New Gallery for Student Artists

The Saint Mary's campus now has an art gallery where students can both display their work and gain experience as curators of exhibits. Located in the Brother Cornelius Art Center, the approximately 300 square-foot student art gallery opened its doors on January 8. The gallery extends student art exhibits beyond an annual show in the College's Hearst Art Gallery.

Currently, the new space features the photography of students who were enrolled in visiting artist Mariella Poli's class during the fall semester. The work reflects Poli's focus on photography in a social context, capturing the students' perspectives on such topics as homelessness, images of human perfection in advertising, diversity in secondary schools, public and private space in a fire station, and the nature of a suburban community. Students accompanied their work with artists' statements.

"This college has prepared the students for critical thinking, and this is the result," says Poli, who also has taught at the San Francisco Art Institute and California College of the Arts, and has shown her own photography internationally.

Only one of the thirteen Saint Mary's student artists is an art major, and none had taken a photography course before. Poli readied the students for their projects through readings on the history of photography, in particular exposing them to photographers who tackled societal concerns throughout the twentieth century. The class also went to San Francisco for lectures, museum tours, and visits to social service organizations. Poli taught the students the basic technical skills of photography and challenged them to propose a project that sparked their interest. She offered guidance and, with the entire class, critiqued individual students' progress.

"We all started out with a broad picture of what we wanted to do. Our photographs transformed themselves into works of art. It was about a five-step process. We had ideas, but we didn't know how to explain them through photography," says senior Rich Castle, the lone art major in the class, who used architectural images of San Francisco's North Beach and Chinatown neighborhoods to portray the city's diversity.

Castle was the first student artist to see the projects on display. He says, "This gallery is very important. It makes our work significant. We have a place to show our work and present ourselves."

The photography exhibit will be on view through February. Each year, the gallery will present six shows featuring work in different media. According to Professor Ray Beldner, members of the student art club will generate and solicit ideas, prepare juried shows, and mount the exhibits, with his and Professor Anna Novakov's assistance available as needed.

"It's a new beginning for the art club," said senior Tiffany Record, the club's co-president, during the gallery's opening reception. "To see the enthusiasm of faculty and staff here has been really encouraging. I'm very excited."

-- by Amy DerBedrosian
College Communications