In April 2023, Brady Schwind, Executive Director of The Arts of Imagination Foundation, traveled to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to lead a guest lecture exploring how we look at art and timeless stories through the lens of different cultural perspectives.

To illustrate the conversation, Schwind brought with him designer Tom H. John’s original scenic renderings for the 1975 Broadway premiere of The Wiz, allowing students the opportunity for a first hand experience.

The brainchild of an ambitious, but untried radio DJ named Ken Harper, The Wiz had a troubled period of development before arriving on Broadway, where it ultimately won seven Tony Awards and a Grammy for Best Original Cast Recording. The musical is considered a landmark accomplishment, and culturally significant for its success in presenting a traditional fairy tale through the African American experience.

Schwind lectured on the history of The Wiz and the divisive reaction that initially greeted it, leaning into the question: How do we, as a culture, continue to create and or recreate our stories, which for many suggest our heritage, our culture and our identity?  

​Students were invited to explore the show’s central theme of ‘home’ in the designs, and to imagine symbols and ideas that might represent the story being told today through their own specific cultural experiences and identities.

Over a hundred pieces of Tom John’s original artwork were also digitally scanned during the trip, in anticipation of an immersive virtual reality experience to premiere at UNC’s “Charl-Oz”  Festival in autumn 2024, which will allow viewers to enter 3D representations of the scenery and to embellish it virtually with their own imaginations.

Special thanks to Dr. Janaka Lewis and Dina Massachi for sponsoring The Arts of Imagination Foundation at the University of North Carolina.