It’s not everyday that buying a house from someone leads to a fellowship for a one-of-a-kind Phd Program, but that is exactly what happened to Dr. Jonathan Fineberg. Fineberg created and is the director of the PhD Program in Creativity for the University of Arts in Philadelphia. He bought a house and in speaking with the seller learned that it was Questlove’s Manager, Shawn Gee. Little did he know that buying the house would lead to The Balvenie Fellowship in partnership with Oscar-winning Questlove and the University of Arts.
“I created this PhD program because we’re still using a five hundred year old model. It hasn’t really changed. It’s great for people who want to be very focused in a narrow kind of way and they know what the field is,” says Fineberg.
The program focuses on exploring creativity in various fields including arts, humanities, sciences and social sciences. The students in the program are charged with researching how creativity is fostered in each field. They are challenged with finding out how ideas come together to create something. What happens in your brain when you’re being creative? What causes it?
This PhD program is unlike any other not just because of its subject matter, but also because of its execution. It is a low-residency, dissertation only program that only requires three years to complete. Most PhD programs require six or seven years to complete. For that reason, the program chooses students that already have training or professional experience in their field.
“We start with accomplished people who are already professional researchers and very good at doing something creative. We use group critique and other ideas from art school practice. We try to break down the hierarchy of conventional thinking of whatever their field happens to be and create a committee for them from all over the world,” says Fineberg. There are no tests or exams in this program. It encourages its students to focus on researching for their dissertation and seeking advice from their dissertation committee, composed of three people who are experts in the students’ field of study.
Fineberg is very passionate about this program. Upon meeting Gee, he explained that he read Questlove’s book “Creative Quest” and even assigned it to his students.
“’Creative Quest’ is one of the most interesting books about creativity that I’ve ever read. He’s so honest and smart about what he is doing. I thought my students really need to read this,” says Fineberg.
He felt Questlove was in sync with the program and wanted to speak with him, that is how the Balvenie Fellowship came to fruition. Questlove and his team saw an opportunity to tie this PhD program in Creativity to their program with The Balvenie, a single malt scotch whiskey distillery. The program, appropriately titled “Quest For Craft,” has the long-term mission to showcase the convergence of craft and creativity. It’s meant to highlight how uniqueness and creativity can be used in not only creating music, as Questlove does, but also in distilling scotch whisky, as Balvenie does. The scholarship program in this PhD program also supports that partnership.
This creative scholarship, “The Balvenie Fellowship,” offers its recipient a fully funded three-year program in the PhD program of Creativity that begins in June of 2022. Apart from the intensive two week summer immersion and long-weekend visits, all course work will be completed via remote learning. The first-ever recipient of this fellowship is a saxophonist James Brandon Lewis. He is a renowned saxophonist, composer and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. Come June, he will embark on this three-year program where he’ll bolster his studies in the intersection of molecular biology and music through the lens of art, life and philosophy.
Questlove says, “We’re honored to be granting this scholarship to James Brandon Lewis, who is already a well-established and incredible saxophonist. I’m looking forward to seeing what he achieves, while honing his craft in my hometown of Philadelphia, and the impact he will have on the music community.”
Greg Levine, the Vice President of Marketing for The Balvenie USA says “As the union between The Balvenie and Questlove is centered around the creative process and the many forms it takes, we’re always looking to uplift others who are refining their own craft in new and exciting ways, which makes James Brandon Lewis the perfect candidate for the PhD program.”