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ETSU art galleries connect community through diversity

The Slocumb and Tipton art galleries at East Tennessee State University are a major part of the Department of Art and Design at the university.

The history of these galleries and what shapes them into the places students and the community can interact with today makes them hold a special place at ETSU.

Originally, the Slocumb Galleries were the only galleries ETSU had; they were first created in the early 1950s as the expansion of the Department of Art and Design progressed. The gallery took the name “Slocumb” after Elizabeth Slocumb, who was the first chair of the Department of Art and Design.

According to the research files of James Mills from ETSU’s Art and Design website, “The Slocumb Galleries, under the Department of Art and Design, was named in honor of Ms. Slocumb in recognition of her contribution to the advancement of visual arts education at ETSU after her retirement in 1952.”

Originally, the Slocumb Galleries were a single gallery. Mills writes that what was previously known as the Slocumb Gallery was moved from its first location at the B. Carroll Reece Museum to its current location at Ernest C. Ball Hall on ETSU’s campus in 1965. This decision was made under the chairmanship of professor John Benz.

Previous chairholder and teacher of the ETSU Art and Design Department Wayne M. Dyer recalls the split of the Slocumb Gallery in the 1980s, when the gallery was divided into two equal places in Ball Hall and became the current name of Slocumb Galleries. He was just a professor at the time, and he had recently become the gallery director in exchange for teaching one class.

“In 1987, during my tenure as Gallery Director, the gallery was remodeled with my input under the chairmanship of Jack Schrader,” said Dyer. “We decided the better arrangement for the gallery would be two separate galleries, side-by-side, that could function independently or in collaboration with each other. Thus, the Slocumb Galleries (plural) were created.”

This decision to expand the Slocumb Galleries, indicated in Mills’ writing, allowed for the “expansion of programs to include photography and graphic design and later, art history.”

The Tipton Gallery did not come about until 2007 after the first full-time Gallery Director Karlota Contreras-Koterbay was hired by the department of art and design with the strong influence of Dyer.

Dyer, who is now the chairholder of the art and design department, said that the galleries were managed by faculty, part-time persons and a graduate student who did management as their graduate assistantship until he convinced the administration of hiring Contreras-Koterbay for the full-time position as gallery director. The department hired Contreras-Koterbay in 2006, and then she and Dyer made the move to create the Tipton Gallery in downtown Johnson City, Tennessee.

To support this, Mills writes, “In 2007, with directives from the former chair, Prof. M. Wayne Dyer, the [Slocumb Galleries] Director in partnership with the Urban Redevelopment Alliance (URA) established the Tipton Gallery in Downtown Johnson City through benefactors David Pennington and, later on, Brandy McKinney for JC Ventures and URA.”

The Tipton Gallery provides an expansion of the Slocumb Galleries for student exhibitions, but it has also grown into a venue that is one of the more diverse places for art exhibitions from local, regional and emerging artists nationwide.

Even though the galleries are separate from one another in terms of their location, they each have the same purpose, according to Contreras-Koterbay. As the director of the galleries, she wants them to mean something not only to the students at ETSU, but also to the community of Johnson City as well.

“The main purpose is educational. It’s an educational platform; not just for the academic community, but for the regional community,” Contreras-Koterbay said. “It is education, not just in the arts, but the potential of the arts and the potential for the collaboration with different disciplines.”

Contreras-Koterbay also said that the galleries help in teaching about different cultures and bringing those cultures together, along with being an economic mover. Some of the events that the galleries hold bring in guest speakers and artists with post-event receptions, and the galleries give information to any guest that attends through their catalogues and pamphlets.

“It creates synergy for collaboration [and] for participation to engage people,” Contreras-Koterbay said, “So, it’s a venue for engagement on various levels: academic, artistic, mental [and] collaborative.”

One of the most important aspects of the galleries is that they allow the students’ art at ETSU to become more visible to the public eye, especially in the Tipton Gallery. While the Slocumb Galleries give students a way for their art to be presented, the audience that is available to see it is sometimes limited.

“[The] Slocumb Galleries has always been difficult to access for community patrons because it is hard for people from the community to get onto campus because of the traffic, parking and just awareness of events since all is hidden within the walls of the campus,” said Dyer.

The Tipton Gallery, however, has allowed that issue to be impersistent with its location in downtown Johnson City. This gallery allows for not only students to showcase more of their art, but also for people outside of the ETSU community to view it since it is readily available for public visits.

“Tipton Gallery…was originally created to give a place in the community for work to be shown by students; however, as it grew, it began to host many different kinds of events, bringing in various artists which provided another part of the educational purpose,” Dyer explains. “[The] Tipton Gallery…was a great way to get the community involved in our work due to its presence as a storefront gallery in the downtown area of Johnson City.”

Photo by Atlantis Warren/Overlooked in Appalachia

An example of the art exposure to ETSU students and the community of Johnson City would be one of the exhibitions hosted in the galleries titled “Welcome Home: Her Liminal Asian-Appalachian Experiences,” which ran from Jan. 19 to Feb. 25.

Photo by Atlantis Warren/Overlooked in Appalachia

This exhibition, curated by José Ardivilla and Kreneshia Whiteside, “is a creative exploration and psychological journey of Asian female artists adapting to the liminal realm of Appalachian life,” according to the “Welcome Home: Her Liminal Asian-Appalachian Experiences” catalogue.

This exhibition contained art from many Asian-American artists and their take on being a part of Asian culture, portraying these qualities in their art. The displays ranged from paintings to sculptural art, and with it being in both the Slocumb and Tipton galleries, the people of Johnson City were able to witness the diversity of a different culture through the art.

Photo by Atlantis Warren/Overlooked in Appalachia

Contreras-Koterbay also says that the expansion of knowledge about different cultures is not only limited to artistic displays, either. The art galleries host many types of events that allow the diversity of different cultures and professions to come together through the galleries.

“The galleries are really amazing. It’s not just visual art; you will have performance art, literary [and] sometimes culinary. All of our visual art exhibitions will sometimes have a performance involved, or a lecture or a poetry reading,” Contreras-Koterbay said.

The exhibitions and different events the galleries hold have drawn in many crowds through their diversity. Contreras-Koterbay listed off a few specific events the galleries have held, such as collaborating with the Radio and TV Film students to showcase their work, allowing the Girl Scouts to come in and do mixed media art and inviting the theatre and performance team at ETSU to dance in armor made by a feminist artist.

Photo by Atlantis Warren/Overlooked in Appalachia

ETSU President Brian Noland has also had the fortune of attending events from the galleries, enjoying what they provide for students and the community.

“I have had the pleasure of attending various events including some of our juried exhibits held at Tipton Gallery as my schedule has allowed,” said Noland. “I always welcome the opportunity to join not only the ETSU community, but also the broader community in celebrating the arts through the events hosted at Tipton Gallery.”

With everything that the galleries provide, many believe the Slocumb and Tipton Galleries are an important part of the Department of Art and Design at ETSU. Dyer believes their contribution of art permits students and outside communities to gain a broader knowledge of art and culture and how to express themselves with it.

“It is of the utmost importance for art and design students to be exposed to the artworks and points of view of world artists,” said Dyer.

Noland also expressed his support in what the galleries provide for students and the Art and Design department.

“Our art galleries play a critical role at ETSU by providing not only exhibition space for our students pursuing degrees through our Department of Art and Design, but also in engaging in deeper conversation about art education,” Noland said.

The importance of the galleries runs deep for the ETSU Department of Art and Design due to its spread of art and culture and the overall impact it has on the students. Contreras-Koterbay expresses the significance of the galleries by recognizing the overall outcome they have not only on art students, but other majors as well.

“We are very vital as a support to the Art and Design [department]. We’re not just part of the educational process, but we’re part of the recruitment,” Contreras-Koterbay said. “We’re part of the academic experience for art and design; we are also part of the academic experience of students outside art and design. Being a prominent program in the university, we… provide the visibility, so the art and design is more visible because of the gallery.”

Through the Slocumb and Tipton galleries, students and the community get to experience and learn about different cultures through the different exhibitions and events the galleries provide. As both galleries continue to impact their participants, the knowledge of art and culture will continue to grow not only at ETSU, but with the community as well.


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