New campus gallery invites participation, action

Location, hours

reACT Gallery is housed in the Christian Petersen Art Museum, Morrill Hall. The gallery is free and open to the public Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. An opening kickoff is planned for Tuesday, Sept. 5 (11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.). All are welcome.

Two seemingly unrelated events last fall -- a panel discussion at a professional conference about how museums should advocate for civil discourse and a post-U.S. presidential election rally at the Border Crossing sculpture near MacKay Hall -- inspired Nancy Gebhart to act.

A believer in the transformative power of art, Gebhart, educator of visual literacy and learning with university museums, thought Iowa State needed a place where faculty, staff, students and the public can gather to safely and freely express viewpoints on current events and university topics, all while viewing relevant visual artworks.

The November rally near the sculpture, in particular, spoke to Gebhart.

"I've always believed very strongly in the power of art, and that was one of those moments where a sculpture that's nearly 30 years old was given new meaning, new life and new relevance by that particular group of people," she said. "They were feeling something, and they needed something visual and a space to gather. For me, that's a very specific and clear representation of how art can be transformative."

Gebhart pitched her idea for a new gallery and gathering place to university museums director Lynette Pohlman and senior vice president for university services Kate Gregory. Gebhart also approached Michael Bailey, former director of the Center for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities, and vice president for research Sarah Nusser, who seeks to provide more avenues for arts and humanities faculty to share their research. All were in, and the planning began. The gallery was approved in April and it opens Sept. 5 in the Christian Petersen Art Museum, Morrill Hall.

"reACT Gallery will provide the ISU community with a safe space for expressing and sharing reactions, opinions and views on current events and timely issues," Gregory said. "It's great that ISU will have this asset to enable people to think, learn and respond to current events."

Unique gallery

Unlike university museums' other campus locations, reACT will host shorter-duration exhibits on topics important to the campus community. Four exhibitions are scheduled:

  • Leadership (Sept. 5-29)
  • Water (Oct. 23-Nov. 17)
  • Green Dot Program (Jan. 22-Feb. 16, 2018)
  • First Amendment (April 2-17, 2018)

Pop-up exhibitions on other timely topics also may occur. Gebhart invites faculty, staff and student organizations to contact her with ideas.

"The hope is that in the future, people will say, 'We really could use a place to discuss this or to have a conversation about XYZ topic,' and they contact me to set something up," Gebhart said.

The common denominator of all exhibits, Gebhart said, is visitors' ability to interact with others and share their thoughts and opinions, either privately (and anonymously) through writing or artwork, or more publicly by gathering with a group within the gallery to share opinions.

"Opportunities to interact within the space will be available whether people come with a group and engage in discussion or respond to the exhibition on their own," Gebhart said. "Everyone will be encouraged to make something, write something, read something, do something."

Exhibitions also will include scheduled public programming, such as lectures, discussions and public events. Gebhart plans to incorporate small music and theatre performances when possible to help drive home an exhibit's topic.

Reading lists from the university library and class offerings related to the gallery's exhibits also will be available.

"The goal is that their experience doesn't just end in the gallery," Gebhart said. "The hope is it turns into some kind of action beyond the space of the gallery."

Artwork and more

Each reACT exhibit will include visual art objects from university museums' permanent collection along with loaned pieces from professional artists across the country. ISU faculty will create new visual works for some shows. Faculty members engaged in research connected to an exhibit's topic also will be featured.

"We are very excited about creating these interactive exhibits with materials from Iowa State researchers," Nusser said. "Creative and scholarly works by Iowa State artists and humanists frame the historical and cultural contexts associated with today's most challenging topics, and topical information provided by scholars in the sciences, engineering, business and other areas help us interpret the range of perspectives that exist for an issue."

Gebhart hopes the collaboration of the arts, interactive conversations and faculty research speak to reACT Gallery visitors in new and profound ways.

"I really hope that people will leave having questioned something they thought they knew and be more willing to hear other people," Gebhart said.