Student artists raise the visibility of art on campus

by Betty Kim | 10/6/17 1:50am

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by Betty Kim / The Dartmouth Staff

This article was featured in the 2017 Homecoming Issue.

The five monochromatic panels behind the Hopkins Center for the Arts that face the Black Family Visual Arts Center are celebratory in nature. The large-scale “Dartmouth Panels,” as they are officially known, proudly “give a rouse,” as the “Alma Mater” puts it, to public art; they are a colorful tribute affirming the presence of art at Dartmouth. They may also be interpreted as social commentary because their style, simplicity and grace reflect a pride flag.

The “Dartmouth Panels” were created by the late American artist Ellsworth Kelly. Despite the panels’ well-known creator and towering height, many students have never even seen them before.

Tucked behind the Courtyard Cafe and across from the Hood Museum of Art, it’s difficult for students to view these bright panels. This is only one example of the invisibility of art on campus.

According to art history major Olivia Champ ’19, student art is mainly displayed through student initiative and institutional resources provided by the studio art department. However, depending on one’s familiarity with the department, students are not always aware that the department encourages students — even those in introductory classes — to display their artwork.

In Studio Art 15, “Drawing I,” an introductory class that serves as a prerequisite for other studio art classes, many students do not get an opportunity to display their work for public viewing outside of the BVAC. The professors of “Drawing I” often have students display their work near the studio, but such a display is a far cry from having work displayed in more central areas of campus for the majority of students to enjoy, Champ said.

“We spend so much time in the studio — hours working on the projects,” Champ said. “Then we put them up for class critique discussions. But after that, I take down my work and it’s in my portfolio which is still underneath my bed, which has been there since freshman winter. Now I’m a junior and I haven’t really done anything with it.”

Champ said that she understands why student artwork sometimes never comes out of storage. Students in introductory art classes are only beginning to learn skilled techniques, so they may not believe that their artwork is of a caliber deserving of being displayed. However, she said that work from Drawing I can still be high-quality and should also receive a chance to be shown.

Later in her studio art class career, Champ was informed by studio art professor Viktor Witkowski, who taught her in Studio Art 17.18, “Art and Activism,” that students can schedule a time to have art displayed in the BVAC. Student display helpers know how to organize logistics for classes in the studio art department and are trained to help students find the resources they need to display their work.

Champ was able to take advantage of one such opportunity by curating an exhibit of final projects from “Art and Activism,” complete with an opening night show.

“I’ve never done that in any other class,” Champ said. “One room had a lot of natural light, and the other one was a little darker; we had video art in one room and all the sculptures and paintings in the other room. It was a really cool exhibit.”

However, Champ said that while opportunities to display art exist, they are seldom obvious or well communicated. Most exhibitions at the Hopkins Center Garage are temporary, and Champ said that her class’ exhibit was only displayed for a few days at the end of the summer.

Aspiring studio art major Réna King ’20 took opportunity to display her art elsewhere: first at the 2016 Homecoming gallery in Kemeny Hall and second at gender-inclusive fraternity Tabard’s art competition during the spring 2017 term.

King said that she found out about both opportunities through email, and she worked hard to figure out logistics and earn her artwork a spot to be shown. However, she said the experience was “underwhelming” because a majority of the student population did not know about the exhibits and did not talk about them.

She believes that the studio art department at Dartmouth remains relatively invisible mainly because the BVAC is located on the edge of campus, behind the Hop and blocked by construction on the Hood Museum. Marketing and promotion are also lacking.

“There’s no publicity for the arts on campus, and usually what happens is when students do their work, it’s only really showcased in BVAC, which no one really goes to,” King said.

Both Champ and King suggested that high-traffic spaces around campus be used as public exhibition spaces. As a teaching assistant for Engineering Sciences 12, “Design Thinking,” Champ has discussed how to utilize and beautify blank spaces around the campus. For example, she thinks that the blank wall near Collis Café could be decorated with student art or other temporary exhibits.

“It’s a really cool idea of preserving the architectural significance of Dartmouth but also figuring out how to be really creative with the blank spaces and [utilize them] for students to really leave their mark,” Champ said.

King acknowledged that there are only 10 weeks per term to make art, arrange for it to be displayed and have it in the public eye. To solve this, she suggested that students with older pieces from past terms display their art or enter pieces in art competitions. She also suggested that art be displayed in public spaces like Robinson Hall or Dartmouth Hall.

Champ expressed a similar sentiment, suggesting that studio art professors reach out to their students on a termly basis to inform them of shows, allowing students to hear positive feedback from friends, professors and strangers.

“There’s so much creativity around here, and I think the goal of Dartmouth should be having people inspire each other and create new ideas,” Champ said.

Jennie Harlan ’20, who took Drawing I last winter, feels similarly, saying that it would be ideal to have more art displayed on campus, especially because people often do not even visit the BVAC except for a class. She brought up the possibility of having student art in the Office of Admissions, Baker-Berry Library and even the Class of 1953 Commons.

King also suggested the creation of more public student art, like the enigmatic, colorful outdoor sculpture in the shape of a doorway which was featured in front of Baker-Berry Library in the spring of 2017. Students could be seen trying to figure out what the piece was, walking under it and talking pictures with it — an interactive experience. King believes that the majority of Dartmouth students did not know that it was made by a senior studio art major.

“I think [the purpose of the piece] was to disrupt our day-to-day [life] … it definitely worked,” King said.

Other students have been working to make art more visible to prospective students and their families. Maya Moten ’18 is currently working on a project to create an exhibit of student art in McNutt Hall so visitors on campus tours can observe both the talent and seriousness of Dartmouth’s studio art department without having to find the BVAC. The exhibition will be completed in mid-October.

“[The project is] supposed to open up a dialogue so [prospective students] can see this is what students are doing,” Moten said. “Art isn’t necessarily always the thing we focus on [at this] campus, especially … the visual arts,” Moten said.

Champ expressed her support for Moten’s project and its potential to promote student art.

“Sometimes I think Dartmouth is so known for their other academic [programs] that the [studio] art department can be underutilized or not highlighted for how amazing it is,” Champ said. “I think [Moten’s project] is going to be a super amazing way of doing that.”

Champ suggested that people show their art in fraternities and sororities, whether they are affiliated or not. For example, Kappa Delta Epsilon sorority hosted an art showcase featuring pieces that advocate for current social issues. She also pointed at the creativity displayed in murals on interior walls at Panarchy.

“I think [the murals at Panarchy] are super cool traditions because they are adding onto the layers of artwork before you,” Champ said.

Harlan said that she wants to display public art that advocates for social justice, but she hesitates to do so because of lack of support from administration. She also worries about her project being tampered with by people with different beliefs. Harlan believes that College administration could be pressured by alumni not to allow such art exhibits on campus.

“I personally don’t feel like [the] administration would really support something that I do if it’s in conflict with the College,” Harlan said.