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The Mass Media

The Point of Arts on the Point: A Discussion with Wendy Baring-Gould

Wendy Baring-Gould
Wendy Baring-Gould

Before Paul Tucker’s address on the Arts on the Point sculpture park, held as the inaugural presentation of the Art/Talks lecture series, I spoke to Wendy Baring-Gould, Director of Education and Community Outreach, who filled me in on the purpose of the talks and the general goals of the Arts on the Points programs.

“The purpose of the Art/Talks is to give art students, or anyone on campus, the opportunity to hear directly from contemporary artists,” Said Baring-Gould. The artists who participate in the talks provide students with insight into the working lives of professional artists: why and how they do what they do.

Part of the purpose of this is to provide a context for understanding the artwork that surrounds us on campus. “We were hopeful that in bringing [working artists] here to talk about their own process it would help people understand more clearly the process, that the artists went through whose work we have in the sculpture park,” Baring-Gould explained. “Even though those artists aren’t here to speak to us necessarily, the people who are here to speak to us are telling their own version of the same story.”

According to Baring-Gould, that story is one of dedication to pushing the boundaries of what is accepted in art, breaking out of the mold of social and artistic expectations. “Contemporary artists in any discipline are pushing against the tide. The individuals have to have incredible commitment and incredible perseverance to actually make their work.”

“The way to understand the sculpture,” Baring-Gould went on to explain, “is in part to understand the stories of the artists. But it’s also in part to understand the way they use materials and, in many cases, how revolutionary their use of the materials was.”

Baring-Gould discussed the works of Mark di Suvero, creator of Huru, and of Luis Jimenez (the artist behind Los Gatos and the much missed Steel Worker), pointing out their use of non-traditional, industrial or “junk” materials (steel and fiberglass respectively). Both of these artists, like many of the students here on campus, came from non-academic, working-class backgrounds and found ways of translating their unique experiences into groundbreaking works of art.

Baring-Gould sees in such work “a way to bring to this campus the notion that it’s okay to be an outrageously creative person and to push limits and to strive for what you want to do even in the face of adversity.”

Through hearing the stories, in their own words, of artists who have been uncompromising in their pursuit of their personal visions, students not only come to a greater appreciation of the work, but also are inspired to remain committed to their own visions, to recognize the value of artistically exploring their own experiences.

“Many of the people who are here are the first people in their families to go to college,” Baring-Gould pointed out. “Think of the limits that are being pushed there. The artists and the sculpture park are kind of a metaphor for the people who are racing from class to class here. And we would like them to know that.”

The Art/Talks are intended not just to help students appreciate art from the aesthetic side, but serve as well to relate it to the lives of the people here on campus; in this way, the Art/Talks have a very social function.

This social function extends to the numerous other projects overseen by Arts on the Point. “We are hoping, through a variety of programs, to create different experiences for people here which will give them insight into the artistic process,” said Baring-Gould, referring to the overall agenda of Arts on the Point.

One such project, which is still in the works for the spring semester, involves bringing in two of the artists who created the Fantasy Coffins from Ghana (which are on display in various locations on campus) as artists-in-residence. The artists will create their work here on campus, enabling students to watch them as they go through their process.

Other projects proposed for the upcoming year include the Art/Walks tours of the sculpture park, the sponsorship of three full-scale art exhibits, funding for on-campus student installations during the student open studios exhibition in May, funding for an adjunct course in the UMB Studio Art program, as well as numerous presentations and collaborations with other UMB departments.

Arts on the Point is also involved in off-campus projects tailored to fit the needs of communities like Dorchester by providing site-specific and community-oriented projects that bring the people of the surrounding neighborhoods together in the process of making art and a better living environment.

The mission of the sculpture park itself affirms this commitment to engagement with the community. According to a flyer distributed at the Art/Talk last Thursday, the park is “grounded in the belief that the arts are central to human life and should be available to all.”

“The way one becomes comfortable with artwork of any type is exposure,” said Baring-Gould, explaining another important function of the sculpture park. “Over time, and through exposure, this becomes normal for people. And that means when they go out into the world and find contemporary sculpture or any kind of art, they will be able to look at it with a curiosity and a question. So it won’t be just a complete denial. They will be at a place where they would have hung around this stuff long enough to understand that every work has something in it that can be discovered.”

Like the sculpture park, and like so many of the programs initiated by Arts on the Point, the Art/Talks are one step on the journey to that discovery.

The Art/Talks series will continue on Thursday, November 14 with a presentation by Professor Taylor Davis from the Mass. College of Art, and on Thursday, December 5 featuring Wilfredo Chiesa, a painter and professor of art here at UMB. All talks will be held from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm in the Harbor Art Gallery, first floor McCormack Building.