Every two years the University of Washington School of Art + Art History + Design honors an individual who has made significant contributions to the fields of art, art history, and design in the Pacific Northwest. The recipient of the award this year was Steve Kaneko, Partner Director of Design at Microsoft. For the award dinner, I was asked to speak about the Jacob Lawrence Gallery and how it supports learning at the school, and helps prepare the next generation of arts leaders. The talk I delivered that evening is below:

“I’d like to talk tonight about how the Jacob Lawrence Gallery supports learning at the University of Washington School of Art + Art History + Design.

Peter Schjeldahl, long-time art critic for the New Yorker, has said, “The arts are a great laboratory of the absolutely free play of ideas and emotions that normal social life can’t accommodate.”

A gallery can be a space for speculation about possible worlds; with each new exhibition there is an opportunity to create a vision that asserts what the world might look, that social life is not yet able to accommodate.  Once that vision exists, once it takes up space, it has consequences.

At the Jacob Lawrence Gallery we are fortunate to be able to ask questions in the spaces of learning, and to be able to teach through our questioning. What if artists of color received equal representation in an exhibition program? What if artists were paid fairly for their labor? All of these questions and more are posed with the goal of moving us towards a more humane and equitable future.

The gallery was dedicated to Jacob Lawrence in 1994, and this year we celebrate its 25th Anniversary. Through its mission, the gallery is committed to supporting those things that Lawrence cared deeply about: education, social justice, and experimentation. Not only is the gallery an institution named after an artist, but it’s foundational fund was created using proceeds from a lithograph Lawrence created at the time of the gallery’s dedication, called “Artist in Studio.”

Earlier this evening many of you were at the toast at the gallery where you had the opportunity to see the first of our undergraduate graduation exhibitions. We are looking forward to hosting more of those throughout the spring, including the upcoming design show, which will open to the public on June 13th. For many students, the Jacob Lawrence Gallery offers them their first opportunity to move their work out of the studio and share it with the public.

Through its exhibitions and programs, the gallery seeks to create connections between the divisions of the School of Art + Art History + Design. Each year we host the Jacob Lawrence Legacy Residency where a Black artist spends the month of January in residence at the School creating new work, using the facilities of the School, and interacting with the faculty, staff and students. Last year, we began producing a printed journal called MONDAY that offers opportunities to design students to layout the journal, to art history students to publish alongside faculty on and off campus, and to art students to try their hand at writing.

The Jacob Lawrence Gallery is a space for learning by doing. The gallery has an internship program that allows students to learn the practical skills of organizing and installing exhibitions. The goal of the internship program is to teach curatorial practice with a heavy emphasis on ethics and social justice and to nurture the arts leaders of the future. We’re lucky to have Juan Franco, Assistant Curator, and Serena Lantz, Lead Gallery Assistant here with us this evening.

Two years ago the gallery became W.A.G.E. certified, and is currently the only W.A.G.E. certified space in Washington State. This certification means that the gallery has made a commitment to pay our artists a fee that is in keeping with our total operating budget.

I’d like to close tonight with a quote from New York Times art critic Michael Brenson: ‘I cannot imagine this country without the laboratories of exchange that universities make available, spaces in which students and faculty across generations can be together in the same room, speaking to and with one another, everyone at some degree at risk, as words are being formed and re-formed according to the requirements of the situation. Or without the obsessively felt and thought private spaces that periodically require social interaction, like the studio; and without more public settings, like the galleries and auditoriums, which encourage collective discussion, and walking exchanges. In the passages between classroom and exhibition, studio and gallery, writing and publication, something happens. Doubts and possibilities do not so much emerge as erupt. Internalized conversations with others that were part of the project all along become manifest. In these unofficial spaces between private and public, embodied, persisting and necessary words continue to be spoken and heard.’ ”

Photo credit: Jin Park

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