Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Dittmar student curators bring ‘risk-taking’ perspective to gallery

Contributed by Ellie Lyons
Weinberg senior Ellie Lyons is one of two student curators for the Dittmar Gallery. She helps organize Dittmar’s community show each year, which features work from community members.

Among clerical work, research positions and front-desk jobs, curatorship has been a part-time work option for students for more than 20 years at Norris University Center’s Dittmar Gallery.

Norris Programs Assistant Director Debra Blade said she created the student supervisor/curator role at Dittmar when she began running the gallery in the hopes of increasing student involvement in art on campus.

“We empower them to curate and learn about setting up and installing gallery exhibitions,” Blade said.

The student curator role entails organizing logistics for each exhibition held in Dittmar, putting together the gallery’s annual community show and selecting the five to six shows each year that Dittmar will host.

Weinberg seniors Eve Downing and Ellie Lyons are the current student curators and have both held the role since their sophomore year. Downing said the selection process for Dittmar’s exhibits, which happens in conversation with the curators and Blade and Dittmar’s four assistants, is a rewarding part of the job.

“We have a lot of freedom to really take the gallery in new directions we’re interested in,” Downing said. “I think that’s one of the most exciting things we get to do.”

Those conversations happen at the end of each calendar year, and the group works together to choose a “diverse” and “relevant” group of exhibitions from emerging artists, Blade said. So far this year, Dittmar has shown selected exhibitions “The Story of Ka’Makana o’ ka,” “Radiant Compositions lI” and “I Love You. I Love You? I Love You!” The gallery is currently showing “Muse.”

Blade said she appreciates having students lead the selection process, since the exhibits’ target audience is students.

“They find things that are fresh, and they see things through their eyes and aesthetic lens, which is different from mine,” Blade said. “They’re more risk takers.”

After the selection process, the student curators work with the artists to ensure the exhibitions run smoothly. This can look like anything from overseeing the installation of pieces to advising artists on how to curate the pieces for their creative vision, Downing said, depending on what sort of support the artist wants.

Downing said her favorite exhibition she’s worked on was “Anthro-obscene: What We Choose Not to See,” an installation by Stefan Petranek in the fall of 2021. The photographic exhibition explored themes of climate change and mental health, and Downing said she loved seeing the intersection of art and activism.

“It was just a really interesting way to start conversations and have people talk about the way they feel and how climate change affects them and their mental health,” Downing said. “I really loved how the art was creating change and creating community within Northwestern.”

For Lyons, her favorite part of the role is the annual community show, she said. The student curators create a theme and curate the entire show, which features an “eclectic” mix of work as all community members are invited to participate in it, she said.

Lyons said the show’s ability to foster community is meaningful to her.

“Seeing them all come together and being able to chat with everyone and also seeing the artists talk amongst themselves is a really beautiful thing,” Lyons said. “It really is probably my favorite part of the job.”

Before they graduate, Lyons and Downing said they have several goals for the gallery, including installing glass doors, rehanging Norris’s permanent art collection and preparing the student assistants to take over the curator role.

Though Downing does not plan to work in the art world, she said the role has taught her important lessons about managerial skills, working independently and making difficult decisions. For Lyons, the student curator position was specifically applicable to her career goals.

“Public art space is really important, having that very accessible community space,” Lyons said. “I want to work in a space where I can make that happen.”

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Dittmar’s newest exhibit ‘When Homeward You Turn’ highlights a variety of artistic media exploring notions of home
Chicago artist Trotter Alexander explores Hawaiian culture in Dittmar Gallery exhibit ‘Ka Makana o’ka’
‘I Love You. I Love You? I Love You!’ inspires introspection

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