by Victoria Ungvarsky
Last night, students, faculty, family and community members packed the Buchwald-Wright Gallery at the Gund Gallery to witness the second part of the senior art exhibition. Many attendees wore stickers reading “Student art shows belong @ Gund Gallery,” in direct defiance of changes planned for the Gallery.
Since the construction of the Gund Gallery in 2012, senior studio art majors have exhibited the full extent of the artwork they created in fulfillment of the senior exercise. Last Thursday, March 26, the Collegian published a news article and two op-eds concerning the changes. These changes included showing selected senior works, rather than all of the pieces, the Gallery and featuring other pieces in smaller “satellite” galleries. Additionally, the Gallery announced a later exhibition date for 2016, citing a desire to allow financially constrained families the opportunity to see the exhibition at the same time as commencement.
Within 24 hours, students, faculty and alumni vocalized their support for student artists having a full show at the gallery. The reaction prompted a statement via email from President Sean Decatur on Friday, March 27 that the senior art exhibition would continue “in full” at the gallery in 2016. Effectively, Decatur reversed the Gallery’s previous announcement.
“I think the core mission of the gallery is absolutely clear in that it’s to enhance the use of visual art in the teaching and learning that goes on at Kenyon,” Decatur said in an interview with the Collegian.
Gund Gallery Director Natalie Marsh declined to comment on this issue.
According to Professor of Art Claudia Esslinger, the Class of 2016 will face a slightly altered show. Rather than two separate engagements at the Gallery, each lasting 10 days, senior studio art majors will show all at once for three weeks at the Gallery. This could mean showing a slightly smaller number of works than in prior years, but not the diminished role originally planned,
The use of this space has been a question since its creation, according to Georgia Nugent, Kenyon’s President at the time of the gallery’s conception. “We knew from the beginning that the role of student and faculty work in the gallery would be complex,” Nugent wrote in an email to the Collegian. “This is primarily because of simple logistics. Although the Gund [Gallery] created a wonderful new space on campus, it is, of course, not an unlimited space. So — as with any space, even classrooms — there will always be a question of how best to utilize it, how best to balance multiple interests and objectives.”
Social media played a crucial role in spreading information about the change in the senior art exercise. On Thursday, Lucas Pastorfield-Li ’15 created a Facebook event titled “A Thousand to One: Supporting Senior Art Majors’ Use of Gund Gallery,” which amassed several hundred attendees. The page features numerous impassioned messages from students, alumni and parents.
Jackie Arkush ’16, a studio art and anthropology double major, posted a change.org petiton to “give the art majors the show they deserve.” As of press time, the petition had over 800 signatures. “We hope it’ll have effects,” Arkush said. “[It’s] always good to have a number to present people with. Another great thing that people have been doing when they sign the petition is, [the petition will] ask you, ‘Why are you signing,’ and people have been writing really heartfelt and great messages on there. So that was part of an unseen side effect.”
Other students took their concerns directly to the administration. Studio art and anthropology double major Caroline Del Giudice ’15 met with Provost Joe Klesner. “I think it was useful to talk to him and I’m happy I did it, just to show that we’re not going to let this die with fixing it for one year,” Del Giudice said. “What we really want is to have something very permanent in writing from the gallery saying that no matter how their program changes or whatever they do in the future … that [the] studio art department always has a space for the senior shows. I think they get it, but they can’t promise anything. … And that’s frustrating, but I understand.”
Students were not the only ones to chime in regarding the senior exhibition’s future. On Friday, Esslinger sent an all-faculty email to articulate her belief in the importance of the space for senior exercises. The email received dozens of responses from other faculty members expressing solidarity with Esslinger’s message. “I basically said, this is a curricular issue,” Esslinger said. “This is not an issue to be decided by the gallery. It’s an issue that has to do with our requirements for our major. They are required to show, in a professional space, a body of work, not just a piece. And I think that’s what upset the faculty quite a bit, that it was a curricular issue that really is the purview of the faculty.” Esslinger also said the Collegian article was the first time she had seen the plans for next year confirmed in writing.
Associate Professor of Art and chair of the art department Read Baldwin spoke positively about the campus support for the art department. “We were just incredibly gratified by the widespread and instantaneous reaction,” he said. “It was really nice to have students as part of the battle because for four years we, … the faculty of the studio art department, have been having to fight this specific battle year after year and suddenly to have it broken wide open and getting such widespread support was very gratifying to us and hopefully will make our job easier in the future.” He also praised Decatur’s quick response to the issue.
While many are pleased with the reaction, several have raised concerns about Decatur’s message. His email specifically cited the “Class of 2016” and did not mention later years. “I think [Decatur] meant to put it to rest,” Esslinger said. “I hope that’s true. It didn’t sound entirely cemented.”
In an interview with the Collegian, Decatur spoke further on the issue. “I hope that we’ll be able to set the schedule for 2017 sometime early next year so that we’re roughly setting it a year in advance,” Decatur said. “The challenging piece is that it’s got to fit in with the scheduling of other uses but still at a time that makes sense for the seniors in the department, so it’s the balance between the right timing.”