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Program connects artist and students via Skype

By Laura Traister
On February 26, 2014

A group of students in the Department of Art and Design experienced a unique opportunity on Tuesday evening as they gathered in Ball Hall to hear from a professional artist.
The interaction took place in a non-traditional way, as students sat in front of a screen waiting for the artist to answer a Skype call.
Using the video chat software, artist Saya Woolfalk interacted with students all the way from her studio in New York.
The event was put on by the CORE Connect program, headed by Andrew Scott Ross.
Ross, foundations coordinator and assistant professor in the art department, explained that the program was founded "as a way to bring students real live studio visit experiences."
"The thought behind this was that students that get into their educational experiences as a BFA or an MFA student, a lot of them are pursuing a career in the arts, but they haven't actually had any experience with seeing really what an artist does, like on an everyday basis ... so they're creating like a fantasy of what that might be, which sometimes can be really beautiful, or it can be very intimidating, but nonetheless it's extremely abstract of really what the reality is," Ross said.
The program is not meant in any way to replace the lecture series of visiting artists. Rather, it was developed primarily for art students in their first year in foundations courses.
In more metropolitan areas, a class of art students may get to visit an artist in his or her own studio.
However, these opportunities are not as available in a more rural area like East Tennessee.
Additionally, the cost of transporting students to those more concentrated areas is not always practical.
"It's difficult to mobilize students to get out there, especially being in a region that is more remote, so what we decided to do was to do Skype or video conferences with artists of various sorts who are painters and designers and photographers, everything that would make sense for the art and design students, and stream these studio visits directly into Ball Hall auditorium," Ross said.  
"Giving them the opportunity to be able to see this when they're first developing their ideas of what a career for an artist could be, we felt was an important thing, and we took this as an opportunity also just to get that large group of people together in one room for a special event for them."
Saya Woolfalk seemed right for the program for many reasons.
"She's a young artist, and that's what we've been trying to do, is actually pick artists that are at a stage of their career where their career is moving along, but they are still very connectable to the student body, so it doesn't feel like this artist is in this unattainable place," Ross said. "We want the students to see the reality of what an artist is doing, what they can imagine after their education, not an artist who is famous ... and has a lifestyle that most of us are not going to be able to attain."
Woolfalk also works with various media, so the hope was that many students would be able to connect with her and her work.
Ross introduced the artist on Tuesday evening, mentioning her impressive education, many fellowships and exhibitions at prestigious museums.
Using a wide range of media, the artist explores ideas such as hybrids, mixed origins, sex and race.
Her most well-known exhibitions called "No Place" and "The Empathics" imagine a world inhabited by beings with blended racial, biological and cultural identities.
As Woolfalk appeared on the large screen, she waved to the students.
She began by speaking about her current work and at one point carried her computer around to show various parts of her colorful work and studio.
Many students in foundations classes had been introduced to her work in class and had already prepared questions, some of which Ross read to Woolfalk.
After about 30 minutes, Ross opened the floor for more questions.
Students asked about advice for young artists, what some of Woolfalk's influences were, and how they could know when they were finished with a work of art.
Woolfalk answered all the questions with sensitivity and often a bit of humor.
The program currently hosts an interactive lecture with one artist each semester.
There are hopes to expand in the future.
The events are designed specifically for first-year art students, but are also open to upper-level students and to people outside of the department and the university.
"I think that there's a lot of opportunity here for enriching our department and I think even the school in general through these types of remote viewing opportunities or educational opportunities," Ross said.  "I think it's something that could be a regular part, a deeper part, of the curriculum."

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