While hiking through the woods, Concordia adjunct instructor Dwight Mickelson came across a tree that struck him as odd. The tree was peculiar, possessing a narrow body with thin umbrella-shaped branches—almost characteristic of the structure of a human nervous system. Although many others would have simply walked past the tree, Mickelson cut, painted, and displayed the tree at the annual faculty art show at Concordia. While many students claim to know their professors, this is just one of the countless experiences that nobody knew about.
Art professors at Concordia had an opportunity to display their pieces at the annual faculty exhibition in the Cyrus M. Running Gallery. Although not required, it is generally expected for each faculty member to submit work. The exhibit is located in the Olin Center, and features recent work from design professor and department chair Heidi Goldberg, ceramics professors Ross Hilgers, assistant photography professor Chris Mortenson, assistant design professor Lindsey Brammell, adjunct 3D/sculpture instructor Dwight Mickelson, and adjunct painting instructor Jonathan Rutter. A public reception was hosted on Jan. 24 to commemorate the event—one that has been held annually for several decades.
The faculty show is a strong tradition in Concordia’s history, and professors recognize its importance by bringing new ideas to the table every year. Hilgers is a ceramics professor who has been participating in the show for over 21 years, and he described how professors in the department have changed their approach to the show over time. He acknowledged that while the structure and organization of the show has not changed much, the nature of the art itself is always changing, which helps contribute to the show’s quality.
“There’s certainly been a wider variety of themes that people are willing to address, so I’d say it adds more depth to the content,” said Hilgers. “When faculty are willing to step out of their area of expertise and take more chances, it shows that the spirit of the show has really opened up more.”
However, all of the professors had a variety of approaches in preparing for the show. While some of the artists displayed collections which shared a theme, others decided to show more abstract work. All of the artists had to decide how they would address this representation when producing their pieces.
“I’m not trying to force a concept on anyone, I just want to provide an experience,” said Mickelson, who is an adjunct instructor or 3D and sculpture design.
One important aspect of the exhibit was how it was free to view and open to everyone, meaning that any student had the opportunity to view the faculty’s work. The professors who participated in the show agreed about how important it was for students to have a chance to see their own work.
“I’m always excited for this show, because it gives me a chance to show work that demonstrates my passion and area of expertise,” said Hilgers. “It’s symbolic for students to view my work, because art isn’t just something I teach.”
Mickelson spoke about the importance of bringing in voices from outside of campus.
“It’s really fun to invite community members and have them meet students,” he said. “We kind of live in a bubble on campus, and the dialogue is more interesting when others participate.”
Even though the gallery was available for the public to view, the Cyrus M. Running Gallery is out of the way for most students walking through campus, raising the issue of accessibility. Many people heard of the show, but the professors in the art department recognized that more could be done to help students become further engaged. Most of them were optimistic about the potential to raise awareness.
Current assistant gallery director Katelyn Mitchell spoke of the art department’s ongoing efforts to raise engagement by spreading more artwork around campus.
“Something we’ve been working on is making art more accessible to students around campus,” said Mitchell. “Besides our main gallery, we have a display in the Park Student Leadership Center that features more student artists, along with another in the Offutt School of Business. Just having art around campus helps spread the word.”
Professors have also made an effort to bring the student body together using their own courses. For example, Hilgers teaches a PEAK course which has a requirement for its students to bring another student to an art exhibit. The other student can never have attended an art show before, which means they are able to participate in a new experience for the first time. By advocating for the art community, Hilgers believes that students can help spread the word themselves.
“I think that the more that happens, people would be more likely to seek out art on their own rather than being forced to,” said Hilgers.
Mickelson notes that the art department engages in many collaborative projects with students from other fields. He recalled one example of when 3D design students worked together with others from a biology class to research native prairie flowers. The descriptions provided by the biology students helped the design class produce their own model of the flower later during the course. Mickelson hopes to do more of these collaborative projects in the future, as they can help other students become more engaged in the art community.
The show was especially beneficial to students in the art department, giving them a chance to not only develop their technique as artists, and also helping view art more passionately. Art student Kaitlin Molden agrees, and understands how important it is for art students to see their faculty’s work.
“It’s really helpful to see your professor’s work. It gives you a different perspective on how they view art, and it can help you shape your own style when working,” said Molden.
Even though the mounting of the exhibition itself has not changed over time, it’s exciting to see how there are always new ideas that professors are bringing new ideas to their work, allowing the student body to better enjoy the show.