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Assistant Professor of Costume Design Rafael Jaen with one of his creations in the Costume Shop in the new University Hall. (Photo by Colleen Locke)
May 10, 2016

UMass Boston Costume Design Professor to Receive Lifetime Achievement Award


  • Boston

Rafael Jaen, assistant professor of costume design, will receive the Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award from Salem State University tonight.

Jaen has been a practicing costume designer and educator for more than 30 years, the last 3 at UMass Boston.

The award is given to individuals who have made significant contributions to their artistic field and, typically, are also educators and advocates for the next generation of artists. The honor is rotated through the disciplines of theatre, dance, art, music, and creative writing, which Jaen says fits in with what he stands for – an interdisciplinary approach to the arts.

"I was really flattered to get the phone call," Jaen said. "I felt like I was in good company."

He joins a list of previous Lifetime Achievement honorees that includes actress Julie Harris, glass blower Elio Quarisa, and jazz trumpeter Herb Pomeroy.

Jaen says it’s an honor to be able to bring his current students with him on outside projects (the groups he’s worked with locally include the Lyric Stage Company, New Repertory Theater, and BeauJest Moving Theatre Group) and a privilege to costume actors on their way up through the ranks, such as Lauren Nicole Chapman, who was in the Broadway production of Kinky Boots and is now on the national tour.

“The idea is to continually replace myself and to help theatre tell more stories, and that’s what I’m doing here at UMass Boston,” Jaen said.

Jaen says he came to UMass Boston because he wanted to work for a state university, where students would be working in and serving their community. 

"The students were so welcoming and hungry. I really felt like, 'This is perfect. This is what I want to do,'" he said.

Jaen says a costume that stands out over his career is a design for the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.)’s production of No Exit. It was a blue silk chiffon dress that moved like the water it was designed to represent but which also presented some challenges in that it would get caught on the moving stage, or torn by actors trying to maintain their footing.

Jaen has written two books, led multiple workshops, and served for 15 years in various capacities for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Program, another outlet that allows him to mentor young artists. He’s going into his second year as national chair of design, technology, and management.