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Gallatin Alumni Receive NYFA Fellowships

Playwright Kristoffer Diaz (’99) and musician Keith Gurland (’86) have each received $7,000 from the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA)

Dec 10, 2013

Kristoffer Diaz and Keith Gurland

From left to right, Kristoffer Diaz and Keith Gurland.


What is the state of the artist after graduation? For two Gallatin alumni, school may be out but business is booming. This year playwright Kristoffer Diaz (’99) and musician Keith Gurland (’86) have each received $7,000 from the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA). “The fellowship is a huge honor,” Diaz says. “There are so many incredibly talented artists in New York City, and to be recognized for an award from such a deep pool is humbling.” Indeed, almost three thousand other artists applied; Diaz and Gurland are two of fewer than a hundred recipients.

“This is the first fellowship I've ever applied for, so I'm batting a thousand,” Gurland says. “I look at it as validation, a nice thumbs-up-and-keep-at-it.” Gurland now plays about two hundred gigs a year, mostly on saxophone. “It has taken me to forty-eight states, twenty-four countries and most of the better oceans,” Gurland says. Diaz, meanwhile, has been named a New York Times Outstanding Playwright, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and a winner of an Obie Award from the Village Voice.

Both Diaz and Gurland got their respective starts at Gallatin. “At Gallatin I was able to devise a schedule that was heavily weighted toward music, but avoided the one-dimensional focus of a music degree,” Gurland says. “If you want to learn not to draw lines, where better than a University Without Walls?” Diaz shares the sentiment. “My education at Gallatin had a massive impact on everything I've done since,” says Diaz, who studied as an undergraduate with Gallatin’s Lenora Champagne before doing his MFA at Tisch. “I'm fascinated by finding connections between seemingly disparate concepts, communities, and art forms.” A similar aesthetic also informs Gurland’s music. “The fewer lines you draw-- nostalgia vs. contemporary, originals vs. covers, pop vs. jazz, commercial vs. artistic-- the more you realize that music is music, and if it's you playing it, it is, to some extent, ‘your music’,” Gurland says. If Gurland exemplifies the virtue of making other music his own, then Diaz exemplifies the companion virtue: sharing his own story with others. “The most rewarding success come whenever someone tells you how your play connects to their own personal story, especially when it doesn't seem like there's any other real connection between the two of you,” Diaz says. “The biggest rewards tend to come in moments like these, where new community is created.” Communities new and old have been formative. “Gallatin taught me to passionately explore subjects that interested me, and then to figure out how they each impacted or reflected each other,” Diaz says. “That mindset has taken me a long way.”

Gurland and Diaz alike have come a long way since Gallatin. Now what is next for them? How will they spend their fellowships? “I have my own compositions, but getting paid to play those is the great challenge,” Gurland says. “What I hope to do is organize a concert at a high-profile venue showcasing my compositions as well as a piece currently being written for me, and record and film it.” Diaz has somewhat lower-profile intentions. “I'm not going to use the money for anything all that sexy,” Diaz says. “It'll go towards office space and childcare.” However prosaic, such things are essential for art and artists. “That's what's important about these types of unrestricted funding sources: all artists have regular, real-life expenses,” Diaz says. “NYFA is helping to ease the stress of dealing with them. It's a huge help.”