Today, we welcome Jenna Rinalducci to the site to learn more about the Fenwick Gallery at George Mason University–a project that began as a simple fix to cover noise from a construction project and then grew!  ~Erinn

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Library as Incubator Project (LAIP): Tell us a little bit about how your library gallery got started.  What was the original problem you were working to solve?  Why did a gallery option seem like the best solution?

Jennifer Rinaldi (JR): The original idea for the library gallery came about because we are in the midst of a renovation project. In order to counteract the noise and disturbance, we wanted to offer a more pleasant alternative. The main hallway of the first floor initially housed the card catalog and more recently computer workstations. This hallway is the primary passageway to the rest of the library, and we have found that this placement has worked in our favor. Having the gallery in such a public space has helped with security as well.

The first year was spent primarily on administrative issues like creating gallery policies and exhibit release forms. This required working closely with legal consul at the university to make sure all of our documents were in compliance. I also consulted with the Director of the Arts Management Program because they had recently established a gallery on the University’s Arlington campus.

We were able to re-craft an existing graduate student assistantship and use this position for the gallery. We met with administrators from both the School of Art and the College of Visual and Performing Arts and we able to form a partnership. The graduate position is now an awarded position for which they provide six credits of in-state tuition. This is in addition to the salary that the library provides for a Graduate Professional Assistant.

Gallery graduate assistant Ceci Cole Mcinturff interviewing Mason alumni Asma Chaudhary and Stephanie Booth featured in the inaugural exhibit Women’s Voices/Women’s Visions

Gallery graduate assistant Ceci Cole Mcinturff interviewing Mason alumni Asma Chaudhary and Stephanie Booth featured in the inaugural exhibit Women’s Voices/Women’s Visions

LAIP: How did you find work to show?  What kinds of partnerships (obvious or unexpected) did you grow to make your gallery happen?

JR: The inaugural exhibit came about in large part due to our first graduate assistant who had extensive gallery experience and a strong appreciation for the library. She was also the art editor for a graduate journal at the time, and we were able to use artwork that was featured in past journal issues. Some of the work was loaned to us and displayed in cases, on pedestals, or on the walls. However, there were works that we wanted to include but didn’t have in person. For these works, we worked with our print services department to great large, high-quality posters. This first exhibit Women’s Voices/Women’s visions ultimately included work by university alumni, work featured in the graduate student journal, and work by local artists and artists connected to the university.

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We’re continuing to strengthen our partnership with the School of Art. In fact, we’re working with the School of Art and our publishing department in the library to make sure that this work is preserved. For items like online catalog, recorded gallery talks, and interviews, we are in the process of adding these to the library repository. In addition, we are working with the art department to capture work being down around campus. We hope to produce an annual journal chronicling shows by students and faculty. Often times, material is create for these amazing shows but then lost beyond the exhibit dates. We want to help preserve the research that visual artists are creating and share it with a wider audience.

In addition to the School of Art, we have also worked with faculty from the English and History departments. Sometimes, faculty act as guest curators. We’ve also had other subject librarians act as guest or co-curators.

In addition to the School of Art, we have also worked with faculty from the English and History departments. Sometimes, faculty act as guest curators. We’ve also had other subject librarians act as guest or co-curators. I’ve worked with both the Music and Health Science Librarians curating and installing exhibits. We’ve also had collaborative exhibits within the library, including Special Collections. Our second exhibit actually featured work by library staff and ranged to paintings and sculpture to glasswork and embroidery.

Based on partnerships established through my liaison work, the library is now part of an upcoming festival Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here. This project started as a call to artists to respond to the 2007 terrorist bombing of Al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad. This DC portion of this project involves museum, university and non-profits through the DC Metro Area. Because of my work with the printmaking professor leading the project, I have been able to create additional partnerships around the region.

LAIP: Tell us about some logistics– costs and upkeep, unexpected issues and the solutions you came up with etc?

Initial costs and upkeep are always issues that need to be dealt with. We were able to get an exhibit case from another library department that was no longer using it, and we purchased two additional small pedestal cases. For the first exhibit, we borrowed pedestals from the graduate assistant at the time. We were then able to have some pedestals made by our facilities department. We also purchased a book case to accompany each show because we pull items from the collection to compliment the exhibit themes. The bookcase was painted the same shade of white as the wall, the pedestals, and the two small cases. It was important to us to make sure the display didn’t distract from the artwork, hence the all white! In terms of upkeep, we try to balance costs by providing some of the maintenance ourselves.

Books selected for exhibit Selected Works highlighting work by library staff

Books selected for exhibit Selected Works highlighting work by library staff

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Library copies of Modernist Cuisine on display for the exhibit Gastronomy in the Gallery curated with the Health Sciences Librarian Sarah Sheehan

LAIP: Most gallery spaces are relatively passive (come in, see art, move on).  How does your library work to make your gallery an active space where work isn’t just seen, but interacted with in some way?

JR: We describe the gallery as “a hybrid, walk-through exhibition space” since it is the main hallway for the library. This location alone makes it a more interactive and popular space. Some of this will change as we move into our new library addition. However, we hope to maintain this visibility in the new space. We are also considering a multi-location approach in the new space.

Class visit to exhibit Call and Response 2014 as part of the Fall for the Book Festival

Class visit to exhibit Call and Response 2014 as part of the Fall for the Book Festival

In addition to the location, some of the works themselves are naturally interactive. This includes video screens showing performance art. Speaking of performance art, our last gallery talk was followed by a performance piece based on one of the works in the exhibit. The visual artist/dancer used the gallery for her performance.

Performance piece by Ariel Goldenthal following Call and Response 2015 gallery talk

Performance piece by Ariel Goldenthal following Call and Response 2015 gallery talk

Programming, in general, has helped to make the space more interactive. This includes gallery talks, receptions, and even interviewing artists next to their installed work. The nature of our display also increases interactivity since many pieces are on open pedestals. Some have even hung from the ceiling!

What I’ve found funny and encouraging is the number of students who stop to talk to me while installing or de-installing an exhibit. This includes library staff that I don’t normally have a chance to talk to. It’s become a wonderful and informal place to interact.

LAIP: What plans do you have to build on this success?  What advice do you have for other libraries who might want to build a gallery presence?

JR: We’ve had some exhibits that proved successful in terms of feedback and attendance so we plan to repeat. For instance, the Call and Response exhibit that is part of the Fall for the Book Festival always draws a crowd. The concept is to pair a visual artist and a poet to create an art piece, often an artist’s book. The exhibit is curated by a professor from Art and one from English. We’ve had the exhibit in the library twice now. The gallery talk is well attended, and some faculty bring their classes to see it. We hope to continue working with these faculty members to bring the exhibit back next fall.

The concept is to pair a visual artist and a poet to create an art piece, often an artist’s book. The exhibit is curated by a professor from Art and one from English.

The graduate assistant last year had a great idea to feature work by graduating MFA students but with a twist. She asked the students which library resources (books, journals, videos) inspired and informed their work. This resulted in the exhibit Verbal/Visual: The Texts and Influences behind Mason’s MFA Artists. We plan to repeat this idea this coming spring.

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For advice, I’d recommend taking advantage of the talent around you. We’ve been extremely lucky the last three years with our graduate assistants. It seems like we get the student with the right skills at the right time whether it’s curatorial experience, installation experience, marketing skills, or technology skills.

For advice, I’d recommend taking advantage of the talent around you. Creativity is key.

Creativity is key. For instance, we couldn’t install an exhibit when the last one came down at the end of October because of the move. So instead, we put out a call for video art from students to create an online exhibit. The current graduate assistant even reached out to faculty, and the competition became part of two classes in the School of Art. Now we’re planning a screening of the winning videos along with selected work from graduate students and faculty. With the idea of “going to them” we’re having the screening lounge area in the School of Art. Using what we have, some of the prizes include library swag. Plus, the graduate assistant was able to get a credit at the Department’s Printing Services for one winner. I also like to see this exhibit as the result of taking a challenge and turning it into an opportunity.

Want More? Don’t miss Jenna’s YouTube playlist of #fenwickgallery content, including interviews with artists: 

Even More!

 

PortraitForPyramidAtlanticBookFair2Jenna Rinalducci is the Art and Art History Librarian at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. She holds an MLS for Library Science from University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and an MA in Art History from Florida State University. In addition to her liaison duties, she was tasked with coordinating a new library gallery space three years ago. She is also the curator and creator of the artists’ books collection in the library. She has worked at George Mason University Libraries for over six years. Her previous positions were at Savannah College of Art and Design and Armstrong State University.

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