Louisiana is a state rich with culture. A state that does not simply embrace the arts at its surface, but is deeply intertwined with them in its soul.
While the first thoughts of many may jump to iconic locales such as New Orleans, with its distinct architecture and multitude of galleries and museums, the deep-seated, vibrant arts culture of Louisiana’s Northshore region is one that should not be overlooked. Its jewels may be more hidden away within the local communities, but for those who embrace them, they shine just as brightly.
Tucked away on Southeastern’s campus, at 100 East Stadium, is one such gem: the Contemporary Art Gallery. An extension of the Visual Art + Design Department, the gallery serves not only students and faculty but the community as well.
The gallery is devoted to presenting contemporary art exhibitions, lectures, and workshops and to providing a forum for contemporary art for students, the city of Hammond, and residents of the Northshore.
“Part of our mission is to bring contemporary art to campus, to the gallery, to show students and the public what is going on in the art world today in terms of cutting edge, new ideas,” explained Dale Newkirk, the gallery’s director and curator in addition to the department head of Visual Art + Design. “We bring in regional, national, and international [art]. There is more of a national focus, but we have also had artists from Europe, Africa, and Canada. We try to bring in people that the university and the community would be exposed to that they normally wouldn’t have access to.”
Upon passing between the gallery’s sandy columns then stepping though its unassuming glass front doors, a façade that blends seamlessly with the traditional red brick and concrete architecture of the surrounding buildings, a shockingly large 7,000 square feet of modern gallery space greets visitors. The gallery is actually the largest art space in the area and one of only two devoted to showing contemporary art.
While some stop in for a respite from their busy day or to take advantage of the quiet, serene environment to read, the exhibitions—which switch out eight times per year—are at the foundation of what draws people in. Popular past exhibitions have included Real to Not Real, a paintings show comprised of 20 artists “working in the gap between representational and nonrepresentational visual languages, bringing the two together”; a cell phone photography show that featured over 300 images taken by people all over the world; and a national tattoo arts show. Many of the exhibitions are not only innovative, but they feature topics that are relatable to Southeastern’s students—meeting them where they are and thus helping to better engage them and draw connections between objects and ideas, creating more meaningful learning experiences.
The other part of the Contemporary Art Gallery’s mission is, in fact, to serve these students and open up new possibilities for them. Each semester an exhibition is held showcasing the work of graduating art majors. This exhibition serves as the students’ thesis show and is part of the capstone course in their curriculum, with students putting everything they have learned over the years into it. This dedication has paid off for many of the students active with the gallery throughout their college careers by landing jobs at galleries and museums across the country, allowing them to continue to follow their passion.
The gallery is also used as a learning tool by groups across campus. “A lot of the art faculty bring their students over to talk about the shows and do various projects with the artwork,” said Newkirk. “The drawing classes come over and draw in the gallery. Faculty will come over and talk about content of the work. But other departments come over as well. The English department comes over regularly to have students write about work. Foreign language classes use the space a lot, and some of the teachers are devoted to coming over and having the students engage by using the works as a vehicle for exploring language.”
For students, faculty, and the general public alike, the gallery also hosts several events a year that provide a deeper insight into the current world of contemporary art. Evening opening receptions celebrate each new major exhibition and allow attendees to be among the first to explore the works on view while mingling with fellow art lovers. Consisting of either a lecture or exhibition and tying in with both Fanfare and Homecoming activities, special programming is held each year in October for Southeastern alumni. The gallery additionally organizes an active and robust visiting artists program, which brings in about 10 artists each year. These reputable artists travel from all over the country to provide workshops and seminars at Southeastern.
The gallery also manages the Southeastern Fine Art Collection, which consists of over 350 works of art. These pieces are not only kept in the gallery’s collections storage room, but are installed around campus in public spaces where all can enjoy them. Portraits of former university presidents in the library and sculptures by world-renowned artists John Scott and Robert Warrens situated outside near popular student walkways are just a few examples of pieces that have been made highly visible. While the collection’s focus is on contemporary art of the Southeast, a wide variety of artworks and objects—from works on paper and ceramics to sculpture and video—comprise the entire collection.
Furthering its efforts to serve students and expose the entire community to the current world of contemporary art, admission to the gallery and its popular public events is free of charge.
While many unfamiliar with Southeastern’s campus may not realize this vibrant, impactful resource exists, its ever-flowing reach permeates the artistic soil of the Northshore area, and of those who engage with it. As Newkirk remarked, “It’s part of creating a richer life in this region.”