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Various Brandeis staff and faculty display hidden talent in JustArts exhibit

Many gathered by the doors of the Dreitzer Gallery in the Spingold Theater Center and anxiously awaited the JustArts Faculty/Staff Exhibition that opened at noon on Thursday, Oct. 13. Sponsored by the Office of the Arts, the Office of Human Resources and the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences, the exhibition features a vast display of works produced by Brandeis University faculty and staff from various departments and offices.

Inside the Dreitzer Gallery exists a diverse collection of paintings, photography, sculptures, drawings and other pieces that exhibit a wide range of artistic talent from Brandeis staff and faculty. The extensive exhibition is curated by Ingrid Schorr, the Acting Director in the Office of the Arts, who has been organizing these exhibitions for the past five years. She came to the idea for the Faculty/Staff Exhibition from a similar event held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called “Artists Behind the Desk,” where the school’s faculty were able to display their art for any and all to see. Although Schorr ceded that Brandeis’s version of the exhibition was smaller than MIT’s, she asserted that the artistry of this year’s exhibition is incredible.

The exhibition itself, on a smaller scale, certainly rivals that of other collections found on the esteemed walls of art hubs like the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. What may surprise you, though, is that many of the works featured in the exhibition were not created by those in the Fine Arts Department at Brandeis. Featured artists like Andy McKenzie and Ann Kardos work in Library and Technology Services, and Martin Levin is a politics professor.

Murmurs of lively chatter and moments of silent admiration filled the inside of the room while the pleasant sound of guitar strumming and the soulful singing of musical duo Roberto and Kathryn could be heard from just outside the Gallery. The opening of the exhibition was bursting with excitement from students and staff alike, and the works certainly impressed their audience. In passing, a man exclaimed that photographs captured by Emily Corbato, a Resident Artist and Scholar from the Women’s Studies Research Center, were “exceptional.”

But what’s most intriguing about the exhibition is the level of artistic talent shown. These works could be placed next to artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat or Pierre-Auguste Renoir, as they elicit similar styles, techniques, messages and feelings as artists we hail today. Elena Brunner, a Gallery Attendant and Art Handler at the Rose Art Museum, exhibited powerful, absorbing pieces that deal with “interpersonal relationships, power dynamics, and social cues,” and were among my favorites in the exhibition.

Schorr explained that many of the artists on display at this year’s exhibition also had featured works at previous JustArts Faculty/Staff exhibitions. Previously, Schorr had wanted to hold the event every year, but contributing artists wanted more time to work on their pieces because of their occupations. Along with returning artists from previous exhibitions, newbies like Tom Gatton, an “IT guru” by day and a “photographer and musician” by night, submitted their art to be displayed next to both fellow and unfamiliar staff and faculty.

Even Schorr herself had pieces in the exhibition: two “smaller, freeform” woven pieces that she crafted with a book by sculptor Sheila Pepe in mind. The works not only have a homemade, handcrafted and tangible look to them, but they were created by Schorr on a wooden handloom, a medium that she regards as great “for experimentation and improvisation.” Upon closer inspection, the visible labor and personal flair of Schorr’s woven works gives the viewer an extra sense of familiarity with how the pieces came into being, and projects onto the audience the rustic feeling of crafting the pieces as Schorr did.

But this feeling of closeness to the art displayed at the exhibition pervades more than just Schorr’s work. Looking at the art displayed in the Dreitzer Gallery (especially to a Brandeis student like myself) doesn’t feel like a trip to the Museum of Modern Art or even to the neighboring Rose Art Museum. Although I’m sure I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting or interacting with all of the contributing artists on campus, between us is a common Brandeis thread, which makes the art feel more personal and relatable to students, faculty and staff. It’s important that we remember the creative minds at work on Brandeis’ campus, whether they’re behind lecture podiums or library desks.

If you would like to visit the JustArts Faculty/Staff Exhibition, it will be on view at the Dreitzer Gallery in the Spingold Theater Center until Nov. 13.

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