At the Moss Arts Center, artists don’t show up, perform, and leave.
“We’re a place where artists come to connect with people, share their experiences and insight, and learn more about our community,” said Ruth Waalkes, associate provost for the arts and executive director of the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech.
Programs hosted by the Center for the Arts and the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology, both housed inside the Moss Arts Center, bring new ways for everyone to engage with the arts and the creative process.
In simpler terms, the Moss Arts Center is more than just a building and the Center for the Arts is about more than just selling tickets.
“Central to our work is the idea of community engagement,” Waalkes said. “We work purposefully at the Center for the Arts to bring artists of regional, national, and international prominence who share our passion for learning, discovery, and engagement and embrace the many traditions, cultures, and ideas that reflect the diversity of our world. This exploration and collaboration creates a two-way process where community members can learn from artists and vice versa.”
In particular, the center contributes to Virginia Tech students’ education and provides ways for them to participate in the creative process. This includes everything from special collaborative experiences with visiting artists to student-led programming.
“Attending Center for the Arts’ performances has helped me to personally get in touch with both the Virginia Tech and Blacksburg communities and to learn more about American culture and traditions,” said Mohammed Seyam of Egypt, a doctoral student in computer science. “I’ve seen performances from different places across the world and from different places in the U.S., each with different musical and visual flavors. I appreciate the high-quality and diverse performances that cover a wide area of the international art landscape.”
The center frequently invites student performers and artists to share their talents in conjunction with visiting artists’ activities and to fill the center’s Grand Lobby and other public spaces during events. For example, SalsaTech showed patrons the finer points of salsa dancing, and Dhamaal Dance Team performed the Garba, a form of folk dance from Guajarat, India. Student musicians from the School of Performing Arts and student-led ensembles such as Juxtaposition, Sensations, Expressions, and Soulstice, performed before center events.
The center’s art galleries showcase work from undergraduate and graduate students from the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and other colleges across campus affiliated with the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology. Exhibitions have included traditional and trans-media work, such as kinetic sculptures, and computer-generated, projected imagery.
Engagement events have included master classes with professional dancers and artistic directors, question-and-answer sessions, and talks about creativity and technology in the arts. Students were invited to rehearsals with orchestras, Shakespearean monologue workshops, instrument demonstrations, work reviews, and professional development exercises.
“The master classes and pre-show sessions that have been provided by several artists at the center were new to me,” Seyam said. “I found they provided a good chance to know more about the performers and the show itself and added a lot to my actual show experience. The close interaction between artists and audience in such sessions creates an intimacy between attendants and the performer and provides a complete event experience for the audience.”
Students join faculty and community members to present My Take Talks in the galleries. This series invites people to share their perspectives on the art.
More than 100 student workers, plus graduate assistants, support the center while gaining professional experience. Students can curate programs through an effort spearheaded by Jon Catherwood-Ginn, the center’s partnerships and engagement manager.
“Not only do we want to open our doors to students to participate in engagement activities with visiting and local artists, but we want to create space for them to articulate and realize their own programmatic choices,” Catherwood-Ginn said. “We are working with students as they design performances and events for the center, based on the artists that they’re inspired by and the themes that they would like to explore. That way, students bring their own personal stories into the process while learning how to program within a professional presenting environment.”
Seyam has been helping to develop programming. He said the opportunity, “assures students that the Center for the Arts is a place where students’ voices can be heard, and where students’ suggestions are seriously taken into consideration.”
For more information on this topic, contact Susan Bland at 540-231-1986.
The birth of an exhibition
Graduate assistant Meggin Hicklin takes the reigns on the blog today to share what it’s like on this side of the curtain as we prepare for the upcoming season of visual arts exhibitions in the Moss Arts Center!
It’s a busy and exciting time in the Moss Arts Center galleries. The curatorial staff (which includes me; Margo Crutchfield, our curator; and Briana Blanchard, another curatorial assistant) is hard at work coordinating and researching our upcoming exhibitions.
As a graduate assistant, much of this process is still very new to me, and is always fascinating. I thought I’d share some behind-the-scenes insight on how our gallery team works and, ultimately, how a gallery show is born.
Our exhibitions, like all others, start with an idea—a story. To make a very long job description sound deceptively short, this is the role of a curator. Among many other things, a curator is–chiefly–a storyteller. For example, our upcoming show, Evolving Geometries: Line, Form and Color, tells a story about geometry in modern art: how artists have used rigid mathematical structures in combination with color, scale, or animation to tell stories of their own–stories about everything from music and African textiles to struggles with racial and cultural identity.
Once our curator defines the “story” and the artists she’d like to feature, we begin researching their lives and work. We look for books, articles, and galleries that have featured the artists, as well as information on interpretations of and influences on their art. The curator chooses specific works of art and we contact galleries and private owners to request loans. Art loans are a major component of our work here. The visual arts spaces in the Moss Arts Center are galleries, not dedicated museum spaces–meaning we do not house a collection of works like other institutions (Richmond’s Virginia Museum of Fine Art and Roanoke’s Taubman Museum of Art are some nearby institutions with great collections), but rather we borrow art from other parties.
Exhibiting works on loan is a tremendous responsibility, whether it’s work from a well-known artist or from local school children. Throughout the exhibition, including the time during which work is unpacked, hung, or repacked for shipping, we are the caretakers of irreplaceable objects. While the center is insured, the ethical and–at times–emotional pressure to protect such beautiful things weighs heavily on the staff. But with this pressure also comes great joy. I tell friends that working in a gallery is like having Christmas or a birthday over and over, all year long. The work arrives and we “unwrap” it, oohing and ahhhing over each piece. We then work tirelessly for days to paint and prepare the gallery spaces, arrange and hang the work, and then meticulously clean and fine-tune until the final exhibition looks pristine and effortless. I can tell you from firsthand experience—a lot of work goes into these shows.
Nothing compares to the moment a show opens to the public. While we’ve worked on it for months in advance and stared at it for days as we straightened paintings, patched holes and hung labels, there is something very special about sharing it with our visitors. People begin to see the story told by each artist as interpreted by our curator, then further interpreted by the exhibition design, including paint colors, lighting, and arrangement, and finally (and most importantly), visitors help create a new story with their own interpretations and reactions to the work. Amazing.
Then, much like Christmas or a party, the time comes to pack everything away. It is always bittersweet, saying goodbye to beautiful things, but as the walls once again become bare and white, you become anxious for the next show. Strangely enough, an empty gallery can be almost as inspiring as a full one—it is a magical space. I think of the Room of Requirement in the Harry Potter novels–an enchanted space that, with thought and focus, will become what it wants and needs to be. It’s remarkable what our galleries can do.
As we prepare for Evolving Geometries: Line, Form and Color (which opens Sept. 25 and, as of today, includes booking travel arrangements for visiting artists and designing our gallery brochure), we hope you’ll visit us for Collegiate Legacy: Emeritus Faculty Exhibition, presented by the College of Architecture and Urban Studies (CAUS) to celebrate their 50th anniversary, on view from August 21 through September 14.
Want to know more about how we create our visual arts exhibitions? Follow the Center for the Arts on Twitter (@artscenteratvt) for information on #AskaCurator Day, September 17.