SHU to shutter contemporary art gallery
Published 6:20 pm, Tuesday, November 1, 2011
She may be glued to her laptop as she sits in a corner among the mixed-media works of art that make up the latest exhibit at Sacred Heart University's Gallery of Contemporary Art, but Mareeka Dookie professes to be an art lover.
"The creativity and thoughts and expressions of the art," said Dookie, a work study student at the gallery. "It's not something they are there to tell you about, the artists, so you have to figure it out for yourself."
So it saddened Dookie, a freshman originally from Trinidad, to learn that the Fairfield school plans to close the gallery at the end of the 2011-12 academic year.
"It's crazy. ... They need this. They shouldn't get rid of this," she said.
University officials said in an announcement released this month that the decision to close the 22-year-old gallery was prompted by limited resources and a need to reallocate funds.
Officials at other galleries were surprised by the move.
Jill Hartz, president of the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries, can't think of another example. Even Brandeis University, which two years ago threatened to close its Rose Gallery, backed off the decision.
"For them to eliminate something that is so small in scope of their budget, I think it is really remiss and ironic," said Robbin Zella, curator of the Housatonic Museum of Art at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport.
Zella said she can't understand how Sacred Heart can invest so much in its recently built chapel with a mosaic mural and stained glass window, but eliminate a gallery that allows students to see changing exhibits.
Susan Gunn Bromley, curator at the Norwalk Museum, called the gallery extremely important to the arts in Fairfield County. "I don't think the university understands what a value the gallery is and what a real void will be caused by it closing," said Bromley.
Sacred Heart officials won't say what it costs to run the gallery or what areas are deemed more important. What they will say is the 800-foot, L-shaped space that wraps around a corner of the university's Edgerton Center for Performing Arts will be turned into additional space for the performing arts program.
Sophia Gevas, curator and director of the gallery, said she has been so busy getting shows up and down she has not had a chance to prepare a plan for the university's permanent collection once the gallery closes. The gallery has five shows a year, including a faculty exhibit and a juried student show. Gevas has been with the gallery since it opened and taught at SHU five years before that.
Some college gallery managers say they can be costly to maintain.
Bellarmine must adhere to strict industry standards in terms of security and temperature control for the building. There is also insurance, the cost of transportation for exhibits, and installation costs. Often, the least expensive item is the curator, a cost that can be absorbed by having the person teach as well as curate.
SHU officials said once the gallery closes, the permanent art collection will still be available, placed throughout campus to make it an "integral part of student and faculty" daily life. An audio download will also be available from the school's Heart website for those who want to tour the collection with commentary.
Without someone to curate and explain the art, it just won't be the same, said Bromley, who has been trying to craft a letter that will persuade university officials they have made a mistake. She said a void will be created with the gallery's closing, even though there still will be the Housatonic gallery, a newly remodeled art gallery at the University of Bridgeport, three galleries at Fairfield University, and a number of private galleries in the area.
Bromley said she wonders why another spot on campus can't be found for the gallery and questioned whether the university's new president is an art lover. SHU President John Petillo said he likes art. He called the decision to close the gallery a space issue and said art is prevalent through the university.
Others say it won't be the same. On a recent October morning, Mary Kordak, a gallery educator, met with Damon Testanti, an art teacher at nearby Notre Dame High School. Testanti was coming in the next morning with a group of students to look at and react to works from female artists of South Asia and the Middle East.
Testanti called the impending closing unfortunate.
The following day, one of his students, Daquan Coleman, called the art he saw "emotional." Jonathan Karosy, another Notre Dame student said, the "pictures made me think."
Kordak said students wouldn't have the same reaction viewing the works from a BlackBerry or computer screen.
"You want to touch it, though you are not supposed to. ... Look at the details. You are not going to get that on a hand-held device, no matter how many pixels they put into it," said Kordak, peering up at a floor-to-ceiling piece called "The Island of Palestine III."