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Art class creates gallery in vacant former bookstore and opens show.

The assignment was simple. And yet, anything but.

Professor Tom Bendtsen's advanced sculpture class was tasked this semester with creating not just gallery-quality work but with finding a place in which to show it. The only hitch – students couldn't use an actual gallery.

So the class, consisting of nine fine arts majors, set about to find space – a vacant house, an unused storefront, even an old industrial loft.

What they settled on was space inside Winans Hall, home to the former Rowan Bookstore, a vast canvas with good lighting and open rooms.

"I'm trying to teach students to be pro-active, to not just wait for the gallery system to find them," said Bendtsen, a Toronto native who, as a young artist himself in the 1980s and 90s, found success turning wasted space into gallery space.

He said the established gallery system can be cruel to budding artists who simply want to show their work. A natural progression is that many send queries, collect rejections, and a bright spark slowly goes dark.

But Bendtsen said budding artists don't have to wait to show their work.

"There are great spaces available," he said, "garages over in Philly, empty homes in town, even unused car dealerships on Delsea Drive. They would make a beautiful place to show art – open glass, great lighting and traffic right past the door."

His students' show, titled T.H.A.W., features an eclectic mix of styles including various sculpted pieces, tattoos, an audio-visual display, even a floor-to-ceiling exterior wall with siding, a working window, and 150 square-feet of live sod.

Senior Martel Thompkins calls it "Inside Out or Outside In."

"I don't want to define it," said Thompkins, 30, a senior fine arts major from Mount Laurel. "I thought it would be visually pleasing but want people to think of it what they will."

Ashley Ammann, whose exhibit seeks to bridge the gap between traditional art and tattoo, will tattoo an actual pig's head during the show.

A working tattoo artist in Cape May County, her display includes five designs she tattooed on pig's skin and mounted under glass.

"Some people think tattooing isn't art," said Ammann, 23, a junior fine arts major from Cape May. "If I put it in frames, hang it on a wall and put it in an exhibition, is it art then?"

Though students, under Prof. Bendtsen's direction, chose to create their own gallery for the show, Rowan features three gallery spaces dedicated to student work: the Student Gallery and Black Room in Westby Hall, and the High Street Gallery downtown. Westby also houses the Rowan University Art Gallery, which features the work of professional artists.

Long term plans for Winans include its possible conversion into a new Student Health Center. The bookstore, housed in Winans for decades, migrated to the new Barnes & Noble when it opened on Rowan Boulevard in January.

Senior fine arts major Anthony Algieri said finding unused space and converting it instilled a sense of ownership and pride in the gallery that he wouldn't otherwise have.

"We spent several days moving out old furniture, desks and debris, then spackled, painted, even cleaned some carpets," said Algieri, 22, a senior from Hillsboro. "The assignment was finding non-traditional gallery space and adapting it to the needs of the class and that is what we did."

If you go: Admission is FREE to T.H.A.W. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, from 6-10 in Winans Hall off Route 322 in Glassboro.

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