ormerly, the Student Union
Gallery provided arts students with a place to display and sometimes sell their art, with the Student Union taking a small percentage of the monies. When asked where those students are going now, Student Union Interim Director Mike Low responded simply, "I don't know."
Low further explained the reasons for the closing of the gallery, saying that it had nothing to do with the personnel, the students, or the art being submitted.
"The gallery is closed because of one thing: money," said Low. Art graduate student Esther Granata sympathized with Low, saying, "That's the unfortunate part . it (the funding) is not in our hands, so we really can't do anything."
The cuts resulted in the elimination of Karin Erickson's job as the arts coordinator for the Student Union. It also included the termination of her staff which ranged from five to seven students. Under their jurisdiction were the gallery and the second and third floor lounges. These areas constitute the entire display space for all art in the Student Union.
Karin Erickson now works at the Tucson Museum of Art as the membership coordinator. She confirmed the events that caused her dismissal. When asked if it was solely because of money, she said, "That's what I was told."
fter Erickson's termination,
most of the students and other artists scheduled to display their work were not able to because they could not handle the hanging of the show and the subsequent exhibition on their own. However, two shows were held last spring which the artists hung and exhibited themselves.
At the beginning of the fall, another show suffered the consequences of not having a full-time gallery staff. A student committee, comprised entirely of volunteers, had organized a show of children's art from Mexico called "Institudo Cultural Mexican de Tucson Exhibition" which was funded by the Mexican Consulate. The work had been assembled by a woman named Latisha Green.
Less than a week before the show was to open, the head of the student committee, Rosina Catalono, quit because of suffering health and home life. "I thought it was taking too much time from my family. It was just too much," said Catalono.
Consequently, Green was forced to add the finishing touches and be responsible for hanging the art. The exhibit closed three weeks ago. Yet the art is still in the gallery, sitting in boxes waiting to be picked up.
The Student Union Gallery is in limbo right now. On Sept. 20, Jeremy Webb was chosen to replace Catalono as head of the student committee. Webb has picked up where the committee left off and says that he plans to adhere to the calendar Catalono set up. Unfortunately, none of the shows on that calendar will include art by students in the art department.
A graduate arts student who wished to remain anonymous commented in regards to the lack of student art saying that the situation is "awful." She went on to say, "I think it's really negative. I'm all for artists, but the gallery is there for the students to view. Student art should be represented."
The present consensus among students and faculty seems to be that art in the Student Union is vital to campus culture.
A search is still going on for gallery sponsors to make up for the lack of university funding. Saturn Car Co. is the largest corporation that has shown interest. Webb is quite pleased with this possibility and is trying to secure the sponsorship at this time.
Low, Catalono and Joe Sottosanti, assistant manager of the Student Union, all affirm the cultural value of the gallery and the rotundas. Andrew Polk, interim art department head, called it "enormously important." He elaborated on the importance saying, "You can go to Tucson Mall and see a lot of shops that are for profit. Do we want a Student Union that is Tucson Mall? I don't. I think we want a Student Union that creates a stimulating environment and I think that it (the union gallery) would be a big part of that."
esides simply using the gallery
as a showcase for art, it had an educational capacity as well. If art is not on display, then the mission of the Union is not fulfilled and the needs of the students are not being met.
Polk called the Student Union Gallery a "hidden curriculum," saying that the atmosphere the gallery creates is "condusive to expanding people's horizons. It's important. . The mission of the university is to educate students. That doesn't all take place in the classroom. We have an athletics department. We need other departments that help achieve that mission."
Low also believes that the gallery has a very specific mission even beyond the educational and showcase aspects. He doesn't want the art that is put up on the walls of the gallery and lounges to be based on what is popular; he wants it to provoke thought. "There's a place the arts need to be controversial at times . sometimes it sells, sometimes it doesn't sell. That shouldn't be the judgement of its value." Low doesn't think that simply puting up R.C. Gorman because people like R.C. Gorman fulfills the responsibility of the Student Union in that aspect.
Catalono has also said that it is "a vital place to exhibit the work of UA students, as well as other artists."
This is where the student-run committee must now come in. Their reponsibilities will be to jury shows, select exhibits, and provide students on the committee with the experience of an internship. However, Erickson seemed skeptical. "It was a full time job for me and the students that helped me. I'm afraid that the students will be getting in over their heads. There is more to this job than just throwing art on the wall."
Erickson went on to point out that the gallery at Arizona State University is run by a student committee and said "I know that they have had some problems," citing the fact that many artists never talk to the same person twice while setting up a show.
When asked if he thought that the committee will be capable of handling what was a full time job, Webb replied, "I really think so." He also said that he is hoping for 15-20 people to help. "I am going to try to spread out the work between us. It will still be a full time job for me, but I will hopefully be able to distribute the rest of the work evenly."
There is a tremendous void in the Student Union without the gallery, and it isn't just the arts students who miss it. Freshman music major Elizabeth Zacharias said she would like to see a permanent exhibition space in the Student Union. Senior business and public administration major Kirk Sibley echoed that sentiment saying, "I miss it. I liked the gallery."
However, some students seemingly couldn't care less. One student said quite simply "No," and added a disgusted sputter when asked if she missed the gallery. A senior asked the same question answered it with a question: "What's the Student Union Gallery?"
Senior engineering and mathematics major Stephen Hileman took a more subdued view. When asked if he missed the gallery, he said, "That's not a 'yes' or 'no' question. I would say that the walls are a bit bare in the Student Union. I think it would be nice to have it back, but it's not a major thing. It was more for atmosphere than anything else."
et arts majors are anything but
subdued about the gallery. Granata, in her own words, is "unhappy" with the situation surrounding the union gallery. "When I came here," she said, "a student could apply to get shows. Now we only have the 830, 803, and Joseph Gross Galleries. No one else but art majors sees the work at the 830 Gallery because it is so removed from the rest of the university. . So, unless someone is really interested, they're not going to walk all the way over there."
In agreement with Granata, junior art major Aimee Conterato said, "It's an opportunity we (arts students) are missing."
The Joseph Gross Gallery is a new gallery space in the fine arts complex. Its purpose is to complement the educational programming in the art department. It includes art by students, faculty, and artists outside the university.
Web, in an attempt to address this issue of the need for art space in the center of campus, is planning to set up what he calls a "Project Room" that will essentially act as a full time revolving student exhibit. He is hoping to have this up and running by December. However, he is still waiting for all of the details on where and when he can do this.
There is no lack of interest or support for the Student Union Gallery. Low is quick to point out that the Student Union and the art department are getting a "bum rap." "People assume that just because it's (the Student Union Gallery) closed, people aren't committed to it" he said.
Andrew Polk agrees. "I appreciate the commitment there is," he said. However, he added, "I wouldn't mind there being more." Polk also said, "I think it behooves the university to pay more attention to the outstanding stuff going on over here (in the art building)."
Although the situation looks bleak at first , the general consensus at the heart of the issue is hopeful. Sottosanti says that "people are moving." They just haven't quite arrived.
The student committee is getting underway with a calendar of events left by Rosina Catalono that they are planning to follow. Sponsors are being sought by the volunteers, and the administrations of both the arts department and the Student Union are working toward the common goal of the restoration of the Student Union Gallery in all its former glory.
However, as Polk has pointed out, "These things take time." This is a long road that is just beginning to be traveled.
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