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Students Make Bank with Art

First student art show gives undergrads a forum to sell and display their art

By Lillian Yu, Contributing Writer

It’s not difficult to find posters of Pink Floyd or the latest Hollywood hottie gracing the walls of student dorms. But original Harvard student artwork? Not so much. Paris A. Spies-Gans ’09 and Margaret M. Wang ’09 want to change that.

This year they organized the first annual Harvard Student Art Show, which will take place the afternoon of May 4. Wholly student-run, this inchoate event seeks to provide Harvard artists with a forum to display and sell their art. It’s unique—the first of its kind at Harvard—and the show’s organizers have secured the grassy expanse in front of the Science Center as a location for the show’s tent. Visibility is key, and as the hub of student culture, this space is the most strategic location for the show.

Prices will start at around $20, appealing to both student palates and student budgets, and increase to indeterminately higher numbers. The higher-priced pieces will target professors, collectors, and curators. Through such a wide range of prices, the show’s organizers hope to make student art more readily accessible to a wide range of buyers.

Spies-Gans and Wang first conceived the idea for the show at the annual Harvard arts leaders’ luncheon, where undergraduate Jane K. Cheng ’09 raised the question of where students could sell their pieces. When it became clear that no such venue existed, Spies-Gans and Wang turned to each other, both struck by the same idea. They approached Office of Fine Arts Director (OFA) Jack Megan immediately after the luncheon to pitch the project of Harvard’s first student-run art show.

Megan was thrilled with the idea and eager to help Spies-Gans and Wang get started. “It lets [Harvard students] know what’s happening at Harvard and raises awareness about where artists work and live,” he said. “For the moment, it’s really about calling attention to and raising awareness about the presence of art and art-makers at Harvard.”

The Harvard Student Art Show is a university-wide effort. Organizers have reached out to students from the college and all the graduate schools. Professors from all the schools, including the college’s Visual and Environmental Studies Department, have been very receptive to the idea; some have publicized the show to their students while others have allowed show organizers to give brief presentations during their classes. Student artists have been extremely amenable to the idea. In regard to artists’ positive responses, Megan said, “There has been great interest and a willingness to pass the word.”

When asked about the show’s relevance to the general student body, Megan said, “Harvard students are very creative figures. Creative expression is important to living fully and being successful in the world. It’s extremely important for students to engage in this kind of activity. Through art, an individual becomes a better communicator and a potentially more successful and happy individual in life.”

Many professionals from around the Boston area are expected to be in attendance, providing unprecedented publicity opportunities for student artists participating in the show. Boston gallery buyers and representatives from the Institute of Contemporary Art, for example, are among the show’s prestigious invites.

Kathleen E. Breeden ’09, head of the selection committee and a landscape painter, is excited about the professional nature of the show and the opportunity that it presents to Harvard artists. When asked about the selection criteria, Breeden said, “We’re going to be looking at the quality of the work and its size but also its sell-ability.” She later stressed that, ultimately, there will be no stringent formula. Breeden herself plans to submit to the show; however, she is quick to laughingly affirm that she will not be on the committee who decides the fate of her pieces.

Students will be able to submit work through March 30, the first day back after spring break. Wang and Spies-Gans hope that this deadline will allow artists to collect pieces from their homes over the break to submit to the show.

The show is unconventional in that all of the profits of each work will go to the respective artist; the show’s organizers will not collect commissions off the sales. The selection committee, however, will specifically chose 20 pieces for a silent auction and 20 percent of their profits will go to maintaining the show in the years to come.

Though clichéd college posters will continue to stake their territory on student walls, these glossy sheets may now have to share that turf with original student paintings. If the Harvard Student Art Show proves successful in its first run, perhaps in time stock photos may find themselves outnumbered by idiosyncratic paintings and brushstrokes created by their Harvard peers.

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