JMU Art Professor and Diversity Leader Awarded First Beck Faculty Fellowship

College of Visual and Performing Arts Stories
Susan Zurbrigg Lead

September 3, 2020 - Susan Zurbrigg, a professor of art and painting & drawing area head in the James Madison University School of Art, Design and Art History (SADAH), has been selected by JMU’s College of Visual and Performing Arts as its first Beck Faculty Fellowship recipient. The Fellowship was established by alumni Phillip (’73) and Christina Updike (’73) in memory of her parents Paul and Lillieanna Beck in support of SADAH, where Christina Updike earned a B.S. in art with teaching certification and then worked as visual resources specialist for 38 years before retiring with the staff emerita designation in 2012.

“I remember when Susan joined JMU in 2000,” says Christina Updike. “She has made an impressive impact on her students, her faculty colleagues and the Harrisonburg/Rockingham community.” As a painter and professor, Zurbrigg has engaged meaningfully in the community “to support diversity through workshops and exhibitions,” adds Dr. Kathy Schwartz, director of SADAH. “It is an honor to present her with the 2020–2021 Beck Faculty Fellowship.”  

Zurbrigg is the co-founder and co-facilitator of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham chapter of Coming to the Table, a national group that works together to create a just and truthful society that seeks to heal from the racial wounds of the past. She also serves on the board of the Northeast Neighborhood Association (NENA), a Harrisonburg nonprofit that leads African-American historic and cultural heritage projects.

Zurbrigg is project leader of the Harrisonburg Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) “Changing the Narrative” project funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Virginia Humanities to redress the cultural erasure of African Americans in the Shenandoah Valley. As part of the project, she led a youth workshop that showcased students’ paintings about the black experience in a local exhibition and staged an art intervention with JMU students that memorialized Charlotte Harris, a black woman lynched by a white mob near Harrisonburg in 1878.

Zurbrigg received the JMU President’s Award for Outstanding Contributions to Diversity in 2015. She is a native Chicagoan whose work has been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions both regionally and nationally.

Lillieanna Beck was a prize-winning artist and graduate of the Corcoran School of the Arts & Design. Paul Beck had a 50-year career as a Certified Public Accountant. As visual resources specialist at JMU, Christina Updike envisioned and helped to implement the Madison Digital Image Database (MDID), a digital teaching library of more than 120,000 images; MDID is now an educational tool that is used by over several hundred institutions worldwide to house their own digital images. After graduating with a marketing degree from JMU’s College of Business, Phillip Updike worked for 12 years at WHSV and 30 years in real estate; he is currently an associate of Kline May Realty in Harrisonburg.

The Beck Faculty Fellowship will be presented annually to a full-time faculty member in SADAH who shares a vision for the visual arts in the community. A Fellow must be deeply involved with JMU students, giving them opportunities to learn and thrive, and a leader who advances the visual arts in Harrisonburg City and Rockingham County.

Photo courtesy of, where essays, photos and videos of the TRHT "Changing the Narrative" project can be found.

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Published: Thursday, September 3, 2020

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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