Shining a Light on Future Artists

A longtime donor of the Medici Circle, Sheila Peterson, left, supports UCI graduate student Tomoko Ozawa through the Medici Circle program. Photo: Steve Zylius
By Christine Byrd

As a violinist begins to play on stage, UCI graduate student Tomoko Ozawa transforms the solo into a live electronic ensemble piece by manipulating data from the player’s hand movements with computer software. Ozawa is able to collaborate on this experimental strings performance in front of an international audience in Denmark thanks to a gift from a UCI donor.

Over the last few years, more than 170 UCI arts students like Ozawa have received Medici Circle scholarships funded exclusively by community members. The $2,000 donations make a big impact, enabling both undergraduate and graduate students to travel around the globe to attend conferences, conduct research and perform with other artists.

“The Medici Circle program is one of the most unique scholarship programs in the country,” says Stephen Barker, professor and dean of the Claire Trevor School of the Arts. “These awards open doors to life-changing experiences for some of our most ambitious students.” Named after the Medici family of Florence who supported Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, the program allows community benefactors to support UCI’s budding artists.


“I’ve had amazing students share their awesome experiences over the years. I’m so touched to be able to participate in some small way in their lives.” —Sheila Peterson


“In this day and age, it’s so important not to forget about the arts,” says Sheila Peterson, who donates to the Medici Circle year after year. “From the music we play in our car to the design of the car itself, art is all around us.”

Although donors can select which type of artist they want to support, Peterson lets the school choose for her and, as a result, has supported dancers, studio artists, thespians and musicians. One of the students Peterson supported was Ozawa. An accomplished jazz 
pianist and singer, Ozawa came from Japan to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. She went on to earn her master’s at Longy School of Music and then play professionally as a piano accompanist for the Boston Ballet before choosing to pursue a doctorate at UCI’s unique Integrated Composition, Improvisation, and Technology program.

“When artists give birth to their creative work, it takes some time to be accepted, in most cases, so it’s very important that artists get support and space to present their works,” says Ozawa, who composes piano music for UCI dancers in addition to her experiments with technology and string instruments. The Medici Circle scholarship gave her the opportunity to travel abroad and collaborate with artists from around the world on her new music, including improvisation and ways of incorporating technology. 

Each year, donors meet the student artists that their gifts supported, and hear firsthand about their experiences. This is one of Peterson’s favorite parts of the Medici Circle. “I’ve had amazing students share their awesome experiences over the years. I’m so touched to be able to participate in some small way in their lives,” says Peterson. “We have to always encourage the new, the talented and the inspired.”

Medici Circle Patrons

Be a part of transforming the artistic journey of exceptional scholars at Claire Trevor School of the Arts. Your generous gift, of $2,000 or more, to the Medici Circle scholarship program will open doors that would otherwise be out of reach for remarkable students.

Learn more about the Medici Circle program, and how you can get involved, at
Read more impact stories for UCI through the Brilliant Future Campaign website.

Please visit our secure direct giving page and make a gift to support the Medici Circle today!

Make a Gift

CONNECT - Spring 2020

Posted Date: 
Tuesday, February 25, 2020