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April 20, 2006

Art Beat

SAG is a Verb


This is a bit of a personal indulgence for me. In my last column, I wrote about Lien Truong and her fabulous show at the First Street Gallery. I first met Lien when we were both students at HSU. At the time, I was the co-director of the Student Access Gallery and she was part of a group show that we hung in the Karshner Lounge on campus. Talking with Lien, we reminisced about college a bit and I got to wondering how the Student Access Gallery (affectionately known as SAG our motto was "SAG is a Verb") has been doing since I left. Lien and I talked about her experience with SAG and I talked to the current co-director and some students who were currently showing in the galleries run by SAG.

When I took on SAG with some friends, the program was suffering and in danger of being canned altogether. Four of us decided to apply for staff positions to see if we could breathe new life into the organization. We worked hard and documented what we did so that future staff members would be able to use the information we'd collected to keep the thing growing.

PHOTO OF PAINTINGS AND INSTALLATION BY BEAN RABINO IN HSU'S KARSHNER LOUNGE.I'd like to take all of the credit for the current good health of SAG, but it was probably also due to the fact that a year or two later, HSU's Art Department added a Museum and Gallery Practices certificate program, which brought in a lot of students who were interested in just this sort of thing. At any rate, almost ten years later, the gallery program is quite healthy and has even expanded.


SAG is a student-run gallery that works as closely like a professional gallery as possible on the HSU campus. They have a faculty advisor, but the students do all the work and receive a small stipend. SAG serves multiple functions: For the students who work there, it offers hands-on gallery experience. Staff members handle everything from hanging shows to public relations (the censorship issue raises its ugly head practically every year, if not every semester, and it's a critical issue for anyone who's going to be working in the arts field).

For studio art students who exhibit in one of SAG's three gallery spaces, it's often a first experience presenting a formal application for an exhibit, preparing a show, thinking about how to hang or exhibit their work, selling their work and seeing several of their pieces together in a gallery setting. When I spoke with Lien about her experience with SAG, she talked about the importance of editing her work, which she had never thought about before she had her first show. Not every work an artist produces is really a finished product. A good percentage of it is "research and development." While an artist may feel a strong connection to everything they produce, when they assemble a show, they have to think about which pieces are really strong and which ones work together and which don't. Ultimately, they must shelve some pieces.

PHOTO OF HSU STUDENT NICOLE VINCENT STUDIES THE WORK OF ARTIST BEAN RABINO.SAG operates three galleries on campus. The largest, the Karshner Lounge in the University Center, was the only one in operation when I was there (we also used to hang a show in the Windows Café, but apparently that's been nixed). I stop by campus every now and then to see what's up there. They currently have a solo show by Bean Rabino. I didn't get a chance to talk to Bean, so my impressions are just from her art. She is apparently of Philippine descent, and her show is a passionate outpouring of the over-stimulation of growing up with two cultures (one of them American, which has to be one of the most confusing cultures that ever existed). She uses rice in most of her work, which provides an interesting texture to the paint as well as a cultural reference to the staple food of the Philippines.


A second gallery in the Student Business Services building generates the most sales, perhaps because it's in a space frequented by faculty and staff. Current SAG co-director Jenn Gordon noted that that one and the Karshner Lounge are the most public, which means there's the most potential for offending someone, so they try to put the less controversial work in those spaces.

The Foyer Gallery in the Art Building is the third. As you can probably guess, that is where anything goes. It's most frequently populated by art students, the least likely population to be offended by anything, so there are no holds barred. From my perspective, having worked in the arts field, the important thing is that students are learning about the potential of art to spark controversy and are thinking about where, when and how much they ought to push the envelope, and how to manage it when someone gets upset.

Lien is a great of example of where students who exhibited their first show with SAG ended up. After graduating from HSU, she went on to get her MFA from Mills College in Oakland, worked for a while in the Bay Area and is now back up here teaching art at HSU and College of the Redwoods. A more recent SAG artist, Kyana Taillon, was recently on the cover of this very publication. Kyana told me that, "MaryKait Durkee [the PR and graphics director at SAG] wrote a press release announcing March's student shows to local media. From the press release, North Coast Journal contacted me with interest and ended up running my exhibition entitled Living Memory, with photographs and stories about the struggles of women as their cover story the following week." (See the Journal, March 9, 2006.)

As an art history student, I generally examined art from the past up until the present, which is great. But it's also exciting to look at artists as they grow and develop in their careers. You owe it to yourself to go up to the campus on a regular basis and get to know the artists of tomorrow as they put up their first shows -- then watch their careers take off from there.

Got a local exhibit or art event that might make a good story? Send your art news (six weeks in advance) to or write in care of the North Coast Journal, 145 South G Street, Suite A, Arcata, CA. 95521.


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