The Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX

Local News

November 5, 2013

Students work to bring culture close to home with upcoming projects

HUNTSVILLE — Nineteenth century writer Henry David Thoreau once said, “This world is but a canvas to our imagination.”

Huntsville, too, is a canvas for the imaginations of Sam Houston State University art students; sometimes metaphorically, and, and once a year, literally.  

For the past two years, members of SHSU’s Student Art Association have taken to downtown Huntsville, just blocks from campus, using their pieces to decorate storefronts, coloring sidewalks and alleys, and painting murals for their “Art Walk.”  

The project works to “bridge the gap” between SHSU and Huntsville by using the vibrant and thriving arts communities of both as a source of connection, according to alumnus and past SAA treasurer Josh Yates.

“Art is a common ground where people of all disciplines can come together and go beyond traditional definitions of how they understand things through the use of visual communication,” he said.

When this year’s Art Walk pieces will be installed for the Nov. 11-16 exhibition, it will be the culmination of a lot of hard work on the parts of SHSU’s SAA members, who do more than just painting.

During the event, artwork installations will transform several old storefront windows of the historicAvon Theater/McAdams Dry Goods Store, located at 1215 Sam Houston Ave., where the exhibit reception will be on Friday night (Nov. 15).

In addition to the exhibit inside the building, live performances and art projections will be in the alleyway.

Combined, the reception and alleyway activities are the perfect venue for people to meet with the artists, ask questions or offer feedback, according to the artists involved.

SAA officer Luis Gaitan is pleased with the diversity of projects that will be presented.

“We are displaying art work from all mediums, from on-site specific installations, to live art performances,sculptures, drawings, paintings, animations, and video projections,” he said.

Behind the scenes, the SAA dedicates long hours to planning, organizing, and promoting the Art Walk, and students utilize more than just their creative skills to accomplish their goals.

According to SAA treasurer Katy Strouse every officer is involved in pulling the Art Walk together, from publicizing the event, to planning and implementing the installation and de-installation, to curating the artwork to be presented, and meeting with diverse student organizations to increase participation.

“The Art Walk is a great opportunity for the students of Sam Houston State University to get our work outside of the art department and into the community of Huntsville,” said Emelia Bates, SAA president.

Yates, who was part of the Art Walk in 2011 and 2012 and plans to continue his participation this year, said he values the skills he acquired through the event, which emphasizes and allows students to put into practice what they are learning in the classroom, from working with a team, organizational skills, etiquette, maintaining a cohesive campaign, and even packaging everything together.

 “Showing work in the first Art Walk was incredibly exciting. It was my first exhibition off campus and it offered a great learning experience that undoubtedly helped me grow as an artist,” he said. “The challenges of proposing, submitting and executing a public work of art were new to me, and these processes are vital to a life as a practicing artist.”

Likewise, the Art Walk provides an opportunity for community engagement. As students show community members their work, they’re also talking about the programs offered by SHSU’s art department, and as community members view and discuss those pieces, students are able to get feedback on their work and compare their craft to that of other students.

“It is nice to have proof that what I do as an artist is respectable and tangible in the sense that this event is open to the public to see what we have been doing in the art department,” Strouse said.

Students also gain valuable insights to the inner workings of the world of art and practical experience with skills they will use as professional artists.

“The Art Walk is a great opportunity from beginning to end for the students,” said Katelyn Newman, SAA vice president. “It allows them to practice applying for galleries and they will learn how to install their own work.”

The whole process, according to Yates, fuels a sense of competition between students, which “sparks creativity and challenges people to do better.”

Approximately 50 people attended the first Art Walk in 2011, and by 2012 word had spread and attendance had jumped to more than 200.

Building upon this growing interest, the art department will go a step further in bringing its work into the community by opening a new, off-campus Gaddis Geeslin Satellite Gallery, an extension of the Gaddis Geeslin Gallery on campus. Slated to open early in the spring, the 1,450-square-foot-gallery will be located in the downtown square area, at 1216 University Ave.

The Satellite Gallery project began when art faculty and students recognized the need for more exhibit space.

In balancing outside national and international artists who exhibit in the on-campus 3G and the space reserved for specific classes, the opportunities for students to exhibit their work was limited.

“Last spring I proposed the idea of seeking out off-campus gallery space and the idea was greatly supported by the gallery committee and the university administration,” said assistant art professor Annie Strader, who is also the SAA faculty adviser and gallery coordinator. “With the Art Walk event happening over the past few years, the downtown area seemed like a natural place to open a student gallery.

“This downtown location will reach a larger and different audience and will provide a valuable source of cultural enrichment to the greater community of Huntsville,” she said.

Bates said students are excited about the future Satellite Gallery, seeing it as a great opportunity for SHSU students and SAA in particular.

“It will be a student-run gallery that only shows student work. Just the addition of space is amazing, but coupling the added space with the location makes it even better,” Bates said. “Students will have a year round chance to showcase their work to the people of Huntsville in the center of town. The Satellite Gallery will also feel different because it is not tucked safely away within the walls of the art department. It will be a small taste of the real world outside of school.”

Strader, too, is very happy about the efforts of the Art Walk and the potential the upcoming Satellite Gallery opening has for reaching out to the community as an audience.

“Students get excited when they are part of an event like this—to exhibit work outside of the classroom is a very rewarding experience for emerging artists and I think the community gets equally excited about being part of what these student artists are doing,” she said. “The students and faculty are interested in participating in the local arts community and helping to build an increasingly active, vital and diverse creative community in Huntsville and at SHSU.

“It’s exhilarating to see the gallery and the Art Walk come together. I think the Satellite Gallery will benefit the students and community in many ways through providing a dedicated and visible venue for dialogue and engagement with contemporary visual art,” she said. “I love working with the students to make the Art Walk event happen and each year it grows and changes into a new thing. I enjoy being part of an event that is fluid and able to adapt each year depending on our student body and how they envision it. The students have great ideas and vision, my role is really to advise, facilitate and to try to stay out of their way.”

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