Gavin Steingo Named 2024-25 Getty Research Institute Scholar

The Department of Music is excited to announce that Gavin Steingo, Professor of Music and Director of Undergraduate Studies, received a prestigious year-long fellowship at the Getty Research Institute (GRI) in Los Angeles, California from September 2024 – June 2025. The Getty Scholars Program mission supports researchers in advancing knowledge of the arts and humanities and producing cutting-edge scholarships that contribute to the understanding and preservation of cultural heritage. While in residence, Steingo will spend significant time at one of the world’s premier art history collections at the Getty Center and contribute to an international community committed to intellectual exploration, exchanging from all over the US and beyond. 

Steingo’s project titled Songful Creatures: Anti-Whaling Activism, Environmentalism, and the Avant-Garde, investigates the transformative role of avant-garde artists (particularly musicians) in the history of environmentalism. Specifically, it explores how the discovery and popularization of whale song played a pivotal role in environmental activism and policy development in the 1970s. The groundbreaking research and recording by Roger Payne and Scott McVay demonstrated that whale phonation could be considered as songs, which significantly contributed to the battle against the whaling industry and the subsequent passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972. This project goes beyond conventional narratives that focus on scientists and policy makers, asserting that the mobilization of whale song would not have been possible without the contributions of avant-garde artists who both actively participated in, and profoundly shaped the discourse surrounding, environmental activism. The project also suggests that the conceptualization of “song” and “music” by marine biologists was conservative compared to the avant-garde’s radical reappraisal of music. By highlighting the crucial involvement of artists such as Paul Winter and David Tudor in the formation of environmental activism, this project shed lights on the history of environmentalism and raises questions about music history and animal communication.

“The incoming scholars were chosen from a highly competitive pool of applicants,” says Alexa Sekyra, head of the Scholars Program at the GRI. “They bring a range of expertise and treat varied topics, such as waning biodiversity as reflected in art, the exploration of lost cultures and cultural heritage, and the interpretation of endangered knowledge. While in residence, the scholars are a vibrant part of the Getty community. We eagerly anticipate their insights and ideas and look forward to sharing our resources and expertise with them. One of the major goals of the Scholars Program is the creation of a global network which allows scholarly exchanges beyond borders. Many former scholars testify to how invigorating and productive such a creative circle can be.”

Learn more about the Getty Institute Announcement here.

All News