White space, or a lack there of, is not a new complaint from young artists struggling to display their bodies of work. That dialogue is as old as the art form itself. But in an institute of higher learning, exhibition space is less a luxury than it is a necessity for any student artist’s education.
“If you are going to go into art, [exhibitions] are what you have to work on [in school],” senior Art Studio major Miwa Matreyek said. “It is very important that every art student should at least take part in, or have their own, studio show. For that, there isn’t enough gallery space [on campus]”
At UCSB, both the Art Studio Dept. and the College of Creative Studies administer galleries that are made available to students. The room is limited, however, and by Spring Quarter, when students have built up a large collection of work throughout the year, there is simply not enough space to display it all.
Gallery 1434, the student-run exhibition hall operated under the Art Studio Dept., must prioritize pieces submitted, giving preference to graduate students and upperclassmen. Many student artists are left to find alternate places on campus to show their work.
“[A]t least toward the end of the year, there is a definite increase in demand for space,” senior Art Studio major Cory Podielski said. “But being at the university there is a lot of interesting potential. I know of people who have gone to other departments and asked to have shows there and [the departments] have been really receptive. … Of course, more space would be wonderful.”
Podielski ran Gallery1434 last year as a student volunteer, her frustration with the position stemmed from a lack of department assistance, especially in publicizing the gallery itself. As a result, Gallery 1434 remains somewhat of a diamond in the rough – most UCSB students remain unaware of its presence. Podielski found it a near impossible task to juggle school commitments with a desire to run the space effectively.
“It is so hard because it is a student-run gallery,” Podielski said. “I didn’t get much help from any faculty. It was really hard getting people motivated. Plus, you’re going to school fulltime. [Initially] I was so excited [about running the gallery]. I thought we could make a website and do all this promotion, but when you have a 10-page paper due you’re not going to do a website.
Podielski believes that hiring a non-student may be the best way the Art Studio Dept. could help promote student exhibition space.
“I feel like [the gallery] could be a powerhouse aspect of the art department,” she said. “But [right now] it’s not.”
Lack of assistance and time constraints also plague this year’s Gallery 1434 student organizer. Joy Davis, a senior Art Studio major, has held the position since the start of the school year. She has had little time or resources to properly promoting the gallery campuswide.
“I think a lot of people don’t know about [Gallery 1434], especially a lot of the new students on campus,” Davis said. “I’ve put up a few flyers, but pretty much just around the Art [Studio] Dept. … It’s really a lot of word-of-mouth.”
In CCS, students also have access to limited gallery space. But demand continues to surpass supply. Jane Mulfinger, a faculty member in both CCS and the Art Studio Dept., is teaching several classes that examine the relationship between artist and space. Students from her Proportional Analysis class this quarter have been involved in a project to create mobile exhibition space.
“It is a pilot program trying to address the problem of not only there not being enough space, but also the idea that art can be seen in open spaces,” Mulfinger said. “This particular program is all about students taking on the responsibility of finding open spaces, working within the confines of different structures. But then also, where possible, finding the funding to construct [spaces]. So part of the idea behind the mobile exhibition space, isn’t just plonking bits of art wherever we want to on the campus; it’s about the mobility of art and how it could be more actively seen in different places.”
The mobile art space will be constructed by the end of the quarter. But this is no gallery-sized endeavor.
“[The space] is small. It is five and a half by nine feet and about seven feet high,” Mulfinger said. “I’m hoping the small size will be an advantage.”
Mulfinger’s class next quarter, Mobile Works, will be devoted to making the artwork that appears on campus. She also hopes to gain funding for more mobile exhibition space projects. While Mulfinger accepts that gallery area is limited on campus, she’s heard these cries before. And as necessity is the mother of invention, Mulfinger believes students should accept the limitations and adapt to alternative display spaces.
The Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum (SBCAF) is one of the few professional galleries downtown that devotes white space to local artists. The Norton Gallery, one of SBCAF’s three exhibition halls, only accepts work from artists in the tri-counties area. It offers three one-person shows per year and the selection of work is made by an outside jury.
“Traditionally, we have had a lot of UCSB grad students get shows,” SBCAF Assistant Director Rita Ferri said. “[The SBCAF] is actually probably where most UCSB students show [their work downtown]. … It is especially good for students because we get an outside curator from usually Los Angeles or San Francisco.”
With so few shows a year, however, undergraduate art students are likely to be left out in the cold.
“It’s always hard for artists,” Ferri said. “But I think in Santa Barbara it is especially hard … because we do not have a lot of art galleries due to [high property prices]. Most of our galleries are combination frame-shops so they can survive. We have just lost most of our great galleries because people don’t tend to buy art in Santa Barbara; they tend to go to Los Angeles or New York. It has really hurt the market for artists.”
Ferri believes young artists can be very creative about the way they display their art and points to the numerous alternative spaces popping up in the most unlikely places – restaurants, coffee shops and, perhaps most surprisingly, bars and cocktail lounges.
Velvet Jones is one such venue. The management of that nightclub has invested in the concept of a “Fusion” night every Tuesday. The evening aims to expand the traditional concept of a bar and focus greater attention on local artists.
“We are fusing literary art, visual art and performance art – all in the same night,” Craig Jenkins, a partner in Velvet Jones, said. “We want to offer more than just being a regular watering hole on State Street. We want to bring out more of an eclectic crowd, with more diverse interests – that’s what we are shooting for.”
“Fusion” began during the summer; it has continued and evolved this fall. Jenkins explained that the concept is to incorporate live music with poetry readings and art shows to produce something wholly original and full of energy. Previous nights have included liquid animation and live art performances – an artist once worked on a canvas up in the window through the course of the evening, before it was eventually sold.
“We’re a display space for local artists and a forum for local [performers] to come out and do either poetry or freestyle or play bass or play congas, or what ever they want to do, over the deejays that just bring up the back beats,” Jenkins said. “Basically the focus is on the art and not just the same ten songs you hear in every bar any night of the week.”
While these alternative spaces offer exciting opportunities for young artists, there are definite drawbacks. Matreyek, who had several pieces displayed in “Fusion” this summer, is concerned that the context of these venues distorts the goal of the artist.
“Dealing with that context is a good experience,” Matreyek said. “But if you want your art to be seen standing on its own, I think you really need gallery space – with those white walls. Then all that the audience sees is your art.”