Oct 14, 2016
Three days before the grand opening of the Humboldt State Third Street Gallery, director Jack Bentley and a group of Humboldt State student curators are working feverishly but wearing a calm demeanor.
Student curator Alexia Adams measures out a show at the newly opened HSU Third Street Gallery, while student gallery assistant Kelsey Dobo looks on.They’re in the new home of Humboldt State University’s off-campus gallery, which has since opened, on Oct. 1. On the bottom floor of the revamped Greyhound Hotel on Eureka’s Third Street, it opens into a large gallery with muted light from street-facing windows. It’s an elegant, but not ostentatious space, with dark wood floors. The move and remodel have been part of a long effort to find a space with more energy efficiency, better public visibility and a better working space for the students who get hands-on experience in the gallery. Some trim is yet to be finished, and the room smells of paint. Leslie Kenneth Price’s show, “Verano,” is framed on the walls, covered in protective plastic sheeting.
At the back of the room is an entrance into another slightly smaller space with polished concrete floors. This is where four students enrolled in the Art Museum and Gallery Practices program, Juniel Learson, Victor Feyling, Alexia Adams, and Milly Correa, as well as gallery assistant and art history major Kelsey Dobo have gathered with Bentley to discuss today’s job: hanging the second show that will open the new gallery, Gina Tuzzi’s “The New Mother Nature Taking Over.”
Students from the Art Museum and Gallery Practices certificate program are involved in the curatorial development, exhibition design, conservation, and storage of the university’s permanent collection, and work on temporary exhibits at the on-campus Goudi’ni and Reese Bullen galleries, as well as the HSU Third Street Gallery and other venues around the state and the nation, to gain professional experience. Graduates of the program have gone on to jobs at prestigious galleries and museums around the country.
Price is a retired professor, and once taught Tuzzi, who’s a current lecturer in HSU’s Department of Art. The connection between the generations of the two artists makes a fitting theme for the gallery’s inaugural show.
Price and Tuzzi gave the students carte blanche to design the shows. That includes selecting which pieces will make the cut. Other artists can be very hands-on when it comes to displaying their work. “They’ll stand over the students’ shoulders as they work. And that’s OK—that’s part of the experience also,” Bentley says.
Hanging Price’s show was tricky because there were far more pieces than would fit comfortably in the gallery. Over the course of five hours, the students spotted the show, arguing for the pieces they thought should stay or go, deliberating how to curate thematically while supported by the exhibition design. Eventually, before the students start hanging them, it’s unanimous.
Today, the students, with Bentley’s guidance, spot Tuzzi’s show in just about an hour. It was easier, in a way, because they only had to eliminate one piece for space.
This exercise, of course, is nothing new. HSU’s fine art gallery sat in the same First Street building for 19 years, hosting decades’ worth of museum and gallery practices students. Bentley, works with them, guiding the students in the principals, ethics, methods and philosophy of museum practices, the production of curatorial materials to interpret the art and the various tasks necessary to promote, protect, and display art.
Those public materials—essays, videos, and design publications—give students a way to contribute intellectually and creatively to the gallery, and give them tangible project to incorporate into their professional portfolios.
Milly Correa, left, and Victor Feyling, students in the Art Museum and Gallery Practices program, put on white gloves before unpacking artwork.
When it was announced that HSU First Street Gallery would move in May of this year, it was actually the culmination of a years-long search for a new home for the gallery.
The five-month relocation gave students an opportunity to do another layer of gallery work they hadn’t before: the design and construction of temporary gallery walls that’s crucial experience, especially in larger galleries.
For nostalgists, the gallery’s move from its HSU First Street locale may sting a bit. But Bentley says the move is better in many ways.
For one thing, the gallery will realize some energy savings—upwards of 60 percent, Bentley says. Those cost savings will help the environment, and the reduction in energy also fits in with the university’s sustainability mission.
The new building’s display area is slightly smaller, but the new gallery features something they’d previously gone without: a workshop area. Being able to prep shows behind the scenes will make the viewing experience better for visitors, and give students a more realistic taste of the museum experience. In museums, Bentley says, the ideal ratio of workspace to display areas is 60-40.
Finally, Third Street is closer to daily foot traffic, Bentley says. Sure, people knew to seek out HSU First Street Gallery during the arts nights, he says, but HSU Third Street is in the thick of the Old Town commercial district, and they expect more drop-in tourists and community members in the new location.
The long term investment is worthwhile, Bentley says. “From my perspective, the program hasn’t changed. The service to our students is even better amplified. The university is rededicating its commitment to be a cultural anchor in Eureka. Our very presence has an economic stimulus as well. People come to visit then they go out to local shops, restaurants and bars. It’s a good presence.”
If opening night has any bearing, the gallery’s new location didn’t hurt it. Mingling among city and university bigwigs were students, artists and others eager to see the new space and the opening shows.
Students move pieces around the gallery as they envision the final design of Gina Tuzzi’s show, “The New Mother Nature Taking Over.”
If You Go
The HSU Third Street Gallery is open Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., closed Mondays. To learn more about the gallery, visit its website at www.humboldt.edu/first. Price and Tuzzi’s shows will be on display through Nov. 6. For more information on the artists, read about Price’s show here and Tuzzi’s show here.
HSU students also produced a video about Price’s career, one example of the curatorial projects created in the Art Museum and Gallery Practice program. It can be viewed here