Student art deserves a space to be showcased

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • October 29, 2015

At issue: Students open art gallery space on campus to showcase creative work.

Our take: Emerson should redouble its efforts in exhibiting the visual art of undergrads.

A group of sophomores opened an art gallery last weekend for students on campus to showcase their creations. It’s called The Common Room, and it’s a prime example of the initiative Emerson community members take in spearheading creative projects within the college. However, it raises an important question: why did students at an arts and communication school have to open their own space in order to display art? As inherently cool as the idea is, it also indicates the school’s failure to provide an adequate outlet for this kind of work. And if such a place does exist, it certainly isn’t generating the kind of foot traffic The Common Room already has. 

This isn’t to say that student art is not proudly unveiled on some parts of the Boston campus. Locations such as the first floor of the Piano Row building, the Max Lounge, and the fifth floor of the Ansin building near the photography darkroom all exhibit visual artwork produced by Emerson students. But these spaces are scattered, sometimes hard to find, and unknown to much of the student body. Rooms or other locations available to showcase student artwork produced outside of the context of class or a co-curricular activity is limited, and that’s a shame. 

Not only is there minimal dedicated canvas for Emerson students’ artistic creations, but not much is done by the college to publicize this work or its exhibition. The Emerson website’s news page frequently posts about alumni publications and gallery showings, but never seems to feature the works of their current students. The enormous amount of quality projects being produced by students at this school is often ignored and there doesn’t seem to be any good reason why. Even if it were somehow impossible to establish  dedicated spots for student artwork, we could still allow students to decorate the numerous empty walls and areas of campus. Emerson is squandering a vast artistic resource by not promoting their student’s work more proactively.

True, the college curates and creates a handful of spaces for showing art to the public, but there’s a perceived lack of undergraduate involvement. The Huret & Spector Gallery, a public, self-described “locus” for the school’s arts program, frequently exhibits student work, but the majority of the pieces are from artists outside the undergraduate community or from work produced by class projects.

This September, the college launched its Urban Arts Program, an initiative of the school of arts to promote the visual arts as a stake in the school’s portfolio. The reality is that though this turf for imagination exists, there is an exclusive feel and inaccessibility to students who are trying their hand at photography or just picking up paint brushes. Developing artistry requires growth from experimentation, and students ought not to have to be masters to have an opportunity to display their early efforts. Joseph Ketner, the curator-in-residence for the initiative and the Henry and Lois Foster chair in contemporary art theory and practice, said in an article published in the Beacon last week that art in public spaces can transform the lived experience of people who inhabit it. This is already happening on our campus in small doses through vivid, meaningful murals like the one on Walker’s 10th floor. The college experience should offer safe places for young people to engage with different forms of expression. We should celebrate this freedom on the walls of our institution, and showcase inclusivity and creativity.