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Santa Fe Campus Gallery Revitalization: A Work in Progress

October 22, 2018 | By Eve Tolpa

Students laughing in art room
Georgia Foster-Cooper (SF20), left, and Rebecca Sprague (SF19), right, are spearheading the revitalization of the campus gallery.

In a second-floor studio of the Fine Arts Building on St. John’s Santa Fe campus, a half-dozen tables are laden with art supplies: pencils, paints, paper, brushes, scissors, and glue.

A handful of Johnnies are spread out across the room, engrossed in painting, drawing, and collaging, while others stream in and out, picking up materials to create work later, on their own time.

It’s an open-studio event sponsored by the Visual Arts Study Group. The goal? Generating submissions for a fine-arts exhibition to celebrate the reopening of the campus gallery.

Though the gallery space, located on the second floor of the Peterson Student Center, has been inactive for a number of years, Assistant Dean Michael Golluber recalls it being “a place where the community gathered to view and explore the artwork of many of our faculty, staff, and students. Other events besides art openings were held there, and the colorful and rich background of art pieces enhanced the specialness of each event.”

The plan to resuscitate the dormant gallery arose from collective interest among Golluber and the offices of Admissions, Communications, Advancement, and Development.

“One day we all discovered that we separately were fantasizing about bringing the art gallery back to life,” he says.

Step one was finding a student to fill a work-study position created for that purpose—“someone,” says Golluber, “devoted to enhancing the various fine-arts programming we already have, and someone with the vision and energy to bring about quick change.”

That someone turned out to be Georgia Foster-Cooper (SF20). She accepted the job in Fall 2018, after spending six weeks on a Global Pathways Fellowship at the Marchutz School of Fine Arts, in Aix-en-Provence, France. There, students painted every day and exhibited their work in an end-of-session show—an experience that provided her with valuable reference points for spearheading the college’s gallery revitalization project.

Co-running the project is Rebecca Sprague (SF19), who heads the college’s Visual Arts Study Group and has professional art-world experience that includes serving as assistant to the director of the Block Island Historical Society Museum and Gallery in Rhode Island.

“She is technically volunteering her time,” says Foster-Cooper, “but she is, in my opinion, just as officially a part of the gallery project as I am, if not more so, because she has a lot of connections on campus and has a better idea of things that need to be accomplished.”

One of the many tasks facing the duo is evaluating exhibit submissions. Due to space concerns, not every piece that’s submitted will be shown, but criteria for the work itself is fairly loose.

“It’s about somebody putting a lot of thought and a lot of time and really crafting [a piece],” Foster-Cooper says. “We are trying to be open, see what we get, and go from there.”

Adds Sprague, “There’s a range of levels and experience, and I think they should be represented.”

The overriding intention, according to Foster-Cooper, is “putting together a beautiful, cohesive show” featuring pieces that “talk to each other.” Students, faculty, and staff are all invited to participate, and Foster-Cooper offers this encouragement: “Always, always submit. There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

The project co-heads also welcome the input of community members who want to participate in curating the upcoming show and planning future exhibits. “We’re trying to form a larger group of people,” Sprague says. “We want people who really care.”

“The direction the gallery takes is open right now,” says Foster-Cooper. “A lot of it will be shaped by the people who get involved.” She especially hopes to see interest from freshmen and sophomores.

Golluber concurs. “I want the students to be in charge of every aspect of this and to pass their experience and creativity on to younger students as time goes on, for the sake of the continued life of the gallery. The reopening of the gallery is just the beginning of ongoing artistic adventures here at St. John’s.”

The submissions deadline is November 10, and the exhibition is scheduled for 3 to 5 p.m. on November 17.

To submit artwork, get involved, or ask questions, contact Georgia Foster-Cooper at grfostercooper(at)sjc.edu or Rebecca Sprague at rlsprague(at)sjc.edu.