Northern Illinois University

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News Release

Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-9472

September 1, 2009

School of Art’s ‘themed year’ project to examine
concepts of globalism, cultural identity through art

DeKalb, Ill. — For two years, chatter spread through the Northern Illinois University School of Art about one of the intriguing premises of an exhibition being prepared for the Jack Olson Gallery.

With the opening of “Crafting Maya Identity,” visitors now can gain perspective into how tourism can impact a local culture. In this case, it’s examined through the northern Yucatán wood carvings made strictly for sale as souvenirs while still managing to reflect and honor an ancient heritage.

Meanwhile, throughout the next year, members of the campus community can immerse themselves in a larger exploration of that idea through what organizers call “an active think-tank or incubator.”

“ARTLab” is a new and interdisciplinary project in the School of Art that encourages faculty across colleges to collaborate on work related to the chosen theme and to participate in research, dialogue, programming and pedagogy.

Faculty in the School of Art have worked for years to create such opportunities for collaborative projects that “put culture into action” through their relevance to current issues and events.

A biweekly “salon series” begins Friday, Sept. 11, providing an open forum for conversation and collaboration from 3 to 5 p.m., usually inside the Jack Olson Gallery.

“ARTLab’s theme for 2009-2010 is inspired by our colleagues, Jeff Kowalski and Mary Katherine Scott, and their ‘Crafting Maya Identity’ exhibition. We started thinking about the impact of tourism and travel on local identity, and then we got started by selecting the theme ‘Globalization and Cultural Identity,’ ” said Barbara Jaffee, an associate professor of art history.

“What we have done is to create a year of programming that will encourage faculty in our school, where we have art educators, art historians, studio and media artists and designers, to work on something collaboratively and also with colleagues across campus.”

Jaffee surfed through various NIU departmental homepages in search of faculty who might have an interest in investigating the ARTLab theme for 2009-10.

“Nobody turned me down. Every person I talked to was very excited about participating. That has me quite encouraged,” she said. “We have a tremendous reach and breadth across campus of people working on issues on our themes.”

Those people will come together Friday, Oct. 23, for an all-day symposium in the Pollock Ballroom of the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center.

The “ARTLab event” is a day of presentations that will showcase the diversity of colleagues. Three panel discussions, a lecture and a musical performance are on the schedule.

The first morning panel, “Shaping Space,” features Sinclair Bell (art history), Peter Magnusson (marketing) and Richard Greene (geography). The second panel, “Situating Practice,” features Kryssi Staikidis (art education), Christine LoFaso (studio art) and Linda Saborio (Spanish language and literature). The afternoon panel, “Negotiating Culture,” features Katharine Wiegele (anthropology), Abu Bah (sociology), E. Taylor Atkins (history) and Sarah Evans (art history).

Music professor Gregory Beyer and the NIU Percussion Ensemble will play immediately after a provided lunch.

Brian Holmes, a cultural critic and social activist based in Chicago and Paris, will give the 3:30 p.m. keynote address: “Is it Written in the Stars? Transforming Our Precarious Destinies.” Holmes also will present a pre-symposium seminar at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 22, in the Jack Olson Gallery on “overcoming the political neutralization of professional specialization and breathing life into the abstraction of global infrastructures.”

The regular salon schedule:

  • Sept. 11: a screening of Oregon artist Julie Green’s “The Big World”
  • Sept. 25: readings about globalization and globalism in the art world
  • Oct. 9: Aleksandra Giza
  • Nov. 6: photographer Andrew Liccardo’s “Globalism in Our Backyard”
  • Nov. 20: Phillipe Willems (French language and literature) presents “Bande dessinée (comic strips) and High Culture” in the Visual Arts Building’s Gallery 214
  • Dec. 4: readings

In the spring semester, a team-taught graduate seminar (ART 680) will extend ARTLab into the classroom. Readings in non-traditional exhibition practices, from Dada to the present, will supplement workshops with ARTLab faculty associates.

The Jack Olson Gallery will host experimental displays produced by the class as well as “HOME,” a functional “global village” made of locally collected recycled materials. The project is coordinated by NIU alum Neraldo de la Paz and Alain Guerra, a Cuban-born, Miami-based artist team known as “Guerra de la Paz.”

March will bring another exhibition that will display the results of the first year’s collaborations.

“ARTLab will be annual,” Jaffee said. “We’re already brainstorming possible themes for 2010-11.”

For more information about ARTlab, visit or e-mail

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