Augusta is known for many things. James Brown, the Masters, Fort Gordon. But today, art is taking a well-deserved seat at the table.
The Pamplin College Department of Art and Design at Augusta University is generating quite a buzz on the national art stage. Leaders say it’s an exciting time and that the recognitions piling up are virtually unprecedented for the department and Augusta.
In the fall, the Mary S. Byrd Gallery of Art at Augusta University will have on display for the public an exhibit by Bojana Ginn, an Atlanta-based sculptor. Ginn was named the winner of the 2018 Ellsworth Kelly Award, which will fund the exhibit. The award is endowed by the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation, named for the late artist, and is in its third year of awarding $40,000 grants to support solo exhibits across the country for contemporary visual artists. This year, the opportunity to even apply for the award is granted to only 10 institutions east of the Missouri River. And even the department’s staff couldn’t believe they had been selected.
“We thought that was really unusual because we are up against all of these other institutions,” said Scott Thorp, Chair of Art and Design at Augusta University and Associate Vice President for Interdisciplinary Research at Augusta University. “This is something that is announced through all of the art magazines, Art in America, Art Forum, they all instantly had the Mary S. Byrd Gallery in their publications.”
Thorp said the award brought the spotlight to the AU art department, spurring recognition for other unprecedented opportunities on the world stage.
In May, the work of Cheryl Goldsleger, a Morris Eminent Scholar at Augusta University, will be on display at the Global Art Affairs (GAA) Foundation’s exhibit in Italy during the 2019 Venice Art Biennale. The exhibit will be on display through November.
But all of the success, Thorp says, is owed to the connections the department has crafted with the local community after an educational shift within the department four years ago to use those connections to make Augusta a cultural hub.
“Our mission here is a little different than normal art departments,” Thorp said. “It started a few years back when we decided to really define ourselves as a creative community, rather than just an art department. What we’ve done is we have partnered with people and we have taken certain initiatives to expand more broadly what we want to do. It’s more to have an impact now, than just a department teaching students.”
Partnerships with local groups like the Greater Augusta Arts Council and the Gertrude Herbert Institute, and being active with events like Westobou and Arts in the Heart, are what has helped raise the department’s level of recognition. And it seems to be creating a chain reaction.
“People have become aware of who we are,” Thorp said. “We have been bringing in big name artists like Kara Walker, which a department our size shouldn’t be bringing in. Not that we shouldn’t, but a department of our size doesn’t bring in the best artist in the world and we have been doing that the past couple years, especially with the help of Cheryl Goldsleger, our Morris Eminent Scholar.”
“Together we are creating this kind of buzz in the area, bringing people in who are very well known. People are saying we are interesting so they are putting us on lists,” Thorp said.
The department’s gallery curator Shannon Morris curated an art collection to decorate the new Georgia Cyber Center’s Hull McKnight Building. In addition, Thorp sits on the Public Art Advisory Panel and says they are currently working to commission three gateway projects at the entry of the city.
“With that, the public art concept is catching on and other people are commissioning public art, so it really is catching on downtown,” Thorp said.
And they’re not stopping there.
According to Thorp, the department is taking a more practical approach to course offerings and says they are dedicated to keeping their Fine Arts and Design courses connected, to help make students more well-rounded for the workforce. Coming this fall, Thorp says the department is planning to offer an animation course. The new course is designed to hone the skill sets needed for film production as Georgia continues to grow into a hot-spot for the film industry. The course will not focus on the typical Pixar animation, but rather explore technologies such as virtual reality, artificial reality, and other components that involve animation.
With the recent addition of a new graphics design instructor, the department is also looking to bring on a new media instructor to add to their art and design program.
“Our students are getting a really contemporary version of what it means to be an artist. So as we do this, we will keep kind of playing into the design areas, maybe get industrial design, and start a graduate program in the not too distant future. We just keep stacking the odds, becoming more and more really what students are needing for the future,” Thorp said.
“It seems like we are working really well – the students are great, we keep increasing our expectations of students and they keep meeting those expectations. It’s pretty cool. It’s a great time to be here.”
The Ellsworth Kelly Award
It is a $40,000 grant administrated by invitation only to support a solo exhibition of a contemporary visual artist at a small U.S. art museum or university art gallery.
• The Ellsworth Kelly Award is presented by The Foundation for the Contemporary Arts, an NYC-based foundation.
• The Mary S. Byrd Gallery is the third recipient of the award. The exhibition “Fiber Meets Light: A Solo Exhibition by Bojana Ginn” will be curated by Shannon Morris, gallery director, who selected her work and submitted the proposal to the Foundation.
• Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, 2017.
• The Underground Museum, Los Angeles; 2016.
The Foundation for the Contemporary Arts
Since its inception in 1963, the mission of the Foundation for Contemporary Arts (FCA) has been to encourage, sponsor, and promote innovative work in the arts created and presented by individuals, groups, and organizations. FCA depends on artists to fund its programs; to date, over 1,000 artists have contributed paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, performances, and videos to help fund grant programs that directly support individual artists working in dance, music/sound, performance art/theater, poetry, and the visual arts. Thus, FCA remains the only institution of its kind: created and sustained by artists to benefit artists.
More about The Ellsworth Kelly Award
The Ellsworth Kelly Award is a new initiative to support museum exhibitions for contemporary artists. Ellsworth Kelly recognized that a museum exhibition can be transformative for an artist’s career and this eponymous award is intended to provide that opportunity to artists. This award is endowed by The Ellsworth Kelly Foundation in memory of the artist.
Ellsworth Kelly (May 31, 1923 – December 27, 2015) is an American artist associated with the art movements hard-edge abstraction, color field painting, and minimalism. His work is included in collections at The Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Tate Modern, London; and the High Museum of Art.
Bojana Ginn was born in the former Yugoslavia in 1974 and currently lives in Atlanta.
Prior to pursuing an artistic career, Ginn received her M.D. from the University of Belgrade in 2001. After moving to the United States in 2002 to take a position in Emory University’s Biology Department, she began to create art in her free time. Ginn eventually left the world of scientific academia, completing her M.F.A. in sculpture at the Savanah College of Art and Design, Atlanta in 2013.
Ginn’s interdisciplinary practice combines natural materials and contemporary technology to create works that explore the possibilities of line, time, and space. Comprised of natural fibers and new media, her work seeks to connect the technological and natural worlds. Her installations create a “soft-space” for discovering the intimacies between humans and technology.
Article appears in the April 2021 issue of Augusta Magazine.
Article appears in the February/March 2019 issue of Augusta Magazine.