Rowan Gallery's Center for Art & Social Engagement encourages creative approach to research

Rowan Gallery's Center for Art & Social Engagement encourages creative approach to research

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Susan Sterner's "Supermajur" on display at Rowan.
“Here we have the opportunity to emphasize that creativity is tied to research,” says faculty member and art historian Dr. Andrew Hottle in reference to the Center for Art & Social Engagement, a new research-based initiative from Rowan University Art Gallery.
 
An example of this is up and ready for the community to experience. The introductory project, Estoy Por Aquí / I Am Here, is a visual representation of artist Susan Sterner’s ongoing photographic exploration of the challenges and contexts faced by women working in the informal economy of central El Salvador. Represented here by the image entitled “Supermajur,” the artist connects with the concept upon which this endeavor has been built.
 
An outgrowth of The Sister Chapel, the historic feminist art installation now on display in Rowan University’s Westby Hall, the Center will serve as a venue for investigating social issues through arts-based methods, while drawing inspiration from the cooperative spirit of the women’s art movement inherent in the landmark installation.
 
“This idea grew out of a discussion about what we might do to activate the Westby Hall space in a way that would allow art to be an entry point into broader areas of research and study,” says Mary Salvante, Gallery & Exhibitions Programs Director for the Rowan University Art Gallery.
 
Perhaps ironically, the “rebirth” of The Sister Chapel at the university grew out of Hottle’s dedicated academic scholarship on the seemingly-forgotten work.
 
In the spirit of feminist solidarity, artist Ilise Greenstein conceived of a collaborative project in 1974 that would bring her together with 12 other female artists to create a monumental “hall of fame” in which women’s achievements would be presented from a female perspective. Paintings depicting standing female “role models” – contemporary and historical women, deities, conceptual figures – were celebrated and connected in a circular “chapel” honoring this all-female pantheon.
 
Brought together again at Westby Art Gallery in 2016 for its first public exhibition since 1980, the installation is now part of the permanent collection thanks to a generous gift from The Shirley Gorelick Foundation this year (Gorelick, who died in 2000, was one of the artists whose work is part of The Sister Chapel). It now serves as the inspirational foundation for work to be developed through the Center.
 
The Center encourages similar ideas of collaboration and interdisciplinary research that explores diverse and timely social issues through multidisciplinary practices.
 
“We want creative thinking,” notes Hottle. “We want people to bring innovative ideas into the space. We’re interested in the broadest possible applications.”
 
Conceived to welcome a variety of mediums, projects can include photojournalism, film and video, historical ephemera, info-graphic presentations, STEM/STEAM installations, and/or public programming whether from faculty, students, or outside organizations and individuals. Salvante is quick to point out that the work does not have to be an exhibit or exclusively artistic.
 
“It’s a venue that can serve as a work space while doing research that ends with some kind of public event,” adds Salvante. The hope is, however, that the work somehow connects with ideas generated from The Sister Chapel.
 
The themes embodied in the paintings may have their foundations in women’s issues but can lead to investigations of mythology, science, world religions, the LGBTQ community, literature, politics, popular culture, and so much more, providing a broad range of topics through which one can develop their own work.
 
“This is an opportunity for us to work with other departments on campus and engage with communities beyond the campus,” added Salvante. “We hope people use it as a tool in their own areas of study.”
 
The Susan Sterner exhibit, curated by Salvante, is on display in the space through May 10. Sterner’s research into the lives of these women documents their work and circumstances as well as the political and social upheaval that has fed a multigenerational cycle of emigration and fractured families. The objective of this project is to deepen the narrative around these working-class women, their roles in sustaining communities, and their connections to emigration to the United States.
 
The Center for Art & Social Engagement is located in Westby Hall Room 110. For more information, contact Mary Salvante at salvante@rowan.edu. To submit a proposal to the Center, review the guidelines found in the Request for Proposals section at https://sites.rowan.edu/artgallery/center-for-art/about.html. Proposals will be accepted on an on-going basis.