Our Story


The mission of The Artist as Citizen Initiative is to create multiple pathways for University students to discover their potential to affect social change as members of local and global communities. We are committed to developing curriculum and community-based learning approaches to arts education that have social advocacy as a core principle.

AasC’s work aligns with PSU’s mission to center social justice and anti-racism, amplify narratives of underrepresented communities, increase civic identity and identify pathways to impact for students. Out teaching, internships, outreach initiatives, community partnerships, and creative response to social justice issues are enriched by the following core values:

  • modeling artistic engagement that highlights intersectionality, reframes narratives, and creates a sense of belonging;
  • increasing understanding of the issues that inhibit the safety of marginalized communities;
  • creating opportunities for dialogue that lead to social, cultural and policy change;
  • cultivating channels through which PSU arts graduates can develop professional connections to our region’s cultural organizations.
  • Building internal and external collaborative partnerships to develop and deliver social justice-centered arts outreach

How we started

The Artist as Citizen began with a conversation between School of Music faculty Darrell Grant and Suzanne Savaria in 2016 who discovered they shared a mutual interest in the same group of questions.

How would it change the way we approach music education if we were to train our students in the social engagement aspect of music at the same core level that we teach them musicianship skills?
What if we tried to cultivate students’ sense of artistic agency, their sense of art as a force for change at the same foundational level from which we teach music theory, ear-training and similar musicianship skills?
We were curious whether, if we did these things, we might encourage young artists — at this early stage in their development — to begin to reflect on their sense of purpose, and their own potential to affect change?

Our initial discussions led to brainstorming sessions with a larger group of faculty, who turned out to be asking similar questions about students from their disciplines. From these ideas came the seeds of a new initiative that we called The Artist as Citizen. Since the first pilot course in Fall 2017, Artist as Citizen has served as a laboratory to examine the intersection of art and social change providing our students with tools to learn, adapt and respond to the issues that impact the shifting landscape of their lives.

Where we are now

AasC collaborates with internal partners to support work on equity and anti-racism, and is currently seeking to establish a new interdisciplinary Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science degree in Social Justice and the arts at Portland State University. AasC currently delivers 24 credits of curriculum, including six credits of undergraduate COTA Artist As Citizen courses, and three UNST Senior Capstone courses in Performing Arts Advocacy. We utilize numerous internal and external collaborative partnerships to deliver social justice-centered arts outreach to K-12 Education, and administer an “Arts Serve the City” internship program. AasC has received funding from the Oregon Community Foundation, The Henry Hillman Foundation, the Robert & Mercedes Eichholz Foundation, and a PSU Reimagine grant.

Who we are

Suzanne Savaria is founding co-Director of the Artist as Citizen Initiative, and a Performing Arts Advocacy and Classical Piano faculty since 2007. She develops curriculum and leads international capstone fieldwork in Spain and Chile, centered on topics of ethnomusicology and identity-formation. Suzanne works to empower students to explore their creativity, discover the importance of their voice and be curious citizens of the global world. Outside of PSU, she directs her own private piano studio. She holds undergraduate and MM degrees in Music from Portland State University.

Suzanne Savaria

Darrell Grant is founding co-Director of the Artist as Citizen Initiative. A former Associate Dire Professor of Music at Portland Statre since 1997, Darrell is a former Associale Director of the School of Music and Theater, and founder of the Leroy Vinnegar Institute at PSU. A pianist, composer, and educator who channels the power of music to make change, Grant has been named Portland Jazz Hero by the Jazz Journalist Association, received a Northwest Regional Emmy, and received a MAP Fund grant and the Governor’s Arts Award. His compositions include 2012 Step by Step: The Ruby Bridges Suite honoring the civil rights icon, The Territory which explores Oregon’s landscape and history, and Sanctuaries -a jazz chamber opera about gentrifi ation and displacement in Portland’s historically Black Albina District, which received a MAP Fund grant and Oregon Community Foundation Creative Heights grant. He holds a B.M from The Eastman School of Music and M.M from the University of Miami.

Darrell Grant

Amanda Singer is Associate Professor in Conflict Resolution at Portland State University, where she also directs the Holocaust and Genocide Studies Project. Her work also involves violence prevention, storytelling as engagement in democratic practice, and the role of creativity in the practice of conflict transformation. Amanda holds advanced degrees in Educational Leadership and in Intercultural Management and brings decades of experience working with diverse communities to heal trauma and to transform conflict. Her courses focus on ethnoreligious conflict, enmification, and peace education.

Amanda Singer

Coty Raven Morris is the Hinckley Visiting Assistant Professor of Choir, Music Education and Social Justice at Portland State University. A sought after clinician throughout the United States, she has presented at educational conferences and professional developments across the country including the American Choral Directors Association, Texas Music Educators Association, and the National Association for Music Education. Coty Raven Morris is the Founder of Being Human Together (BHT), a community utilizing music education to normalize difficult topics including mental health, systemic oppression, diversity, and inclusivity through conversation and connection. She is the recipient of the Hays CISD Linebarger Academic Recognition Award for 2013 & Galena Park ISD’s Dazzling Diamond Award in 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2018 for outstanding mentorship and leadership in her field, Coty holds a B.M in from Texas State University –  San Marcos and an M.M in Choral Conducting from Michigan State University.

Coty Raven Morris