NDSU’s Art Gallery Has Been More Than Just a Showcase
Published: Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 14:10
After Mike Luidahl graduated with a degree in university studies from NDSU in 1997, he returned to NDSU for a second major and is currently studying broadcast journalism. With years of wisdom and real world experience under his belt, he hopes to enlighten the student body by rewinding back to NDSU experiences from back in the day and describe how it differs now in his column entitled “RewiNDSU.”
Starting from scratch as an art collection committee that was formed to begin buying art in the early ‘70s, The Gallery has become the jewel of Memorial Union’s second floor.
While the all-glass front creates a sense of allurement, the ever-growing collection of acquired works behind it is the basis for the program it was dreamed up to be.
Their mission statement reads, “The Visual Arts & Gallery Program of the Memorial Union seeks to provide opportunity and develop motivation for the critical viewing, study and appreciation of visual art in all of its many forms through exhibitions, lectures, trips and gallery talks by artists and scholars.”
Although its purpose has remained constant from the early planning stages in 1969, The Gallery has bounced around to few different locations. I recall passing by it back and forth to class on daily basis during the ‘90s when it was stationed on first floor of the union’s northeast corner. It had moved there from its original spot in the Family Life Center as part of the needed union renovations that were completed in 1989.
Not necessarily ever being as appreciative of the arts as perhaps I should, I never bothered to stop in throughout those undergrad years. This really is too bad considering there likely were exhibits along that span that I-- and others like me-- would have enjoyed.
Therefore, as a western North Dakota native, I made it a priority to check out the “Faces of the Oil Patch” exhibit, which was on display last spring. From there I became intrigued with many of the permanent fixtures that have been amassed over the years.
Thanks to student government designating a portion of the student activity to purchase fine art for the student body, the seed money needed to get the endeavor rolling was made available. That, along with National Endowment for the arts matching funds, made it possible for a group of students, faculty and staff to start shopping around for art. These were the first steps taken in the assembling of what is termed as the “Student Art Collection,” which is only one of the mainstay attractions offered at The Gallery.
Since the initial stockpiling of pieces included in this specific collection began about forty years ago, more than 400 amongst all of them have found a home in The Gallery. Acquisition through direct purchase from artists was the main strategy early on and it was important choose wisely in terms of local appeal and cost. As a result, the first handful of works, bought from 1970 to 1973, were creations of regional contemporary artists like Cyrus Running with his painting entitled “Solemn Rite.”
Monetary transactions were what it took to get the gallery project lifted off, but the overall inventory also has a strong representation of donated pieces. One of the larger groups of once personally owned artwork was given by Richard Engel, who was a long-time member of the NDSU Department of English. Another, referred to as “The Memorial Union Collection,” primarily consists of student work with an emphasis in poster prints.
Before the process of making The Gallery what it is today began there were some influential people who encouraged pursuit of the program. In particular, past Coordinator for Educational Programs Carol Morrow Bjorklund had passionate feelings about this subject.
“A good visual arts program is a necessity on every college campus. The visual arts enrich, educate, expose, inspire and are essential to our lives,” wrote Bjorklund. “In an institution of higher learning, the educational benefits derived from a visual arts program can be substantial.”
Bjorklund also expressed how important it was for an art gallery to be located in the student union with periodically changing exhibits. She stressed that it could become an educational laboratory for students in such subjects as art, architecture, humanities, design and theater. I’m certain that communications students like me and probably those from other areas of study can also be added to that list.
Next time you happen to walk by The Gallery, don’t let the glass wall be more of a barrier than an invitation to what could end up being the kind of experience it was meant for. Better yet, don’t do what I did and make it a point to check out the student owned and benefitting collection before you become alum.