Friday, Feb. 21, 2014
As Liesa Collins disassembled the last of Virginia Commonwealth University professor Bohyun Yoon’s “Neighbors” exhibition, she took a deep breath and smiled.
Collins had spent another semester as a work-study student in the Anderson Gallery — the historic building that serves as the exhibition facility for the VCU School of the Arts. Alongside fellow VCU student Keena Williams, Collins helped Yoon transport, assemble and dismantle his exhibition.
“Working with them was really wonderful,” Yoon said. “They’ve been working at the gallery for a while dealing with art pieces and artists, so it was really comfortable working with them because they’re so careful and efficient.”
Open to any VCU student eligible for work-study — the federal aid program that provides part-time jobs for students with financial need — positions at the Anderson Gallery provide students with all the skills necessary to work in a gallery or exhibition setting.
From teaching students the proper methods of art transportation to helping them learn how to interact with gallery guests, the program offers students a valuable practical education. The gallery receives hundreds of applications each year from students wanting to further their artistic pursuits and involve themselves with the art community at VCU.
“We have between 10 and 12 students every year,” said Traci Garland, gallery coordinator and collections specialist for the Anderson Gallery. “We like to keep people who do a good job as long as we can — hopefully until they graduate — so they get a solid three to four years of experience.”
Because students tend to stay longer, their skillsets grow and adapt, eventually allowing them to become more involved in gallery exhibitions and events.
Most students get their first chance at setting up exhibitions during the Anderson Gallery’s annual student exhibitions; some eventually help install exhibitions for internationally renowned artists.
“When I arrived here five years ago, I never expected the work-study program to be as critical to the smooth, day-to-day operation of the gallery as it is,” said Ashley Kistler, director of the Anderson Gallery.
Collins, a sophomore, plans to continue her work with the gallery until she graduates, hoping to further expand her knowledge of gallery operations. Next year, she will be promoted to work study coordinator.
“There are a lot of little skills you pick up working here,” Collins said. “I feel like it makes me a better art student overall and I know I will be more prepared to work in the art world after graduation.”
Many alumni of the program have graduated to put their experience and skills to work in the professional art world. For instance, recent alumni include May 2013 VCU graduates Amber Esseiva, a graduate student in the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard, and Colleen Billing, who is a product specialist at Designtex, a sustainable textile and material design company based in New York City.
“Working at the Anderson Gallery was probably one of the most important parts of my undergraduate education,” Billing said. “Being able to work as part of a team responsible for the installation and care of the artwork at the gallery has undoubtedly helped me to gain the position I have now.”
Billing said her involvement in the planning, installation and minding of exhibitions at the Anderson Gallery prepared her for her new career.
“The Anderson Gallery gave me the practical know-how for many projects I am currently a part of,” Billing said. “I learned so much in my time there, but honestly it was the people I met that have helped me in ways that extend far beyond their job requirements.”
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