists Local USA 829, Wingspace Theatrical Design, and a founding member of Imaginary Media. For more info, portfolio, and full production history please visit:


Gifts for the River is sponsored by the Olga J. and G. Roland Denison Visiting Professorship of Native American Studies​ within the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at Central Michigan University.