Student Work Takes Center Stage at Unleashed 2023

Unleashed 2023 took place at Columbia College Chicago on November 30, showcasing extraordinary student talent and raising more than $700,000 in scholarships. Departing from the traditional fundraiser format, the Student Center transformed into a multi-floor immersive arts showcase, exploring the theme of "Connecting" across various creative disciplines.

On Thursday, November 30, the Columbia College Chicago community assembled at the Student Center for Unleashed 2023, the second annual student-directed fundraiser benefiting Persistence Scholarships. More than 300 guests, along with students, faculty, staff, and friends of the college gathered to witness the creativity and event planning skills of the Columbia student body.  

In an intentional departure from the traditional fundraiser model, all five floors of the Student Center were transformed into an immersive arts showcase. Student activations from a variety of creative disciplines were on display, including Fashion Studies, Photography, English and Creative Writing, Interactive Arts and Media, Art | Design, Music, Theatre, Danceand Cinema and Television Arts. The theme, "Connecting," explored the convergence of the natural environment, technology, arts and culture, and community. 

Aligned with Columbia’s mission of providing industry-related experiences, students from the Business and Entrepreneurship Event Management Practicum worked with more than 175 student participants from 11 academic departments and programs to produce the event.  

"In the practicum, our students are not just organizing events; they're creating a connection between what they learn and the real world,” said Mary Filice, Associate Professor of Arts Management in the Department of Business and Entrepreneurship. “Our students are making connections, fostering collaboration, and translating classroom knowledge into industry-related skills. The outcome is not just successful events, but a collective journey of learning and collaborative achievement." 

That collaborative spirit was on full display during the “Exquisite Corpse” collective writing activation hosted by English and Creative Writing students. In the traditional parlor game, invented by French surrealists in 1925, participants take turns writing or drawing on a sheet of paper, folding it to conceal their contribution, and then passing it to the next person. The name was derived from the first resulting phrase, “le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau” or “the exquisite corpse will drink the new wine.”  

In the Unleashed version, explained senior Journalism major Justice Petersen, participants chose a writing prompt from a bowl, then passed it to a student sitting in a nearby conference room. The student wrote a few lines of prose based on the prompt and then passed it to the next student, who repeated the process using a different prompt. The writing was displayed on a large screen and onlookers watched the collaborative story take shape in real time.  

When asked what she hoped audiences would derive from the activation, Petersen said, “I'm excited for people to see what Columbia students do. You can picture art students, but I think to witness them working on their craft in real time is a unique experience, especially for writers.” 

Emma Broun, a graduate student in Columbia’s Arts, Entertainment, and Media Management (MAM) program who was assisting with the Exquisite Corpse activation, mentioned that since she plans to go into fundraising, being involved in the Unleashed planning process has been particularly insightful. “I really got a hands-on look at what I want to do in my career,” she said. “Talking to donors is exciting, too. I think many of them come from a corporate world that not a lot of us have entered at this point. I’ve also enjoyed working with the undergrads and collaborating with other grad students to make sure everyone collaborates in the best way. It’s a lot of moving parts coming together.” 

In another area, moving parts were literally coming together during a live virtual reality game demonstration hosted by the Interactive Arts and Media department. Throughout the evening, guests were invited to play the games and provide feedback to the student creators.  

Seniors Leonardo Sanchez and Ardilla Johnson explained their roles in organizing the demonstration and what they hope to gain from the experience. “We created a virtual reality game where the objective is smashing alligators. It’s basically whack-a-mole, but with alligators,” said Sanchez. He explained that his role was creating a simple model (a “gray box” in industry terms) for the game while Game Art majors like Johnson are responsible for the more visual aspects of the game. As Johnson explained, “Leo's role (Game Design) is to make the game feel right. The programmers’ role is to make the game act right, and my role is to make the game look right.”  

From live painting and hip-hop dance battles to fashion shows and musical performances, every corner of the Student Center was aglow and abuzz with creativity and conversation – and supporters of the college were part of the action. In addition to raising more than $700,000, Unleashed 2023 offered attendees a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes preparations, student work, and the impactful stories of those who benefit from Persistence Scholarships. 

In the words of Catherine Day, Senior Manager of Communications for Columbia's Department of Development and Alumni Relations and a key Unleashed organizer, “Unleashed 2023 was more than a celebration; it served as a fundraising initiative for students to overcome obstacles and complete their degrees – while providing tangible results of what students can achieve with a Columbia College Chicago education. We are immensely proud of our students who have poured their creativity and passion into making this event a success.” 

For those unable to attend, there are opportunities to contribute and support the next generation of creative leaders. Learn how to be a part of this student-driven movement by visiting or contacting or (312) 369-7287.