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The Freedman Gallery serves as a
unique on-campus teaching tool
and learning ground for students.

Makenzie Witter ’14 grew anxious as a small group of visitors inched closer to artist Ana Medieta’s piece, positioned about halfway through the Freedman Gallery’s groundbreaking winter exhibition, “Becoming Male.”

“Makenzie, do you want to talk about this work?” curator Erin Riley-Lopez said during the lunchtime gallery tour.

“Sure,” Witter replied, clasping her hands.

Her voice quivered slightly as she spoke from memory, describing how Medieta explored gender identity as a graduate student in 1972 by having a male friend shave his beard and then applying that hair to her own face. The live performance was captured in a series of striking self-portraits, including a straight-on view of Medieta with her beard, which Witter pointed out to visitors.

As Riley-Lopez ushered everyone to the next piece, Witter smiled, relieved she had made it through another presentation without stumbling over her words or forgetting information.

“Giving tours is helping me with public speaking, and I’m learning how to slow down when explaining works,” said Witter, a curatorial research intern who assisted Riley-Lopez with putting the exhibition together. “I’m interested in arts administration, so this is a really good experience for me. I’m learning so much about everything that is involved with working in a gallery.”

The Art of Teaching

Tucked inside the lower level of Albright’s Center for the Arts, the Freedman Gallery, with its stark white walls and grey cement floor, has become one of Witter’s favorite classrooms on campus.

“Every day, you learn something new here,” she said. “I’m working behind the scenes on details you don’t always think about – research, shipping, loan agreements, registration, condition reports. It’s hands-on. We deal with real-world what-ifs. It’s amazing practice.”

The Freedman Gallery is a unique teaching tool and training ground for art students, who often realize quickly that managing a gallery and installing exhibitions is about more than the artwork, said David Tanner, director of the Center for the Arts. Here, students learn about art administration from soup to nuts, including how to create a cohesive collection, operate a reception area, write descriptions, ship and install pieces, and fill out forms.

“Students are surprised by the paperwork, time and research that is a part of planning a show,” Tanner said. “They are surprised by how much work really goes into what happens at a gallery. A lot of people assume artists bring in their work, and we just hang it on the wall. But there are different concepts like math and science involved.”

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Even hanging work utilizes math, Tanner said, because students need to understand measurements so they can determine how large an artwork is, where the tension on the hanging wire should be placed and how to create the perfect sight line, which is 50 to 60 inches from the floor.

“Having an art gallery on a college campus is a great way to engage students,” said Riley-Lopez, adding that one of her goals is to show students the inner workings of daily gallery operations. “When people and visitors come to the gallery, I’m hoping they are going to learn something, or it will spark interest or dialogue. We want to show students that art is not floating out there by itself. It’s connected to many fields.”

Tanner agreed. The gallery, he said, is an out-of-the-box space that could benefit all of the College’s academic majors. He recalls a program at another college in which criminology students who planned on becoming police officers or FBI agents examined a gallery painting for one minute. They then entered a separate room and had to explain the details of the painting.

“It was using art to get students to think about observation and memory,” he said. “A lot of people on campus think that just art faculty and staff can use the gallery. I want to bust that myth. [The gallery] is vital, and it is very unusual for a college this small to have
that as a resource. It allows us to teach students in a new way. We need to take advantage of that.”

Painting the Gallery’s History

Named after former Albright trustee and alumna Doris Chanin Freedman ’50, who died in 1981, the gallery’s mission is to create, expand and engage a passion for personal expression, individual creativity and intellectual curiosity. It aims to do this through exposure to the highest quality of contemporary artwork by, primarily, living, contemporary American artists.

The Freedman Gallery features between nine and 12 exhibitions annually in the main gallery and the project space. Riley-Lopez

typically organizes the exhibitions, which may include works from Albright’s 1,500-piece collection, loans from private collectors, galleries and museums, or loans and installations that come directly from artists. In addition, student work is featured in the Annual Juried Student Show at the end of the spring semester, and the work of important local and regional artists is highlighted throughout the summer. Admission is free, and private or class tours are available by request.

“The gallery provides exposure to artists,” Tanner said. “That’s something we’ve continued to build on. The scholarly work that goes
along with this is important.”

Art Class

bowlRiley-Lopez said the Freedman Gallery has helped increase interest in Albright’s arts administration and related co-majors, particularly as students learn more about the various career options available. In addition to curatorial interns, the gallery employs students as gallery attendants and uses student volunteers from the College’s art education and arts administration programs to assist with exhibition research, installation and administrative tasks, and in developing and implementing programs such as weekly experimental art labs and summer camps for children.

Following the tour, Witter guided visitors out of the gallery and offered them refreshments – red punch and cookies, which she had arranged on a lobby table. Nearby, Amanda Santiago ’14 staffed the arts-and-craft station, which explored gender identity by encouraging visitors to color, dress and cut out paper dolls.

Santiago, who assists Beth Krumholz, curator of education, with the organization of after-school art labs for area school children and the gallery’s Teens After Dark program, explained that the programs always connect back to the Freedman exhibits.

“I like the educational component of artwork and working handson with the kids,” said Santiago, who also participates in the gallery’s Art and Gardening program, which, in conjunction with Albright’s community garden, fuses art with nature.

“I’m learning about what happens behind the scenes at a gallery, and I’m getting an overview of the entire gallery and available positions. My networking skills are better, and I’m using my Facebook page to market our programs.”

As Witter wrapped up her 150-hour internship with the gallery, she said she’s appreciative to Riley-Lopez for helping her develop a new perspective, especially after being told growing up that “you can’t make a career out of art.”

Witter’s hard work is paying off. Riley-Lopez specially thanked her in the acknowledgements section of the “Becoming Male” catalog, and following graduation this spring, she plans to attend graduate school at the University at Buffalo, where she’ll study arts management with a focus on curator education.

“[The internship] was eye opening,” Witter said. “It’s a lot of work. You have to think of everything. The process is like putting a puzzle together, but I really enjoyed it. It was a great learning experience.”

About Doris Freedman

In 1975, Doris Freedman responded to the College’s capital campaign and pledged a major donation toward the creation of a permanent exhibition space on campus. A proviso of her gift was “…that the works exhibited be of consistent highest quality and that [the program] represents, primarily, living American contemporary artists.” Freedman studied sociology and graduated from Albright College in 1950. She earned a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University and began to focus her attention on culture and the arts. Freedman served as the first director of New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs, president of City Walls, and founder of the Public Art Fund. Each of these organizations focused on making the arts more accessible to the general public.

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